We finished organising our homeschooling space. Combined with the kitchen table most of our learning and playing will occur in here.
I wanted to make a space that had a large empty floor area for projects and playing.
When we need to work on a surface we can still use the kitchen table but for lego and construction and quiet reading and general play this room is wonderful.
Like all pregnant Mama’s I have a limited amount of energy and this time I am determined to use it well. The household tasks are never-ending but I am trying to re-frame how I look at the mess. Yesterday after a visit to Ikea I came home with a dolls tea set for HH, she was so thrilled and she has been playing with it ever since. She squeezes orange juice and pours it into tiny cups and she cuts oranges into quarters and places them in tiny saucers. And then she brings them to picnic with anyone who will enjoy it with her. The result is a trail of orange peels and sticky juice all over every available kitchen surface. She makes an effort to clean up at least fifty percent of the time.
Instead of despairing over orange peel and mounds of clean laundry and the half jar of honey that I found tipped all over my tea selection this morning, I decided to head off in the sun to a lovely nearby park.
And then we came across a little echidna off for a morning stroll. When we got close it curled up into a tiny ball and pretended to be a bush. We took a photograph and then we left it to continue on its merry way.
And then after a play in the playground we drove down to the marvellous old bluestone farmhouse and cottage gardens. This is my favourite place to visit in our surrounding area. The sky was full of birdsong, we saw red parrots, white cockatoo’s and carefully avoided the nesting magpies. The air was thick with the fragrance of the garden flowers. It is such a beautiful place, so hidden on the edge of the gorge and yet so close to our suburban home.
We watched the ducks swimming on the dam and we ate oranges and then it was time to come home. It doesn’t take much to revive a sense of spirit and to refocus on joys rather than fears. As someone who had a country childhood in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I do struggle sometimes with our suburban existence. Lately the words stifling, dull, lacklustre and mind-numbing have been falling off my lips too frequently but my body craves the natural environment, my soul needs beauty. And fortunately it is there to be found without much effort.
Finally by baby number five I am learning to prioritise and instead of drowning in endless domestic drudgery I am expending energy where it is really important.
Finally it feels like Spring is really here! I am even sunburnt after spending the first real day in the garden after what feels like months.
I ordered some new books recently including Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions which I have seen referred to so many times. I am slowly trying to organise the house for our homeschooling. As usual when pregnant, the energy levels just aren’t there and I find myself getting frustrated with mess and grot. But I am really trying to prioritise things well this pregnancy and to not put energy into tasks that just require repeating over and over again, it is more sensible to just deal with the clutter and conserve energy.
I always find being pregnant a volatile time when we are truly at the mercy of our hormonal fluctuations yet as the years have passed and I have had several children I have learned to be far more patient with the process. I know what to expect, I’ve kind of relaxed into it. At four months I already look six months pregnant, it surprises me when I remind myself that I am now forty, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to be carrying another child. It feels exciting and I am grateful.
I am really happy with my life. I am happy to be at home with the children, I am happy not to have a career. It has been a struggle to deal with going against the norm and societal expectations, a struggle as those expectations have played out in my own psychology and I have internalised the messages that this life at home is failure, a struggle recognising that I will resist all idea’s of perfection, domestic or career wise. I see these pressures as nooses we place around the necks of women. I am tired of it all. There is something within me that feels this home life and this birthing and raising of children to be so innate, we Muslims could call it fitra. And this is not to criticise women who choose otherwise but I know this is right for me.
And yet I refuse to do it within the standard patriarchal package with all the unrealistic and often brutal expectations. These are the things that have turned women away from homemaking. When I read pedagogical philosophies I recognise that part of the motivation I have for this role is a desire to nurture something hidden in myself, to mother myself as the mother. I am learning as I go along to give to myself what I hope to give to my children, this wholeness that is so lost in our modern age. This is not a war between men and women but we women have to have the courage to resist patriarchy in order to raise our sons and daughters in a new paradigm that creates wholeness for all. I think even men within patriarchy are only half men detached from their own selves. But I am suspicious of modern feminisms which rarely seem to me to cultivate wholeness.
I have been challenged over the years by things I would never have imagined being part of my life to the point where at times it felt like falling into someone else’s dream (or at times a nightmare) and yet I am more grateful for these experiences than not, I would not ask not to have had them because they have changed me so profoundly and they have helped develop the beginnings of something very settled within me, something strong but a strength that I carry that is gifted and not of my own doing. And I guess the strength is faith. What I do with it, how I act upon it always feels like a failure but if I pare it back to that original feeling, it is one of contentment and trust.
Today I have a couple of hours without children at home, the sun is shining, my beautiful friend made me some sage tea and this combination of her good company and sage – the chilled out tea has found the morning floating now into the most peaceful afternoon. I am feeling the first fluttering of kicks from this little boy or girl that I carry in my tummy and everything feels perfectly as it should be, nothing is out of place.
I think this is the challenge for the person of multiple worlds to find this peacefulness beyond the cerebral maze and clashing of identities. Homecoming is the point of exile and whilst I know I am not Home, I am tickled by the delight of it’s promise in the warm Spring breeze. Today I feel connected to Life, the life growing inside of me, the life in this beautiful creation.
I think I will go and buy a chicken and make bone broth and into the slow cooker I will put all this trust, this connecting with my own vulnerability that opens into such a beautiful ease. When our life moves into places of such unfamiliarity the temptation is to run to the norms and wear them like a coat of armour. But I am doing something different and today I can feel the sun on my skin. I can see my fears dancing like shadow puppets pulled by my own imagination, not quite ready to cut the string I let them dance but they are far away from me.
These hours are the nourishment that will enable me to nourish. As mothers we are conductors of energy, through our connecting to Source we connect our households. Today I am connected so I’m writing these words to remind myself during the times of distance and contraction. Everything passes, this will pass also. There will be days of tears and overwhelming. I am well rehearsed in exhaustion, I anticipate the last three months of pregnancy when in fullness I become a vessel capable of little more than incubating life, I anticipate the flooding emotion of post-partum, the rawness of body, soul and person laid bare and pushed to the limits. This is motherhood, this is the contemporary reality. I no longer fear it .
What blocks us from connecting to God/Reality/Universe? What idea’s, terms, theologies, psychologies have we turned into idols? How do we find what is natural within us without making it an identity of gender, race, religion?
My knowing is embodied not in words. The grounding earthing power of pregnancy, what a gift! Allahu akbar ( God is Great!)
When we first started homeschooling again and I asked H what he wanted to start with he said he wanted to learn about the First World War. I have to admit I really struggle with his interest in wars and weapons but I’ve realised his fascination with competition is simply innate. Superficially reading the Waldorf curriculum I have noticed that it comes up with developmentally appropriate means of stimulating this fascination with conflict and I hope we can pursue some of the themes relevant to his age group later on. But for the time being I went with his suggestion and we started to investigate the causes of the war.
I find that whilst he is really happy to discuss things for quite some time, there is a real resistance to doing anything like compiling points or lists or any of the methods we usually use to retain information yet I think pushing such forced academics would be really counter-productive. It makes me realise just how regimented we have been taught to be with our learning and it’s hard to step outside of this mold and recognise that learning can occur without taking these steps.
The main point I think H took away about the war was how it escalated from a series of events impacting only a couple of countries into something impacting a good proportion of the world.
My ten year old son H and I travelled in Morocco for six weeks at the end of last year. Unlike his introverted mother he is extremely gregarious and social and he made friends with everyone we met. Before we left I showed him some documentaries about artisans in Fes and he mentioned how much he would love to work with a craftsman and learn some new skills. While we were staying in the mountain city of Chefchaouen he made friends with a shop owner who turned out to be a carpenter. He worked with H for a week helping him to make a model house. It was a wonderful experience for him.
It is endlessly frustrating for me that I cannot create these kinds of experiences for him here. He loved Moroccan life and he felt a freedom there that is impossible to replicate here.
We carried his house the whole way home with us.
Through Asilah and Marrakech, Meknes and Fes and Casablanca.
H became very interested in languages whilst we were staying with other travellers, he learned many words in French and Spanish and was fascinated to meet people from so many European countries.
We travelled by train and bus, he loved using different currencies and enjoyed the fact that everywhere we went there were two or three milk bars in every street.
Whilst I dragged him through all the mosques he dragged me through all the sword shops. The journey would not have been the same without him.
It was so clear to me when we were travelling that this was the best education he could ever receive. It isn’t possible for me to uproot my family and take off, it’s simply not financially viable. But I do hope to intersperse our learning with occasional travels because these are the experiences the children will carry with them always.
Earlier in the year my youngest son started asking me if he could homeschool again next year. I said ‘probably, we’ll see’ and he left it at that, from time to time reminding me what he wanted. But then his more forceful older brother decided that school had lost all it’s appeal and he must start homeschooling again immediately.
There really was no reason to refuse, other than perhaps my sanity. So within a week they were withdrawn from school. Over the next few months we were preoccupied with life. We moved house so time was spent packing, moving and unpacking. Then almost as soon as we had unpacked it was time for Ramadan and our usual schedule was overtaken. I had discovered I am pregnant so much time was spent sleeping and feeling sick. I wasn’t worried about the lack of our ‘doing school’ because after over a year back in an institutional setting I really felt that they needed some time to deschool.
My daughters had started a new school in our new (old) location, we have moved back to a previous house. And whilst my eldest settled in wonderfully my littlest simply did not want to go. And there seemed little point in forcing her especially as her older brothers were at home with me. So now I have three homeschooling children again.
I am still finding my feet and making decisions about how to approach it, juggling different perspectives and ideals and working out what will work best for us. I have some quite conflicting notions about how we should be doing things and it is mainly a contest between Waldorf and Unschooling so at the moment I am taking it day by day.
I love the Waldorf philosophy and I would love to be able to put it into practise but it is increasingly difficult when I already have children who are used to using technology. I think there is probably a lot of value in delaying the use of computers and screens until older stages in child development but our existing reality is that we haven’t done that. I started looking into Waldorf when my oldest child was around four years old (she is now twelve) so I could have taken that route but our family has had so many challenges, those kinds of decisions were just pushed to the wayside.
Our environment also has a significant impact, the children have have grown up with a social norm that is far different from the way I would have liked to see things develop.
When we were homeschooling previously I bought iPads for the children and now we also have laptops. It is difficult for me to envisage heavily restricting their usage and yet I feel very torn about what to do. Realistically I don’t think my oldest son will respond to any kind of heavily structured curriculum. Unschooling works for him but because of my own institutionalised learning experience I have hesitations in surrendering to it completely. If we were on the road I would have far less worries, if I knew there was a constantly evolving landscape of experiences then providing that kind of freedom would not be a concern. When we were travelling in Morocco I realised how wonderfully unschooling would work in that context. But we are living in the suburbs, our life does not vary a lot from day to day. I have enormous reservations about the whole notion of unrestricted technology use as I think these mediums are highly addictive and it can just be like falling down a vortex. At the same time I notice how these technologies can be used productively. So it is all about balance and I guess we are at that point in which we are trying to find the right balance for our family.
It is likely that H will do mostly unschooling and I may work from my Waldorf curriculum with the younger children. Nothing will be ‘pure’ and I imagine it will change from week to week.
I also let my little daughter self-lead in terms of formal language skills despite the Waldorf curriculum being much slower. She has been at school learning letters but even before then she had a natural interest in learning to write and continually practises by herself.
Because we have homeschooled before I am not allowing myself to stress out about approach, I know it will fall together slowly. I have seen and experienced the benefits of homeschooling so I don’t have that fear that often consumes first time homeschoolers. We have the best scenario really, the children have been to school so they know exactly how it is and they know they prefer to be at home. It is a little different for us this time around since we are not doing any tutoring but I actually prefer the freedom this gives us day to day, not being tied to an outside structure.
I could allow myself to feel overloaded, I am still not feeling very well and dealing with almost constant nausea even though I am now in my second trimester of pregnancy. We have a fair amount of stressors beyond our control impacting our family right now so I don’t want homeschooling to add to that. Instead I want it to be an enjoyable experience.
At the moment I feel like going on plenty of excursions and just letting the kids play and explore. We visited an adventure playground in Kinglake last week and then after a picnic and filling up on cakes from the Flying Tarts Cafe we went on a huge drive through Flowerdale and Strath Creek towards Broadford and back to Melbourne.
I love that we are now on the edge of the city again and it’s not far to the country. Yet my fear of windy mountainous roads is a bit of an obstacle. Going over the mountain towards Kinglake is a terrifying drive for me, my hands were sweating so much I felt like they were going to slip off the steering wheel! It is strange since I grew up in the country and spent my life on similar roads but I guess I was never behind the wheel!
In nineteen ninety six when I was twenty years old and travelling through Europe, I decided to catch a train to the southernmost part of Spain and from there board a ferry to Morocco. I was heading towards the Rif mountain town of Chefchaouen, a place my Lonely Planet manual described as small and safe. It seemed a sensible entry to North Africa and besides it was blue. I love blue.
Upon arrival I fell in love with the town instantly. I had never seen such a wonderful place. Completely overwhelmed sensorially it was difficult to leave. I could never pinpoint what it was exactly that enawed me so much, it was more than just aesthetics and the thrill of an entirely different culture, everything felt in place, there was a rhythm, a calmness that I experienced that I could not put into words. The cynical part of me laughed that it was because everyone was stoned (it is hash making country) but at the time I knew it was something more. It has taken me many years to truly grasp what that in placeness was and it still remains a subjective experience, one that many would dismiss as fantasy.
And I truly hope it is not another twenty years before I make it back there again!
Asilah is a small Moroccan city about thirty minutes drive south of Tangier. In Summer it swells into a tourist haven but in Winter it is fairly empty. Once a year there is an arts festival and artists from all over the world gather to paint murals upon the old medina walls.
The result is a wonderful collection of artworks adorning the whitewashed walls of the ancient city.
After spending three weeks inland in Chefchaouen it was marvellous to experience the ocean. We were so excited on the day that we arrived that we walked on the beach despite there being a storm. I didn’t realise that H had never witnessed a wild sea and he was completely overwhelmed and captivated. He ran in the wind and told me Mum, the ocean is wild and I am wild, we are the same. I have never felt so free!
We spent a few days fossicking amongst the sand and stones and enjoying the magnificent sunsets that felt like walking amongst clouds.
Now back in the flat of Melbourne, unable to find a vantage point to see the dusk sky, I return to these sunsets in my imagination.