As if moving from a home of 18 years wasn’t enough of a major life transition, within our first week in Sebastopol, as I was tripping over boxes and my own disorientation, I also attended enrollment orientation for kindergarten. Deciding to send Fern out, rather than homeschool, was something we mulled over for years. Some of you may even remember the little sh*t storm that happened on this blog when I was debating styles of education, such as Waldorf. Ultimately, our decision ended up being informed by finances and my own overdrawn bank account of emotional bandwidth. As Rachel has quipped, staying home day after day with my child can turn me into the kind of mother that eats her young. Even more pressing however is the need for another income in our family. If only I could get paid for motherhood, but alas, I also need more hours to work.
But as Fern turned 3, then 4, and moving became seemingly impossible, we figured we would homeschool until we could afford an option that we felt confident about. One of the reasons I was sold on Petaluma/Sebastopol was the multiple options for public charter schools, several being Waldorf. Despite the controversy around Waldorf, and some of Steiner’s less known theories, the schools I had visited plus the adult graduates had me sold. Waldorf, if done right*, produces wholly intact people, in body, soul and mind. Plus the emphasis with following the seasonal and festival cycles, as well as connection with nature, is a high priority for our family. But Waldorf, despite its affordable and humble beginnings in the US, is now one of the more expensive private school options.
I got terribly lost on the backroads the night of the kindergarten orientation. I arrived flustered and was greeted by two older women, teachers dressed in calico aprons and dresses, like grandmother gnomes. The atmosphere of the classroom was pleasant in pastel appearance and I tried to calm my discomfort as I sat in a small wooden chair. As the orientation began I had an increasing sense of awkwardness. I chalked it up to social anxiety and tucked into the information. But right away I became concerned as I noticed that the books we were urged to read as parents were 1. very outdated and 2. written without real research. I began to feel a bit of revulsion. The conversation turned to the elimination of screen time for young children, and I noticed a confused and loud vehemence against modernity in general, not just the negative consequences on a child’s developing mind. When the subject of music was mentioned, the teachers preached against all recorded music, especially rock and roll because “it wakes up the pelvic region”. My head snapped up from the paper I was looking at, expecting to make contact with at least another person like Are you hearing this? Instead, I saw everyone nodding as the koolaid was passed around.
Feeling dejected that night I wondered had I made a completely misguided decision? We had moved here because we wanted to go to this school! Jeff and I filled out the paperwork over the next couple of days, as my heart continued to sink. During a break at work later in the week, I decided to do a quick google search on other schools. Maybe there was something, another option, a new school, that I had missed? I knew that for kindergarten this school would be fine, that Fern would be fine…but I didn’t know if I would be. Jeff and I were looking for community, and we weren’t going to find it here.
In my search results, I clicked on the website for the school we wanted. Maybe I had missed something, maybe I just needed to remind myself of what attracted me to the school initially. At the top of their web page was a banner that announced Kindergarten Orientation Tonight! Wait. What? I clicked through, went back to the google results page and realized…
I had gone to the wrong school. There are TWO public charter Waldorf schools in Sebastopol.
I called my clients, cancelled my sessions for the evening, raced back north and stumbled into the orientation right on time.
The difference was immediately apparent. There were no grandmother gnomes. The teacher was warm and friendly, the atmosphere relaxed, the parents a diverse group. When the topic of screen time came up, their policy was the same. But it was delivered by the education director, who referenced all the recent brain research and who also named the impact that making this choice has on parents…that it can be hard. It won’t be for us…we don’t watch TV, we’re not getting Fern an iPad for her 5th birthday, etc. But it was the saneness of the conversation, the acknowledgement that we all walk in the same world. There was also a long discussion about community involvement, that it’s the core element of the school. We were asked to look around, at the faces that may be part of our lives for the next 9 years. Returning parents echoed the sentiment, talking about the profound impact that community involvement had on their lives, on their overall wellbeing and happiness, an integral positivity.
I left orientation feeling bouyant and reassured. Only one thing stood in our way now. Enrollment was done on a lottery basis. When we got our enrollment letter a week later, my heart sank again. We were ninth on the list. As seems to be the theme this year, our luck continued to turn. One of the horse boarders at our ranch has kids that go to the school. Excited for us, when she heard we were wait listed, she offered to “talk to someone” for us. It’s how we got in she said. Three weeks later I received an acceptance call. The school secretary, exhausted by the end of the school year, laughed at my exuberance and offered her welcome.
We have spent the summer slowly easing in to this new phase in all our lives. Fern’s teacher did a home visit and my daughter proudly showed her around our home, parking herself at “her art station” where she sat drawing pictures for 45 minutes with her new teacher friend. We have done back-to-school orientations and work days on the campus, which is where all these photos were taken. I spent the last several days sewing her kindergarten necessities…10 napkins, an apron, a clothes bag, and a pillow, which we will stuff together on her first day. We have spent time on the campus with Leo, exploring the paths through the blackberry brambles and picking apples.
The campus is a dream, the kindergarten play yard an absolute fairy land, with a little alcove for mudpies, complete with tin dishes and cups. There are monkey bars and trees for climbing, hidden pumpkins underneath forests of sunflowers, rakes and shovels for dirt play and a meadow of willows with lemon balm corners. There is a pond and resident dragonflies, a giant worm bin, an outdoor kitchen where poppy heads lay spilling their seeds. The classroom smells of wood and beeswax, with little nooks and cubbies and a large warm rug. Just outside the door there is a shady deck with picnic tables for snick snack and wood working and crafts. When Fern realized yesterday that her first day was no longer far away, the hesitation that has fenced her in all summer melted and her face lit up…it’s the day after tomorrow? Yay! I can’t wait to go to school! I’m so excited!
I’m excited too, far more than I thought I would be when we first started thinking about school. Partly this is because it feel like it’s time. I have realized my limitations in providing a fulltime at home experience, the biggest being play time with other littles. Mostly its because I feel so confident in this school, in the teacher and the environment. It is so, so right.
The enormity of this moment however, looms in front of my heart like the giant maw of a crocodile. Tomorrow Jeff and I will attend her first day orientation, a short introductory time. Then on Thursday, I will walk her to morning circle…and we will say goodbye…for a brief four hours…and also to her babyhood. The returning parents offer tea time to the newbies, a chance to ask questions and settle in. I will bring my own mug, but I may have to go hide in the bushes and fill my cup up with tears.
School. We did it, y’all. I keep pinching myself…did we actually manage to put ourselves exactly where we wanted to be?
Yes, we sure did.
*By “if done right” I mean when the effective parts of Steiner’s philosophy are applied and the rest left to lurk under the rug. This school is progressive, with an eye on diversity, understanding of research on child development and meeting parents in the real world. Please no bashing of my decision in the comments section. Trust that I have done a lot of research and have an ear to the ground for whacky weirdness that might harm my daughter or my family. If it turns out I am wrong, I will gladly share the foibles of my decision with you in a few years over a cup of coffee.