September 14, 2012
Categories: Culture, Family, Self

Following my recent post about the latest leg of our kids’ educational journey, I thought I’d revisit an oldie in which I described the early days of my search for the perfect educational system. Makes me laugh to think about how far we’ve come, how many paths we’ve been down and how much baggage I’ve let go of along the way.

When my first daughter was not yet a year old, I did what many thinking parents do — I set out on a quest for the perfect educational system. Of course I did. She was a precocious, creative child who deserved only the very best. How could I short her of her birthright?

Pre-internet, I headed for my local Half-Price Books. Blown away by the volumes of literature on the subject, low on cash and stressed by my wandering toddler, I grabbed the one book whose title most concisely summed up my current philosophy and bolted for the register: Natural Childhood. I still remember the page that got me — a sepia-toned photo of two little girls in dirty prairie-style dresses making mud pies, captioned: “Waldorf Education.” That was it for me. The feeling I had looking at that picture, imagining my girl in a school that believed making mud pies was as important as creating pie graphs, spawned a 12-year pursuit to ensure Waldorf education for my children.

To some of you who consider the finest education to look slightly more academic than mud play, this choice may seem less than logical. It was not logical. At the time, it was very much emotional. It felt right that a young child should explore her world in such a simple and wholesome way. Through the years, my emotion — fueled by further study of educational philosophy and a pursuit of other like-minded parents — became a passion. What parent in their right mind wouldn’t choose this holistic, creative education for their child?

Having grown to a family of four, homesteading and living on one income to fulfill other ideals, we were beyond broke. That was beside the point. Money would not stand between my children and the perfect school. I cleaned classroom after classroom with babies 2, 3, and 4 on my back and we lived in 450 square feet to afford the monthly tuition. That year, we enrolled not one, but two of our kids. I became a budget balancing, classroom cleaning, penny-pinching madwoman. Did I mention it was a 45–minute drive, one way to school? My truck was my new home, only slightly less roomy than the house. I brought separate snacks for the drive to and fro, knew all the safest places to stop and nurse when the baby’s cries progressed from bored to starving, and perfected the motherly art of selective hearing. I sold anything of value on eBay, claiming freedom from materialism, while simultaneously justifying car toys from Target as “the price of peace.”

In all fairness, I must pause to mention that my husband did suggest from time to time that the kids would probably be fine at the local public school. I vaguely remember saying something like, “How could you think of compromising your childrens’ wellbeing?” or, “You’d prefer that our 5-year-old be tested under florescent lights with virtually no play time and made fun of for bringing carrot sticks and hummus in her lunch?” (I only just vaguely remember saying such things.)

We dropped back down to one enrolled child and moved to town. I would purchase Waldorf curriculum, home school my children and slowly build a home-based income. That was the year I nearly lost it. One day, nursing my newborn, a kid on either side of me fighting over the baby, my teenager screaming at me about the house being disgusting and “Why couldn’t I take her shopping?” I realized I not only had no energy to plan lessons, make money, or even make lunch — but that I hated my life. I had given up everything fulfilling to me in order to give my kids what I thought they “deserved.”

Over the next year, I began to explore myself again, and realized I had been creating stories about who I was “supposed to be” and what was the “best way” for my family. None of it was inherently true, and none of it was worth it for the misery I had inflicted upon myself. I was suddenly aware that there might be other good people in the world who love their children and want the best for them, but who cannot afford private education, or who do not feel inspired by homeschooling. Funny, it actually seemed MOST parents were in this boat.

Two of my kids, obviously miserable and imbalanced because they didn’t attend a Waldorf school.

Our kids no longer attend Waldorf schools and I have made peace with this decision. They ride the neighborhood school bus to the perfectly okay neighborhood public school. The teachers are just as dedicated and the kids act about the same as kids do everywhere. I now have time to make money from home and live a much more balanced and fulfilling life. Do I regret the years I spent trying to achieve an unaffordable dream? Not at all. I have grown from my experience and now have an expanded sense of my strengths and my limitations. I will always have great appreciation for Waldorf education and incorporate its philosophies into my home life. I now also have great appreciation for public education. My kids are well adjusted and happy, they make mud pies in our backyard and I don’t send hummus in their lunches.

Pin It twitter Share on Facebook

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

How We Ended Up In Mexico
But What Did You Really Accomp...
Why We Complain and 10 Ways to...
Spring Breaking
Mother's Day Reflections 2013
Your Own (Unfiltered) Brand of...

27 Comments

  1. um.
    You DO pack hummus in our lunch and we are NOT adjusted

    Reply

    • Oh, Taosy. That was a long time ago! I’ve since decided you are SO AMAZINGLY ADJUSTED that you can HANDLE hummus in your lunch. Love you.

      Reply

  2. Meg McGarry

    HAHAHA… oh girl, you are spotlighting my life here. I just enrolled my genius of a son in public school after four years of expensive private school “preparing” him for a better life… mostly because we just can’t freakin’ afford it anymore. I do send hummus in his lunch from time to time and he constantly laments that he is the ONLY kid that doesn’t get candy or dessert with it but I digress… ;p I adore your tales. Thanks for singing our songs.

    Reply

  3. Erika Roling

    My kids get hummus in their lunches too…it even comes in snack pack sizes! Beth, you are one talented woman.

    Reply

  4. Oh, I recognize this so much! I have tortured myself about so many parenting things. I pretty much lost my shit over attachment parenting in general…

    My kids do attend a Waldorf school, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of their childhood. I do think it’s sad that the option was so far out of reach for your family. Our school has a very generous scholarship program so we can maintain some economic diversity. Rudolf Steiner said that Waldorf education should be “available to all” without monetary consideration, but many schools are still so expensive without offering realistic assistance, and without realizing how demoralizing it is to expect low-income families to clean toilets in exchange for tuition. I’m sorry you had to experience that. And I’m glad that you’ve found a “Middle Way” that works for your family. :)

    Reply

  5. This post made me smile and wince at the same time. (Quite a feat.) I could never even try to give my kids that perfect education, but I sure wanted to. The local public school was OK during elementary school. I just about broke my parenting back on middle school. High school’s off to a shaky start. Yes, I’ve had to let go of a lot. Trust my kids more. Adjust myself to the idea that my kids’ education is still a lot of work for me, just a different kind than I once thought. (And for the record, I’ve been a public school educator for more than 20 years. Don’t get me started on what my parenting experiences have done to me professionally. I might never shut up. :-)

    Reply

  6. Rogene Buhrdorf

    Thanks for re-posting this Beth. I am there. I drove myself completely crazy because I believed Waldorf to be the only way and it is not.My youngest son started public high school this year (while I secretly trembled) and so far, so good. I was making myself crazy and him crazy for the sake of an idea. Waldorf is great but not at any cost and it is not for everybody. Thanks again for this jewel. Again thank you thank you thank you.

    Reply

  7. Thank you SOO much for this!!! I am just dealing with this same thing right now. I literally could have written it myself. The Waldorf school is amazing here and also 45 minutes away. I maybe, maybe, maybe could afford to send 1, but 2 or 3 kids…no friggin’ way! I love the philosophies, the teachers, the environment they set, but every way that I have looked at it, it was just not possible. So, my kids go to public school and you know it’s actually pretty good! I think about this so often and drive myself crazy, but I am starting to come to terms with it…but every now and then I torture myself and go on the website and dream about having tons of extra money laying around and living on the other side of the county!

    Reply

  8. And I have to add, that we are a one income family. It is a choice we are making… but, I could work full time too and send my kids to the Waldorf school, but how fair would that be to the one who is still a baby and would never get the time at home with mum.

    Reply

  9. Meg-Mom

    The smell of garlic (in my mom’s hummus) is so strong the office can smell it! :)
    and seriously all of the other kids have cake, candy or cookies in there lunch! :) :)
    I feel for your son.
    It is SO embarrassing getting stuff that smells in your lunch! but triple it for me because I cant just say
    “ya its my geeky mom’s kind of a lunch”, say something funny and put it back in my lunch I HAVE TO DO IT IN SPANISH! :) :) :)

    Reply

  10. Thank you for posting this! Your line about creating stories about what you were supposed to be and the best way for your family is something that completely resonates with me! I just have one two year old, but I feel so much guilt for having to work, and I always think that she deserves something better and that she “should” have a particular type of life.

    We live in the south, and I am surrounded by traditional families who secretly but mostly openly judge me for my decisions. The culture of what life is supposed to be like is so strong here that being different in my area is a tough sale.

    Thank God there is no real set standard and that there are people out there like you to remind me of that!

    Reply

  11. Thanks Beth for this post. We made it through for 10 years in Waldorf. But we still feel the aftermath. I love your stories.

    Reply

  12. Me, me, me, this is my story!!!! Thank you for telling so much more eloquently than I could. Thank you for telling it before it was my reality.

    Thank you for telling me what I know in my heart, that I could not do the reality of homeschooling. That we cannot financially do Waldorf. That we cannot do big car trips for the perfect school.

    Glad to have found your blog.

    Reply

  13. Thank you so much for this post. I let go of my Waldorf dreams past spring because of the commute & finances. We enrolled our (only) child in a small, affordable (for now) Montessori school but I’m still getting over having to say no to Waldorf! Also I’m now super attached to the Montessori way & I hope if the time comes when it’s no longer feasible I will be able to let go… Thanks for your post!

    Reply

  14. So glad to hear Toas’ side of the story in the comments section. Keep speaking your mind girl! Or better yet, start your own blog and tell your own truth. We need more young voices out here.

    Reply

  15. I so agree with you! We too are a one income family (average income at that!), preferring to live with less to have more time with each other. I love the ideas behind alternative schooling methods and I still occasionally worry about sending the children to the local public school (eldest will start in a few months – eeek!). However, the money we don’t spend on tuition and travel to schools affords us to live on a beautiful block in the country, where we can grow our food, hang out in trees, keep animals and enjoy peace and creativity. It affords one of us to be with the kids all the time and they’re also a stone’s throw away from grandparents. Home is where we start from, schooling is just part of our children’s education, and I am sure that the energy we put into nurturing ourselves and our home life gives our children the ability to thrive in whatever situation they find themselves in, throughout their lives.

    Reply

    • Thank you, Rose! Your lifestyle sounds ideal, and your priorities right on target. All the best in your continued journey!

      Reply

  16. Oh my god. Thank you is all I can say. You have helped me so much. Perspective is everything.

    Reply

  17. J'Ana Smith

    Thank you for writing this! I would LOVE for my kids to attend the Waldorf school in our city, but like many others, can’t afford to send all 5, and how could I choose which to send!? I try to foster a “waldorf” style home, where the kids can make mud pies or snow volcanoes etc, and just hope and pray that the public school factory won’t take the magic out of learning and exploring the world! Thanks again for your blog, I have been devouring it. You so eloquently express in writing many things that I have felt to be true in my heart for a long time.

    Reply

    • Thank YOU J’Ana! It’s been a real process of letting go for me, and a trust in the greater good in order to feel peaceful about it. Amazing how, for some of us, it takes a whole mess of kids to learn these lessons! Glad you’re here.

      Reply

  18. hi there. thank you for this. we started waldorf kind of by accident…summer camp. i had looked it up before and totally freaked when i saw the tuition. fast forward three years. we have paid close to 15k and that is b/c we are poor compared to other folks in Boulder CO. I am wondering your thoughts on the following… I love Waldorf for many reasons but I really like trying to honor the children and keeping things simple for them. For example, my son knows nothing of 9 11. He doesn’t know about the shootings this month. He believes in Santa. I want to keep this magic. I don’t want some asshole kid to bully him. At this point I think I am more concerned with the social aspects of private vs public. Can you speak to this at all??
    Peas

    Reply

  19. Thank you for sharing your waldorf journey. It resonates to my core. We are enrolled in a waldorf kindergarten and hope to continue the journey BUT..for all those reasons stated above I am anxious all the time. I’ve shared this post with some other moms who have made some tough choices. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to be ok with walking away even to continue going to waldorf school. It’s just one way, not the only way. Thanks again- this was the right message at the right time.

    Reply

  20. beth browning

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I am having the exact struggle and I appreciate your perspective very much.

    Reply

  21. I can’t believe I found your story about your kids and waldorf school. I had the exact same struggle and my little sweet 5 year old I found out was getting bullied in her kindergarten as well as the teacher was not a good fit at all. I was paying lots of money, driving 40 minutes each way and realizing that my daughter was slowly not trusting of the teacher and not feeling safe as we call it “mary poppins meets lord of the flies” since as nice as they sing songs and believe kids should be kids, they also did not protect my daughter from more touchy, boundary issue kids. So we looked at other options, and although the huge public school was not an option and homeschooling would of been very hard since she was an only child (now expecting a baby brother) we decided to go out of our town to another to the sweetest most community oriented public school I could hope for. They actually have lots of local community gatherings, have a may day, have farm to table and mix grades so kids are with same teacher in a mixed grade for two years. It is not just a school but a community. It’s atmosphere and happy open aired structure is absolutely without a doubt 100 percent better then a school that carries the name Waldorf but is cool and unloving and not attentive. So I would not go by a title as all waldorfs and all montessories are not the same. I would go by the faces of the kids AND the teachers when you walk in. Are they happy? Do the kids seem structured but also happy and does the school itself feel like a community, the structure not feeling institutional. We have found our school. But now we do have to re-create our life here. Money and housing it is a hardship but you can’t go back and make up the lost time of education and there is nothing more valuable then knowing your child is safe, in a great school and loves to go to school like my sweet girl. There is nothing more important in my mind. After all it is anywhere from 6-7 hours a day 5 days a week for years and years of their life. That is a lot of time to have your child in a place that does not serve them well. And as far as bring hummus to public school, very very good idea. I send home-made banana bread for her snack and a nutritious lunch but sometimes the school lunch is so good we do buy it. Schools are important and there are not an overwhelming supply of good ones. We love the Waldorf education but realize they are limited and not all are the same. Be weary, research, and ask other parents. It is important. Thanks for sharing your story. It is nice to know we are not the only ones who stubbled with the ideal school and got a real life lesson when we realized our public school was so much better then the not so local waldorf school.
    k

    Reply

Leave a Reply