Such a painful but necessary business.
This is a milestone year for me as a mother. Both my boys are graduating, one from high school and the other from lower school. This will mark my departure from the Steiner/Waldorf system. It is a poignant time of endings and beginnings. I feel the sweeping hand of change each time I visit our school.
A few weeks ago I attended a school activity called Bahaginan, where the children traditionally share a little of what they learn in class. I entered the campus–and yes, even the word seems fitting now–and felt a wave of shock at how big our little school has become. The set up was such that the kids were on the slightly elevated basketball-court-cum-multi-use space that was now a stage, and the parents and family were in chairs on the grass. Except the class that was right in front of the audience was the high school: adult-sized youth. You can imagine one had to strain to get a good view of the presentation. Judging from all the personal chatter from parents around and behind me, some no longer bothered. Too many were tuning out. Gone was the space of intimacy that was so easy to connect to, where everyone would grow quiet when our children recited their verses, moved or sang before us.
We were still adjusting to the growth spurt, it seems. Whoever planned the seating arrangement didn’t think that putting the high schoolers in front of the audience would change the viewing dynamic. Perhaps they thought these tall, gangly teens were still little?
Since that day many more questions have been swirling through me: how do we keep the substance of Steiner Education true, current and whole through such rapidly changing times? How can we make it so that the little kids who need it most, can still experience festivals and school activities in intimate and quiet settings, when everything around them is so much bigger and more. How can we make it relevant and exciting for the bigger kids, without sacrificing the quality of the space?
How do we continue to hold this space for all?
Yesterday I attended the annual pre-Advent fair. The sight of cars until forever told me we had arrived. Inside, I was greeted by a central stage with all day entertainment (including a serious sound system and emcees) which, given its location in the school, became the natural focus of the event. There was so much noise, even my teenager (who stayed for the 5pm concert) came home saying the artist was good but it was just too noisy.
Thankfully, the handmade crafts and products were still at hand, and I managed a quiet lunch with my older son in an empty cafeteria a short distance away from the hubbub. It was a haven! I could not believe no one else was dining there. For too brief a spell, we were treated to the sound of excellent, homegrown piano and violin music at just the right volume.
This is growth, I told myself: This is what it looks like. It’s wonderful to have had such expansion in the community, and to have Steiner Education be in so many more lives. It’s great that a modern and energetic parent council managed to organize such a huge event and have such a turnout. Truly, it is commendable.
But the Waldorf mama in me was a little brokenhearted and nostalgic for a festival where “entertainment” was not necessary and the offerings of each class were more the theme–one perhaps that could do wreath-making, little pockets of acoustic music now and again, a puppet show, singing, community movement, little hubs to engage the senses gently, where hands could be busy making, children’s bodies could be experiencing, and ultimately where parents and families could reconnect with each other and enjoy nature.
Change is natural. It is good. But I believe that in a Steiner School, we must learn to move freely within the essence of our ideals. We do not have to be rigid about them if the essence and core stay true. If we understand why we are here, that is our true North. In anything we plan we have to keep asking: will this serve the children in their development head, heart and hands? Have we contributed to the health of this process or have we taken away?
I am the person who always says the thing no one ever wants to hear because they think, “Oh, loosen up! That is just too hard and what’s a day of ‘enjoyment’ for everyone ?” I get it. But when there are children involved, I always pause, and when I haven’t–when I’ve let my emotions rule because it’s easier– I have always felt I could have done better by them. When there are children involved, the responsibility multiplies a thousandfold. It is our job to step up to that. The world is getting harder to live in and we must be willing to walk the road less travelled so that our children can be strong bearers of the forces of transformation and healing. THAT IS THE WORK. It is hard, consistent work. I would rather err on the side of asking more questions and then more–to at least go through the process more rigorously–no matter what is decided in the end. That is all.
I put my children in a Steiner School because I knew it was not just “education”. I understood that through them, and with every step we continue to take in school, we are laying a firm foundation for transformation, healing, compassion, wholeness–spiritual armor that is so badly needed in the world. Forgive me if I feel the urgency here. Paris reminds us there is no time to waste.
At the school fair, I took everything in and tried to stay open. I focused on what I was able to connect with: parents and kids of all ages trying to walk on stilts, handcrafted items lovingly made by the mothers and the Manila Waldorf School children, conversations with people in the community, a classic Waldorf puppet show that I missed but was grateful to hear about, a maze kids could wriggle and duck their way through, tie-dyeing, natural “tattoos” hand painted by the upper school teens, a beautiful nature table exhibit in a library made entirely of mud and recycled materials, just built and finished by the community. There was so much of the true substance here and I was glad for it. Perhaps next year, these can be the focus.
After a few hours in the fair, I was longing for quiet. It was time to go. As I left the grounds, I caught a glimpse of the emcee addressing a little child: “Do you want to greet everyone a Merry Christmas? Are you enjoying Advent ?”
It is not yet Advent and it is certainly not yet Christmas, and it was really time for me to go.
Yes, this is what it means to grow and sometimes all we can do is take a deep breath, be grateful for what was and bless everything that is and will be for the next generation.