Whenever I think about my five granddaughters, all born between Michaelmas and Easter, I smile with deep contentment and fulfillment. Who would have thought that I would have the priceless opportunity to relive the wonders of birth and babyhood, to share in those daily, seemingly moment-to-moment miraculous transformations as four of them have evolved into healthy young girls, now emerging into adolescence? To my delight, on a frosty February morning last year, I attended the birth of a fifth baby girl. The quiet wonder and awe unfold once again; it is both an outer and an inner journey into Joy.
Through the process of care giving and nurturing during these years, I also rediscovered my own childhood from the new perspective of grandmother. I am reminded of my very first Anthroposophical book read back in 1972: A.C. Harwood’s “The Recovery of Man in Childhood.” The conscious inner lemniscate of reflection, from the immediacy of the present to fuller insights into a personal past long forgotten, has centered me in a way that no other experience could, or would, have done.
From the birth of my first child, and the discovery of ‘Waldorf wonder’ back in the early 70’s, I have consistently transformed my living spaces into an enchanted world of colored silks, puppets, wooden toys and handmade dolls. Since 1998, I have evolved from a Waldorf teacher to a Waldorf inspired home provider to a daily nurturer in a much smaller, more humble space. Throughout it all, the magic, wonder and little daily joys have sustained me through more than one critical life challenge.
A crown jewel in all of my experiences though has been immersing myself in the LifeWays training. I anticipated it to be a delicious experience of self-nurturing, of recapitulating the joy I had created in environments for children and bringing it full circle to my self. The reality certainly exceeded my expectations, and indeed, continues to sustain me in unexpected ways. I enter the gateway to the winter of my life with the calmness that radiates as the fruit of years of effort to honor and live within my unique rhythms in daily life. We were given many tangible and intangible ‘seeds’ during our LifeWays year; these continue to germinate and grow, surprising me with flowers and fragrances I did not even know existed in the mix.
I have certainly learned well through my experiences what Cynthia once told us (I believe, quoting Rudolf Steiner), “Rhythm replaces strength”. The Living Arts not only provided a nurturing mantle of warmth and support for the children, but also sustained me personally through an intense series of illnesses and moves.
During my training, I lived on a tropical island surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean. I loved creating a warmth-filled home environment, a setting where small children could cozy into the security of predictable daily rhythms and routines, into a relaxed continuity and joyful experience of delight in the ordinary, homey tasks that presented themselves. Our days flowed between practical and artistic activities, with a natural flexibility that allowed for pausing in wonder at the frequent rainbows, or picking and eating a warm sweet guava that hung from one of many fruit-laden the trees in the yard, or welcoming the unexpected arrival (and consequent adoption) of a stray kitten.
Our mornings proceeded from a warm and nourishing breakfast (prepared, served and tidied up, with small hands helping as their skills dictated), to feeding cats, then taking compost out to the garden for the feral chickens. These latter marched out of the ferns and tangle of vines with unfailing regularity, headed up by a regal and lavishing plumed Bantam rooster. Depending on the skill and cunning of the mongoose, there may be a string of fluttering chipmunk–or-penguin-feathered chicks and clicking mother in the lot.
Some days we harvested white pineapples, or peeled, sliced and then dried apple bananas. Tangerine season, November through January, signaled lots of juicing and popsicle making. The small garden we made together yielded kale and green beans; the girls also found tiny weedy wildflowers amongst the vegetables to craft into bouquets for the dollhouse or to decorate the fairy houses nestled on mossy beds beneath the ti or hibiscus.
When I did the laundry, one or another of the girls might assist me, while another tended to the doll house needs: beds to tidy, tiny china dogs to be petted, the beeswax food set out onto the little pine table. We also shared moments of sheer delight as we jumped into piles of blankets and pillows, enjoying delicious moments of wild disarray.
We painted, busied ourselves with crayons, sewing or crafts, as well as danced with scarves and bells in a combined mixture of planning and spontaneity. Books were everywhere, and after years of listening to my oral stories and songs (often accompanied by softly needle-felted puppets) the girls discovered the pleasure of words through reading, retelling and reimagining story themselves.
Within this environment, the children were gently held by the nurturing rhythms of daily life, with everyday activities providing the core curriculum. Whether for babies and toddlers, or for the older child, I have observed that an environment that is free from media, overly intellectual and abstract ‘teaching’, where children have plenty of access to self-directed, open-ended play, indoors and outside, in natural settings, fosters resiliency and brings balance into unavoidably harried and hectic modern lifestyles.
Although my transition from a former Waldorf trained teacher with a home program into a LifeWays-model provider was somewhat hastened through the arrival of three grandchildren in quick succession, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. My LifeWays training helped me to consciously stop and reevaluate my ‘teaching’ priorities, and heightened my sense of what is essential for today’s children; I was able to take a deep breath and recreate the kind of hearth-in-home where in some small measure children and their parents could relax, unfold and develop the kind of secure ‘inner roots’ which hopefully will help anchor them in the storms that social and environmental circumstances increasing bring.
What I perceive out of my experiences over the past four plus decades, is that the balanced combination of nurturing, creative, social and domestic arts is absolutely essential food for the soul of all young children, and indeed, for the adults who care for them. A stable, secure rhythm that centers around homey daily activities, one that nurtures the life sense through the care and consistency given to practical tasks, and regular wholesome meals shared together, provides a healing antidote to an increasingly toxic environment, and a valuable support for families who are assailed by the artificial fragmentation of society in these challenging times.
This morning 46 years almost to the day from when I ‘chanced upon’ that first glimpse into a whole new perspective on education and life called “Waldorf Education” , I am gazing out onto a vastly different landscape from that in which I lived during my LifeWays training. Newly fallen snow frosts the birches in the small back yard where I live. The air smells sharp and crystalline. Seeds sleep dreaming of Springtime to come. A hush one can almost reach out and touch softly wafts around me. The two grandgirls with whom I currently live are off to the local schools via bus; their mother is at work as a public defender in the nearby town. Soon I will prepare some of the fixings for the Thai chicken lettuce cups with herbed salad and jasmine rice that we will share for supper.
I have reached an interesting stage of my life, by default of age and circumstance: for the first time in nearly 50 years, I am not directly involved in classroom teaching of adults or children, or with the immediacy of fulltime care-giving for small ones. Yet, all the many threads of nurturing that make up the matrix of my life tapestry glow with vibrant warmth within me, moment to moment. Each has enriched my life, and woven meaning into it. They continually inspire a quiet joy in those little moments of magic that are there all around us, for eyes that look, and hearts that see.