I remember that night in June like it was yesterday. Our oldest daughter was just finishing Kindergarten and we were thinking ahead, with a bit of panic, to Grade One – a whole day at school away from us, away from her sister. She was already struggling with peers and found it hard to hold on for the morning without clinging to her stuffed dog or the little girl next to her. She became withdrawn, and those eyes that normally lit up with delight, began to darken. We felt like our child was drifting away from us. Intuitively we knew something had to change.
With much trepidation, we decided that night to keep her home, just for the next year, as an experiment. I was nervous, and also vividly aware of what others were thinking of our ‘crazy’ idea.
Well, that night in June, over six years ago now, was the beginning of a journey. One filled with joys and challenges as we stumble our way through learning together. And if I had the option to go back and choose again, I would still choose the same path.
I will never forget the morning we were walking to our local café to read a book together over tea. My daughter was skipping along beside me and suddenly burst out, “I LOVE learning!” My eyes watered as I remembered her dampened spirit from the year before and knew in my heart we had made the right decision. Now, years later, I have a bit more insight into what made the difference.
As I reflect I see that not only were we losing our connection with our daughter, she was losing her connection with herself. Being in that Kindergarten class, away from the safety of her home, was too much for her. She was not at a place where she could hold on to us while we were physically apart and in her alarm at being separated, turned to others in desperation to fill that void – her inseparable stuffy and the little red-headed girl who looked like her own sister. All of her energy went to filling this void – there was no energy left to learn, to ask questions, to be creative. Her brain was moving to protect her from a separation too much to bear, and her delight gave way to sullen quietness. She held everything in and there was simply no room left.
What we did that year, and continue to do to this day, is create that room. Somewhat like caring for a plant, we strive to cultivate the conditions for her to thrive – deepening the attachment roots; making it safe to depend on us; keeping the heart soft enough to experience the emotions necessary for growth, including the joys AND the disappointments; and making room for her own self to flower, honoring whatever color and shape emerges.
For our family, that has meant embracing the adventure of learning at home. For both of our children, the school environment – with it’s constraints of time and pressures to fit in and mix with others before they could hold on to themselves – might have been too much. These precious plants may have survived, but without the conditions they needed to truly flower and blossom; in short, there would have been a cost to their development.
And when I see before me those sparkling inquisitive eyes, the looks of wonder at the world around them, the desire to learn and understand, the confidence with which they approach new things and challenges, the creativity that springs spontaneously …
It causes me to pause and smile and continue on the path …