As an adult, I am continually grateful to spend my days with children who are still so strongly connected to the spiritual world. The mysteries and the magic of life is so much more accessible for them, in turn making it more available for me. I want them to believe in what is unseen, and so know, as the adult in their presence, I have to truly believe myself, or at least be open to the possibility of finding hidden gifts in our challenges.
With news of the day in our outer world, mixed with a shifting, somewhat uncomfortable transition in my own personal life, this task has certainly not simply been reflexive and assumed. And yet I continue to teach and be with young children so it is my responsibility to stretch myself and authentically find the beauty amidst the discomfort. But really the first step in doing this is embracing the challenge. With the children, this can be practiced when we are plodding through deep snow and acknowledge how hard it is to simply walk, and be okay with that, and not go very far. It can be found when a little one is sad about saying goodbye to mom or dad. We can comfort and empathize but do not need to take away the sadness. It our job to help the child move through the sadness assuring them that we are there and that mom or dad will return and that they will okay. And that it is okay if it feels hard because sometimes things are hard and we find strength in our self to get through. As caregivers, it is not our job to take away the struggle. It is in the struggle where real growth and resilience emerge.
Winter, in itself, provides so much practice for these skills. While in college I was fortunate enough to spend a week in northern Minnesota on a dog sledding trip. Over the course of four nights and five days, our group, with a team of nine dogs, skied through deep snow and cold temperatures carrying all of our gear on our backs. When we would stop for the day we had to cut wood for a fire and chop a hole in the ice or melt snow for water. At night we would carve out a ditch in the snow for our sleeping bags and sleep out under the stars. When we were cold we had to move and work. In the midst of this work and challenge we were surrounded by raw beauty and quiet. At the completion of that trip I remember feeling amazed that I actually did it. That I was able to survive, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures, for a week in the winter woods.
We are capable of so much, but often are not given the opportunity to realize our own strengths. In a world where things are increasingly being made to be easier and faster, we, as humans, are losing touch with our ability to endure. And in turn, missing out on the gift of “weathering the storm.” For it is through great struggle that true beauty is revealed.
So I will let my children flounder and struggle with an observant, warm eye. We will go out in the deep snow and the cold and will relish the rosy cheeks and warmth of the home. And I will embrace the mystery of middle age changes rather than run to the comfort of what I have always known. For beauty truly can be found in all things when given the space and time to see it through. It is on the other end when our eyes can be awake to the gift of the journey itself.
Erin Houlihan has been working with young children for the last 20 years in various educational settings. She took her Lifeways training before finding a teaching space in a Waldorf Kindergarten. She started her own school kindergarten program (Violet Glen Forest) this last Year based on the Waldorf/Outdoor Education philosophy. Erin hopes to bring awareness and conversations of children’s true needs to the greater community as a whole.