All through the school year I’ve been feeling conflicted. The days when I am home with both children all day, I determine our daily rhythms. Together we cycle up and down, from bursts of focused activity to a return to mellow solo imaginative play. In breath, out breath. I am in the background all day long, seemingly being ignored, but really filling up my children with my solid and comforting presence. Even when they are miles away in a dream world of their own.
The days my daughter went to school were stormier. School is heaven — she is so fulfilled and stimulated. It fills her up with new fodder for her play and with new connections to her beloved teachers. But she holds everything she experiences inside her all day; she absorbs all the emotions that play out around her among the other children. Perhaps she feels the absence of her home base, me. When she comes home she whines constantly or launches into out of control tantrums, passes through a storm until she arrives at peace in my arms again. Always this passage. Is it healthy? Is it right? Or am I pushing her to do too much too soon by being away out in another world?
She seems to be processing it. At night, before she falls asleep, she asks “can we talk?” In a burst of chatty reflection she tells me all about the emotional dramas of the day. Who hit whom, who said they wouldn’t be whose friend anymore. Who made bread or picked pea pods or held her hand at school. And then she passes out deeply asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.
But these storms are so draining for me. I have been craving the long, slow summer. Day after day of just us, our little threesome. I have been tinkering with a rhythm to our week and our days so our time will be predictable. A basic structure that she will know by heart. And in it she can be free to play and imagine and enjoy in her own wildness.
This prospect seemed overwhelming at first, really sticking to a rhythm that is constant and not overstimulating. Still I am struggling to get all the pieces to fit together! My best resource and support have been Lisa Boisvert Mackensie’s e-courses and e-materials on Waldorf-based homeschooling and homemaking. She is like the home base for me; every chance I get I peek at the next short and pithy essay she has sent us and the very authentic and personal responses from other participating parents. Her programs are invaluable. And, just maybe, the way a toughened Vermonter presents Waldorf thinking is an especially good fit for me, a born and raised New Englander still trying to understand this California culture.
Which brings me to seasonal rhythms in Vermont versus California. Planning out the year of homemaking, she starts us with the big picture of the year and its seasonal cycles, the solstices and the equinoxes. The four seasons of Europe and the Waldorf world are archetypal, so does that make them universal? Or Eurocentric? Or both?
Our rhythms, of our bodies, our days, and our lives, flow up and down, expanding and contracting like our breath. The cycles of nature throughout the year also rise and fall like breaths.
These cycles can be mapped across the solstices and equinoxes. When the sun is coming closer to the earth and the days are getting longer, as Lisa says, “nature’s forces are pushing out, expanding from within.” Buds swell, blossoms open, fruits grow. Then the sun stands still at the moment of solstice and begins to move away; days get shorter. The earth as a being contracts, pulls inward, and nature’s energy retreats back into the earth. Leaves fall, plants die back, fruits fall and decay. This expanding and contracting is like an out breath and in breath of the earth and nature together.
In our mediterranean climate we have the same day length change as in the northeast, but we have wet and rainy seasons instead of cold and hot. How does this fit in?
In early spring we have all that expanding, opening, blossoming wildflowers, the combination of rain and warmth. Baby animals, swelling buds. But then in the dry summer, much foliage dries and dies back, contracting energy back into the roots until the rains come back in the winter. The summer solstice passed a few days ago and all of a sudden we felt that cold gray fog, caused by the upwelling of cold ocean currents. Then, autumn is a time of change, sunny days with fires a little more inland, hot and dry. Then finally the rains come in late fall and everything comes back to life, green and lush. So winter is a time of expansion, of greenery and slow and steady growth in the cold, dark, wet. Until the burst of growth again in spring.
Expanding from Fall, through Winter, until Spring equinox. Contracting through summer until the Fall equinox. But that is backwards from the sun’s movement, the sun getting closer while nature is contracting, and getting farther while nature is expanding. Or is the arid summer and cold fog part of the standing still, lasting more than just a day.
Or, maybe the sun alone is too Eurocentric . . . the ocean currents and temperatures are what causes our rains. Same as on the coast of South America. Maybe ocean currents and tides and the moon play a role, layered on top of the sun and the days.
As I was writing this, this link appeared in my inbox: Upwelling Upwelling might be akin to the contraction of winter when nature’s energy is still active but deep within the earth; it is stirring up of nutrients from deep within the ocean.
So how do other climates fit this? Anyone out there, are you in a Mediterranean climate like me, affected by ocean currents? A tropical one on the equator? High altitude desert? In the rain shadow of major peaks or living on a river depending on snow melt?
In your climate, what are the signs in nature you see of the expansion and then the contraction? Do they match up with the seasons, the solstices, and the equinoxes, or is it something totally different?
Do you feel your mood change around the solstices or equinoxes? Or when the seasons change? What do you feel around the solstices or equinoxes? Lisa also led us in an exercise of writing down our moods for each season of the year. For me, I feel more movement and change in Spring and Fall — spring is high energy, fall is reflective and taking stock of the year. I struggle with getting into the rhythm of summer and winter, since they seem like a long period without change, where I have to put in more effort to make structure in our lives, to keep a rhythm. But then once the rhythm is in place it is easier, smoother. Both summer and winter here have that stay indoors hibernation quality, summer for the gray fog and winter for the dark and rains.
As Lisa suggests, this inner emotional experience of the seasonal cycles forms the basis of our whole year. The cycles of our homemaking and our learning. Periods of change and periods of calm, or standing still. Times when we want to do more, need to do less, or push ourselves to do a little bit more than is comfortable, to keep from hibernating completely.
I want to uncover how to support my daughter’s emotional journey throughout the year. I already know that nature is a safe place for her emotionally, while the paved playground is not. Do her feelings stand still at the solstice and then swing in a new direction? I will watch for the deep stirring within her, as the currents well up in the ocean and the fog settles down around us. In the Autumn, when she begins kindergarden five days a week, and we no longer have long beautiful days together just us, will there be another swing? How can nature help me maintain my connection with her then?
I hope that the long and rhythmic swinging summer will give me space to prepare and feel this out. Stay tuned!