Gnome building without fear.... the Waldorf experience and me

Leah recently changed schools. Not a big deal as such. Only she went from the more conventional relatively low parent-involvement-system  of the German Kindergarden (believe me it is v e r y low key  compared to what I know now!) to a brave new world of group weaving mornings,  craft making weekends and parent teacher evenings with compulsory sing-a-longs.

How on earth did this come about???

My pre-Waldorf self  lived blissfully unaware in the belief that parent involvement  really meant delivering my child to school more or less washed and dressed and if I really wanted to shine I included a healthy non sugary snack and a change of clothes into her school bag.  Heck, I even made time for the 15 minute parent teacher chat once a term and prepared a bowl of popcorn for the yearly Christmas party.

Little did I know what lay in store for me when I decided on a whim that princess Leah might benefit from a change of schools. As so often in life, from the moment a vague feeling expands into a niggling idea, happenings conspire to direct me in a certain direction. Suddenly Waldorf education popped up everywhere in conversations, magazines, TV programmes, (the world's most successful and creative people all seemed to have emerged from Waldorf schools) and at the same time it became more and more obvious that a conventional school system did not really benefit Leah at five years old.

Eventually I called the Waldorf school just to find out about - hmmm - maybe a visit or an open day sometime in the foreseeable future... two weeks later Leah started at Michael Oak (don't ask  what happened, probably something to do with subliminal messages while I was  put on hold,  or the water they served  during the interview).

 In a matter of days my universe shifted and the Waldorf spirit took over: In the mornings, instead of pushing mychild into a classroom and quickly close the door from the other side, I found myself perched on a little wooden chair fiddling with hand dyed wool and enormous sewing needles carefully watching and listening and generally getting my bearings in a Waldorf classroom.

 I soon came to understand that the german school etiquette of  grunting  at your fellow parents at the school gate and basically ignoring anybody  who has not been introduced by at least two trusted and reliable mother-sources is so not the Waldorf way. From the minute I squeezed my behind into one of the little wooden bucket chairs, hoping it would not stick to me on my way out, mothers AND check this: FATHERS came up (or rather down) to me, introduced themselves, asked questions, where the answers really seemed to interest them, and basically treated me like minor royalty just landed in their classroom. Everybody knew who we were. I was truly amazed and a little terrified.

What in the name of  Gaya Earth Mother would be expected of me???

The answer did not take long to manifest itself : Back at work - my heart still pleasantly tingling from the warm welcome we had - I switched on my computer and stared at a screen full of epic messages from my new Waldorf family.

Apart from a 3 page friendly welcome-message composed by someone called the classroom link (a term that was unfamiliar to me at the time) there was an invitation to a talk about kindergarden, a reminder to not forget the evening of practising lantern songs and an invitation to join the craft making morning - all in the course of our first week and all formulated in a way that made me feel non attendance would be to my own abysmal disadvantage.

Where previously I would have happily accepted  being frowned upon by my fellow parents  if it gained me my freedom in exchange - I suddenly was filled with  dread at the thought that all these lovely people with their warm smiles and open hearts might find fault with me.

And so I went. To everything. And everybody was there. Always. (weeell, as far as I could tell - there is of course the fact that I seemed to introduce myself to the same people every morning thinking I hadn't met them yet and greeting everybody within 200 meters of the schoolgrounds worried I might unknowingly ignore a Waldorf parent).

Alan of course had to come (I told him it was compulsory - and he always trusts me with school things).

 So we arrived at our first parent evening in a room with lovely pastel walls and drapes, called the small hall. Chairs were arranged in a wide circle and as soon as we all got seated, sheets were handed out. Aha, I thought - a bit of German efficiency after all: here comes the protocol of the evening. I barely glanced at my paper - partly because I had forgotten my reading glasses. The next moment we were divided into groups of 10 and somebody counted one two three and the first group started singing: I walk with my little lantern.

The second group joined in, I started panicking... in mere seconds it would be my turn - everybody in the whole room just waiting for me to sing, I couldn't even read the words....I walk with my little lantern and my ladidadidada... the whole song drifted into chaos with Alan's deep choir voice somehow carrying us through to the end.

 Glances and nervous giggles around the room.

Ok people, that was lovely! enthused our teacher: should we try it again then? ....
and again
and again
and again
and so the evening went. The last couple of hours were dedicated to our childrens development between the ages of six and seven (another true eye opener) and we came home in the early hours of the morning abuzz with all the new things and songs we had learned.

The next day was a normal working day and apart from rushing to and fro (town to Kenilworth) twice and doing a spot of  needle-work in the morning,  the day was pretty uneventful.

But Saturday arrived and with it craft-making morning. Naturally the whole family went.

As soon as we got there we were seperated (Alan and I that is - the kids stayed with me). The men were taken to an undisclosed location to do what they called "woodwork" and the women stayed in the classroom perched on above mentioned little chairs. Out came the beads and buttons and needles, the home baked cookies, oranges and tea and a whole lot of small unfamiliar looking creatures in different stages of creation.  As I had not brought anything to the table I looked around a little shame facedly, hoping somebody would take charge of me.

You might have guessed already that I did not have to wait long.

You better come and sit here, I show you what to do and you can use my needle and thread. (friendly face looming above long flowing garment)
I mumbled something along the lines that I had not known we were supposed to bring anything (who reads the 10 paged emails from beginning to end?????  Clearly everybody but me!!!) and was quickly assured that it was ok, because we could all share. As soon as I had repositioned myself, I was handed  two pieces of felt in the shape of a miniature tent and proceeded to sew my first gnome

 Ahem SEW . Right. Exactly how do you mean???

 I hadn t sewn anything by hand (and never in my life by machine I might add) since I attended "good housekeeping" in elementary school, where I finished a sorry looking pair of pot holders and never really felt the need to take the aquired skills to the next level.

Just do a simple blanket stitch. (flowing garment)
Right. Blanket stitch. (trying to conjure a mental image of a blanket and it's stitches)
And so I sat contemplating the simplicity of said blanket stitch, needle suspended in midair, eventually admitting I had no idea what she was talking about.

The next half hour or so, the lovely lady patiently guided my clumsy fingers through the moves, from top to bottom, line them up nicely, then through the loop, and again, watch your spacing, pull tight, .... that's it.

And off I went like lassie on a rescue mission. As I got into the rhythm (stitch, loop, thread, pull, stitch , loop thread, pull. stitch...) the room around me became hazy, voices  faded...

What years of of yoga and meditation couldn't do ( my particular brand of brain never fully responded to a simple command of  shutting up and blissing out)  repetitive labour got me there within minutes: All thoughts stopped and I entered a state of consciousness I can only describe as blissfully meditative.
Children drifted in and out of my awareness, conversations only marginally affected me, everybody around me was part of my perfectly coordinated universe (stitch, loop, thread, pull).

For a short while,  I believe , I even left my body and looked down at our community of women diligently bowing our heads over needlework, only looking up to check on children, admire each other's work or offer friendly advise.

At some point somebody suggested to bring tea to the woodworking men (ay, my joseph must have worked up a sweat, we should serve some tea to the menfolk ) - or maybe this was a scene from the Harrison Ford movie, where he ends up hiding in an Amish community, falls in love with the lovely rebecca who is only allowed to shower with her clothes on, but Harrison manages to actually sneak a peek....

...anyway, you get the picture.
1 o clock came and went.
Ever so often in the periphery of my mind and vision I registered Alan's face popping up at the window, grimacing and mouthing incomprehensible words, to which I felt no need to respond.

Eventually he stormed into the room and shouted: Martina we have to go now, I need to be at the airport in 20 minutes.
I looked up truly astonished:
Airport,what on earth for???
when I noticed his desperate winking  - (together with everybody else in the room).
Ah, ok, to pick your parents up (wink wink)
Yes (great heaving sigh of relief) we must go NOW.

On our way home  I realised that it was way passed lunchtime and for the first time in years I had not fed the children or worried about Kalas naptime.

It was then that I realised that the transformation had begun ....

watch this space :-)


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