So I am forty, my thirties were a tumultuous time, I can’t say it was a particularly happy decade. It was a time when I really tried to work against my nature and turn myself into something else. I guess many women do this. I tried to enforce a kind of blandness upon myself, if I wasn’t so eccentric, I would be happy, if I wasn’t always fighting norms life would be easy. I threw myself into domesticity but not a domesticity that was in sync with my own ways of giving.
Perhaps it is reductive to label an entire decade in this way, there were periods of joy and excitement and periods of real inner peace as faith settled into my heart and I connected to God/Creator/Divine Centre. But overall my experience was one of continual questioning and lack. I didn’t find a home in Islam as it is understood generally by most Muslims in Australia although I certainly connected to the Islam I read about or the Islam I encountered in my travels in Yemen or Morocco.
Perhaps in reaction to a decade of dryness and dissatisfaction I am now throwing myself into rediscovering my creative self. I don’t want to have to compartmentalise things into mothering or artistness, these things can exist together although it is sometimes hard. I am pregnant and I have plunged into an intense creative space which is at once wonderful and terrifying, pregnancy is such a time of extremes.
At the moment I am finding the most influential things I am reading that really speak to my gut involve a writing about the Feminine, the loss of this knowledge in our culture, what this means for women. It explains a wrongness I have felt all my life, a wrongness that I tried to fix through my exploration of Islamic Orthodoxy and it’s gendered spaces, something that I did find answers to in Yemen in ways that are too hard to articulate and ways that always encourage protestation from people who refuse to imagine that such a path could honour the Feminine. And I am too weary now of needing to spin my life in protestation and defence, I just can’t be bothered.
I haven’t been sleeping very well and despite my struggles now with my practise as a Muslim, in the middle of the night it is much easier to connect, to sit and look into the dark and to contemplate. At such times I feel God like an electricity in my veins, the night is alive and I am alive with it. I love the sensation of the house sleeping. In Islam we say that in the last third of the night God descends to the lowest heavens and this is something that feels so palpable.
I don’t have a designated workspace in this house. In our old house for a short period of time I set up a studio, it was a wonderful space and I would love to make something like that here but there really isn’t room so I just look at the pictures and remember it.
I feel a fierceness now that is willing to protect the aspects of life that I find essential and nothing can stand in the way. I will not live in dullness anymore. I know that most of the shadows we face in life are from our own selves, I don’t blame anyone for what I have or haven’t done with my life, every choice has been my own.
What matters to me now is God, family, art and womanhood…
And all of these things I am exploring are like wonderful lights in an otherwise un signposted wilderness.
I wrote this sentence today and so much of the life I feel buzzing within me is part of this realisation, I will not pander to patriarchy anymore, no matter the consequences, no matter the potential loss. Various people will make such a sentence far more reductive than it is. I am not talking solely about Islamic patriarchy but so much more broadly. And it is not contemporary Feminism where I find the answers.
These buzzwords are loaded, they cramn us into niches and often convey a limited vision. But such is language and we have to use what is at our disposal.
I am happy, there is potential swelling all around me.
Alhamdulillah ya Raheem!
When we homeschooled previously we attended a homeschooling group with a private tutor three days a week for around four hours at a time. It was like a homeschooling co op with lots of parental involvement. It mean’t that I wasn’t shouldering the total responsibility for the children’s education. We covered all the curriculum area’s on the group days so the time we spent at home together was entirely unschooled.
So whilst we have homeschooled before it was not the same as it is now. I am learning how to facilitate their learning as I go along. I am new to Waldorf despite having been interested in it for years. I find that working with a Waldorf curriculum stirs up all my perfectionist tendencies and it often feels like it will never be manageable. On the days my boys just don’t want to write and our workbooks look nothing like the gorgeous images we look at online, I have to really hold off from being goal orientated and working towards a finished product, the process is what is important. I have to learn some of the skills such as form drawing and using crayons and watercolours before I teach the children. Waldorf is so precise with it’s use of materials at different developmental stages which probably works in a school setting but is less easy to achieve when at home with children of multiple ages. If my six year old wants to use coloured pencils then I let her do so! We are very slowly developing the beginning of a rhythm. Because I have three children in different grades I am trying to spend time working with each one of them rather than all sitting together as a group.
Some things we have done over the last few days –
leaf painting for the beginning of Spring, we gathered leaves from our lemon tree and printed with them using watercolours.
Stories from Hay for my Ox, Lily and the Princess, Little House in the Big Woods, First Aid for Fairies (Fabled Beast Chronicles)
projects from the Oak Meadow and Earthschooling curriculums (Ancient Hebrews (Tower of Babel) and Ancient India (Indus Valley)
M and HH love circle time even if we just recite a verse without lighting a candle and I make the movements up as we go along. HH generally does not want to follow the lesson plans I present to her. Today she practised all her alphabet instead of focusing on a single letter and when I caught her making an enormous scribble in the first page of her brand new lesson book and asked her not to do it she looked dismayed and explained to me that it wasn’t a scribble at all but a house being blown away by a stormy cloud! She then narrated a story to me about her house as she drew the pictures. It is this kind of creativity that attracts me to the Waldorf philosophy in the first place and I think we need to find a balance between improvising and following a more disciplined/rigid approach.
Waldorf blogs always look so perfect, this is not our reality. We have days that are filled with both productivity and some moments of great learning and also squabbling and noise and mess. But it’s a beginning.
I come to this space sometimes and I wonder what it really is. I write things and then I delete them. I am always so impatient with process. It was a homeschooling blog. I had privacy concerns. The children stopped homeschooling. Sometimes I came here to write when it seemed like there were no other places where I had room. I have realised that when I write I can learn to be still. This is a place of stillness sometimes.
In the twelve years I have been a parent I have largely abandoned my other place of stillness. Drawing.
I had been drawing for as long as I could remember. But when I had children it became difficult to have art materials within easy access. Or to leave unfinished work sitting around in living and playing spaces. And perhaps this has been a great blessing because it is through having one creative route taken away, I learned that I have another option, I can write.
Writing is immediate and I write about everything. Family, soul, travel, art, Islam. I write for myself. Sometimes when I have emptied myself of words or soothed that sensation of flowing then I can sit quiet and I can listen. I listen and what I hear is that which we label God, Source, Divine.
But I turn forty soon and I can’t help but apply the standards of my culture to myself and question ‘what have I achieved?’
What has this self done? How has it performed? What does it have to show for itself?
And writing becomes less about stillness and flow and more about something I need to utilise to prove myself as worthy.
There is that voice that says you are an intelligent woman but what have you done with yourself?
And what I have done is not really quantifiable. It is not measured in awards and degree’s and exhibitions and books written. When I sit down to write a resume it is largely a work of creative fiction. I worked seriously for only two years of my adult life. I studied but only at undergraduate level. For twelve years I have parented at home. I have overcome all kinds of silent obstacles but because I choose to still overcome them I cannot add them to my repertoire of achievement.
I am not one of those women who turns her home into a sanctuary of domestic perfection. I don’t believe it is possible without selling your soul to a fantasy. Clean houses and three course meals are so often a performance that hides a much more bitter reality. But if I am not one of those women then what am I?
It strikes me that these models we have, the domestic goddess and the career woman, they are fantasies of womanhood and strength. Unachievable, unattainable fantasies. We are forced always to live to a standard that is not our own.
I remind myself that I do not need to achieve anything at all. It does not matter that my life cannot be measured and applauded.
What matters is the joy in the details.
If there is time to write and draw then it is for the love of it.
I do not need to measure my home life by unattainable standards. My children require my presence, a full, budding and sometimes gleeful presence. Unburdened by unreasonable expectations. It is to choose to make granola when there is clean washing all over the floor awaiting folding and to delight in the aroma spreading through the house. It is to sit together and read stories out loud with the full awareness that the car has become a mobile tip. It is to get out the paints and not to worry that in three hours I will be peeling potatoes amongst upturned pallets and images of rainbows.
It is to take half an hour to write five hundred words and find that place of stillness.
I guess this is what turning forty is, doing it my way. Not selfishly, not without concern for others. But with the full awareness and experience to know where the life flows. I may not have achieved anything but I know this.
And this is everything.