“Sometimes I think it would be easier if I believed that parenting and teaching was just about passing on knowledge and wisdom – handing off what I know to the tiny little beings in my care.
But then I remember the gifts of symbiotic learning and living. I remember the joy and fulfillment of discovery, lifelong learning and personal development.
This year we have been exploring some roadblocks on the road to finding the neutral space in facilitating and problem solving in the classroom and at home. What we are finding is that there is often a giant stone in the road that we have a tendency to bypass, when perhaps we might fair better if we used it as a place to pause and reflect. “
I’ve been contemplating graduation ceremonies. I have always felt conflicted about them. When I graduated, much to my mother’s chagrin, I wasn’t interested in marching. Our school was big! My class was big, all I imagined was, so many kids, so many names and so many people. I am an introvert, after all. I also felt it was hypocritical. I seemed to me that I hadn’t really done anything, high school was easy for me. All I did was what I was supposed to do and had I not, I would have been in trouble.
I realize that context is everything and it is not always an easy thing for children to do. It has varied meaning for varied folks and for me in various circumstances.
My nephew is quite the young man. He has faced so much adversity. He was raised by us all. His mother was mentally ill and died when he was in 7th grade of an accidental drug overdose. Following that his cousin/brother, my son died, his father became very ill and my father, his grandfather, died.
He loved public school for a very long time but eventually the stress overwhelmed him. He needed to heal his heart and that was taking more time than public school expectations would allow. He began homeschooling his sophomore year and that is when I asked him, who and what he wanted to be.
“I just wanna be that cool skater dude who’s been through so much and never touched a drug. I wanna be an example.”
Noah has always been deeply spiritual and reflective. Always loved exploring faith and symbolism. Whenever we did ceremony at home or spiritual reflections he was always the first to answer questions or offer his thoughts so it was no surprise that he wanted to attend church. He needed a regular dose and the big feels of community worship. He is a social kid!
They became his extended family. They supported him through it all, picked up where we left off and gave him a safe space to share and not have it complicated by our struggles or feelings. They have given him scholarships to camp, paid for his mission trips and given him a place to grow and develop. They probably have no idea how much of his homeschooling was from their support and expectations. That is where he learned public speaking. It’s where he became a youth leader and worked with children, learned collaboration and responsibility. It’s where he gained friendships, found his girlfriend and found a reason to be an example. It took dedication because he was the only Christian in our family. We practice more traditional indigenous spirituality.
So there it is, he is an individual and we have done our best to honor that. He learned to love homeschooling but sometimes longed for some of the traditional experiences of public school and he sometimes felt confused by the questions of well meaning adults who had different ideas of what success looks like and requires.
My children who have been unschooled now for 7 years feel like graduation is strange for them. They usually ask questions like, “What will change? I am going to keep learning just like I am now. When I want to learn something I’m going to find the way to do that.” My oldest homeschooler chose not to acknowledge his graduation. Didn’t even want a party. That felt strange even to me! Isn’t there some sort of mile stone? Some sort of rite of passage?
Where and what is that, if not graduation? What is the natural rhythm?
For Noah, graduation mattered and although we had conversations about it, considered requesting permission for him to march at his old high school, asked about a party…his answers maybe didn’t match his needs and we didn’t really know it till his church family stepped in. They created a small ceremony for him. And suddenly we all knew what it meant for him, for his dad and for all of us to mark the occasion.
Without a traditional educational paradigm, where do you think the natural rite of passages are?
My beliefs about family learning and spirit keeping require that we accept that learning, knowledge, wisdom, all come from everywhere and every experience. That we approach a problem with curiosity and be open and that something guides us or steers us toward answers. Still, sometimes I miss the opportunity, we all do for various reasons and that’s ok. So I want to share with you one of my experiences that felt like a missed opportunity.
I was recently introduced to the work of Judith Blackstone, a licensed clinical psychotherapist and contemporary spiritual teacher. She teaches a meditation practice that is about inhabiting the body and All That Is, at the same time. The newness for me or the primary difference in her teachings is that you do not disappear into the Oneness, you are an equal part in it. Makes sense, but I have a habit of leaving myself out that shows up in various ways. I suppose this is one of those ways. Shortly after that I was introduced to the work of Pat Ogden, a somatic psychotherapist. She speaks toward the physical response to trauma and how you can work from the body upwards toward the brain.
I share all this because, well, they were helpful to me, but also to express that this was my exploration of a problem, we as a family have been facing.
I’ve never found it easy to inhabit my body. Culturally we even reference it as “the body”. With good intentions, the idea is to recognize that we are not the physical. So it is far easier for me to access spiritual guidance than body wisdom and to have someone just say directly, “inhabit both spaces at once…don’t leave the body to feel All that is.” That was huge!
Here’s the most interesting piece.
I was holding all of this as the sun rose this morning and something came together.
Two of my sons spoke body wisdom to me this year, on separate occasions. They spoke toward the same thing in the same way and yet, I missed it. They said it quite directly but no, they didn’t call it that. They were just sharing something, a thought and a new goal and I’m thinking I didn’t have the presence in those moments to get curious about it.
The beginning of the story behind the story was the same, an experience of multiple collective family trauma and grief. But they each came to me separately noticing that their postures had collapsed – they had found themselves literally folding over and frequently sort of squashing things and decided to work on changing that. I didn’t until just this moment recognize how this shifted how they moved through the world or how it moved them further along in their grief process.
Myself on the other hand, I have been quite aware of the urges of my trauma body to collapse – to fold into child’s pose and to remain there. I’ve noticed it has become a symptom of my autoimmune flare ups. The muscles involved are precisely the ones that hold me upright. Still, I couldn’t see clearly till this moment that that is one way I could walk towards the continued healing of my soul. I see now, if I take action in the body, hold powerful postures, or postures of grace, I can feel Grace and Empowerment. Now that’s not entirely new to me but it’s new within the context of my recovery from this. In other words, a smaller more accessible piece than I had contemplated.
Now I can return to them and share my experience and understanding and ask about theirs. Now I am reminded the opportunity remains. I just needed a little “wait time” to acclimate to the information or to further experience it and maybe they did as well. In this conversation we might have the opportunity to explore the nervous system, the physical body’s response to trauma, the grief process, personal empowerment…it will all depend on the space we are in, the places where our experience and contexts converge.
There is so much that I see in this story.
I am reminded again, to include myself.
I reminded to be compassionate with myself and have faith in the process.
I reminded of the interconnectedness of our learning, how important it is to include all of our parts in our goals for “educating” and to recognize these important pieces to embodying knowledge and experience.
And finally, I am given for myself, a new level of understanding and solution to some of my specific challenges.
In other words, my experience confirms my beliefs in symbiotic learning and how the practices of curiosity, openness and mindfulness create an environment that makes life rich with learning constantly. Learning happens in conversation and experience. We don’t have to create opportunities to learn, they come and they bring gifts for us all.
Fifteen years ago, I walked in the doors looking for a place to put the oldest, born of my body into preschool. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I just knew it felt good. I had no idea I was building a life and finding my core. All three of my youngest went there, my grandchildren now too. Two of my nieces work there. The oldest I spoke of, he has been a nanny to the students plus most recently a sensei and another has been a skate coach for them. Our whole family helped to move and rebuild it, was it 13 years ago? My oldest sons and husband, they put the cabinets in the classrooms – moved them, the swings, the tunnel and the big cement turtle from our old site. So many of the special projects, the decks, the mud pit…we helped make it happen. We’ve done ceremony with generation after generation and been literally saved by them when my sister died, when my father got sick and eventually passed, and most profoundly when our son died. The culture, the community, it’s shaped us as a family and I believe we helped shape it too.
We imagine that there are moments that mark a change or transition – graduations, ceremonies, last days…I guess I had that moment yesterday.
I am realizing though, that is not how change happens. Ask your graduates if they felt solid in that or recall your 18th or 21st birthday and you will know what I am feeling. It’s more like – huh? Is it done? Did something happen? I am not sure. There’s so much leading up to it. And so much following but no real MOMENT when it feels done.
For me last week, there was the “last staff meeting”, (which isn’t really true as I will return to help interview,) the last morning gathering, the last goodbye song with the Blossom’s, the last story read, the last shutterfly books, the last pizza party, the last whole school goodbye song, except my grandchildren are still there… and really, I’m not going anywhere and neither are they. What does it all mean?
Next week sometime, I will go to Hilltop and pick up my things. Even though I will need many of them on my journey, it feels like an amicable divorce and there is confusion about my loyalties to the Blossom’s needs. “My things”, some of them anyway, feel like they belong to the program as much as they belong to me. I know the next Blossom’s teachers will make it beautiful and make it their own but there is something about legacy too. And then I come back to the simplified truth again. I’m not going anywhere, they can borrow it.
Do I feel different? For sure! Do I feel “divorced”? Not really! I won’t know if it’s denial or just remembering that change is a process, not just one single moment. And really, I don’t know what the relationship will look like now.
Yesterday was amazing! Even some alumni stopped by, which was so deeply meaningful to have some of the beginnings there at the end. In the morning, this beautiful butterfly visited. He stayed for a long time as almost every adult and child had time to wander over and marvel at it. I stood there and stared thinking – this is our sign! Transformation and outcome. WE will all spread our wings and fly. The love, confirmation and reassurance was all there in a hundred tiny moments, conversations and several beautiful letters!
Now, I wonder can I express the journey as it has been so far? I remember when my educational paradigm began to shift. I remember the seeds of understanding that we as educators, came to and how each of our thoughts and beliefs began to shape and grow into Hilltop as it is today. Hilltop is magic! Based on what I believe and know right now, Hilltop is the ideal, everything I believe is necessary for community, for families and for children in those early years. Just creating the structure of Seeds, Sprouts, Blooms and Blossoms and deciding what each program held and meant was a process – years of curiosity, reflection and observation. And I know it will continue. I feel blessed to have been a part of that!
As more and more families in the last several years began to make alternative choices, I knew that our families felt such a loss of support as they transitioned out of our safe and warm community. I felt the desire to be there long before I felt able to respond.
This change has felt right from the beginning even while it has seemed so obviously counter-intuitive. I have spent the last 3 years struggling against the pathless woods fighting with fear of loss and the instability that is the truth of life and yet, the very thing that feels like it may heal me is to walk right into the bush and leave home and stability behind.
So with humble thanks to everyone – Here I go! Looking forward to continuing our journey in a new way!