I'm Published! - Livin' the Good Life
Dec. 2nd, 2009
07:17 am - I'm Published!
Oak Meadow School, the Waldorf-inspired, home-study school we used when Ely was little, contacted me recently and asked if I would write an article for their school magazine. Apparently, though I didn't know it at the time, Ely was their first student! Now they are a worldwide, well-established school, and they were interested in publishing some of the stories of their alumni. Ely's story was their first choice. I submitted the article below, they published it, and just the other day they asked me for another one. They wanted a follow-up on what happened with Ely later in life. I'm in the middle of writing it now. It's really a fun project, and it has the side benefit of keeping me focused in a more intense way than I usually do when I'm writing. After all, when I write for this blog, I only have to please myself. I can be sloppy if I want to, and nobody cares but me.
Here is my first thousand-word published essay:
Our family has the distinction of being the “first Oak Meadow family”, having enrolled in the fall of 1978. I had been searching for a curriculum that would be a good fit for my son Ely. He was five years old, and all he really wanted to do was play all day. He was extremely active and enjoyed spending a good portion of his days playing outdoors on our rural Indiana farm. If I wanted to find him, I could usually look up in our huge maple tree and see him perched up on one of the top branches, or he’d be out in the cornfield running through the cornrows. He seemed to have a creative, artistic bent, loving theatrics and the costumes that went with it. He was usually responsive to being lead, as long as I was doing things with him. After reading the Oak Meadow literature and learning that it was Waldorf-inspired, I was convinced that Oak Meadow’s approach would work well with Ely’s temperment, while it also strongly appealed to mine.
At first I was a little nervous about doing things “right”. Consequently, it felt important that I follow the curriculum to the letter. Otherwise, I reasoned, I might do it “wrong”, and Ely would not become “properly educated”. But, as I got more practice, and Ely seemed to thoroughly enjoy the routine and the activities, I started to relax and just enjoy being with my boy. I liked the way we focused together each day and how I worked to put intention in everything we did. I liked the idea that Ely was learning by my example, and consequently, I needed to be mindful of what kind of example I was setting for him. I found myself having to stop and think before I just blurted out whatever I wanted him to do. I would ask myself, “Would I like to be talked to like that?” Also, I had to keep in mind Ely’s nature and whether I was respecting it. “He’s a sensitive boy. Was my tone of voice too harsh just now? Is there a better way to enlist his cooperation?”
I had to continually practice being a good leader, which was not my natural forte. This could be challenging if I was feeling a little rigid or cranky that day. I found that my leadership was most often respected when I was genuinely enthusiastic and interested in whatever I was trying to accomplish. This meant that I, myself, had to be engaged in what we were doing if I wanted Ely to get onboard with me. It was like I had a “little Darlene” alongside me as Ely and I worked together, and I kept checking in with her to see if I was staying in touch with a child’s perspective. I was surprised and delighted to find that “little Darlene” was still very much alive in me, and that she was being nurtured by this curriculum just as much as Ely was. I tried to treat Ely as I would have wanted her to be treated, way back when. Often I felt like I was the main one getting the education. My major was, “Who is this person we call Ely, and how can I assist him in becoming his best self?” I came to see that he was an unfolding being, not a lump of clay that I was molding, and that my main job was to stand back in amazement and appreciation while I watched him come more and more into himself. It felt like an important job… a holy job. To witness a child going through this process felt like a great privilege.
As the weeks flew by, I found myself up late at night feeling inspired and excited about planning the next day’s activities. I had to stretch myself to memorize the fairy tales, some of which were very long and complicated. I had to learn to play a new instrument, the recorder, often struggling as I tried to make sense of it. I enjoyed working with the high-quality art materials that were used to create the main lesson books and journals. Using these materials felt like an unexpected luxury, and I let myself drink in and appreciate the beauty and richness of the artwork that emerged from our main lesson periods each day. I loved learning new songs to sing with Ely, especially when we starting learning to sing in harmony together. And I thoroughly enjoyed searching for interesting and well-written poems for him to recite. I was amazed and surprised at how fast he could memorize verse and how much he seemed to enjoy doing it!
We spent time outdoors together every day. I loved Oak Meadow’s emphasis on appreciating nature. That’s one thing that seemed unique to Oak Meadow. Letting kids play freely outside in the dirt and grass, by the pond and in the fields, climbing in the trees and on the sheds, exploring the barn, and going for long, leisurely bike rides down the country roads… I believe these are some of my adult children’s fondest memories. And to think that due to it’s emphasis on nature, Oak Meadow valued these kinds of experiences as much as our children did. It was a perfect fit!
When Ely’s older brother, Nathen, got home from school we enjoyed reading classic literature aloud, which grew into a treasured family pastime. Never a bedtime passed without the whole family gathering on the bed for a few more chapters of whatever compelling story we were engrossed in at the time.
Looking back, those days I spent with Ely as a small boy, and the nights I spent planning for those days, are some of my richest memories. The relationship that we forged day after day turned into a rock solid bond that persists today. At 36 years old, Ely is a successful man making his way in the world with awareness, sensitivity, and artistry.