I stared at the set jaw, furrowed brow, and foot forward posture of the tiny young woman in front of me, trying not to mirror her energy but rather, provide a grounding for it.
Winter is coming here in Adelaide and with it, the never ending battle that ensues in our home every Autumn and Winter over the wearing of weather appropriate clothing.
I am a cold human. The way some people get “Hangry” is the way that I get in the cold. My body temperature drops 10 degrees and I go into some kind of hypothermic condition that causes shortness of temper, snarky comments, and general bitchery. Below 60 degrees, I cannot be held accountable for my behavior. #caligirl
Bird is a hot human. She is made out of fire. I remember her birth vividly and can confirm a memorable burning sensation. This fire comes out in her personality, her loving nature, and the way you start sweating when in a meter radius of her.
Every winter I am told off by teachers, parents in the park, and the occasional grandmother on the street for not putting a jumper (Australian for sweater) on my poor freezing (sweating), pale (red-faced), sickly (being a cheetah and running up and down the street) child.
To me, weather appropriate clothes are a self correcting mistake. When you wear the wrong clothing for a situation you are left uncomfortable and voila! lesson learned. However, in Waldorf/Steiner education, weather appropriate clothing is VERY important. There are a few reasons…
Rudolf Steiner was a bit of a pseudo scientist/genius educator/harmless cult leader who believed that heat retention in the body of children was necessary for proper formation. If a child uses their energy to heat the body, they have less energy for growth and development. My main take away from this is: a person of authority is requiring something and I want their services so I will comply.
Weather is a marker of the passing of time as well as the cyclic rhythm of life. The earth grows dark and cold, plants die, and the days are shorter; then the world brightens, warms, and new life springs forth. This is a huge importance in early childhood education in the Steiner philosophy and is why they draw so much focus to the many changes in nature, and, for example, the need to wear warmer clothes as the seasons change.
I find this so imperative to learn young because if you can accept that darkness comes but light will always follow, that life has seasons which are temporal and predictable, then you can withstand any storm, held fast in the understanding that darkness is a necessary part of life, not to be feared or endured, but to be celebrated as we await the forthcoming light.
Children are often unaware of their needs or bodily signals, especially when lost in focused play and school fun. Things like accidents, lack of willingness to sit and eat, and the magic unfeeling bare feet that go running across gravel to chase a ball as us grown ups hobble along on tippy toes are all examples of the deep focus that masks children’s perception of discomfort. It is a guardian’s responsibility to teach situational awareness and how to listen to one’s own body.
All of these reasons are why every morning I gird my loins for the, somehow always shocking news, that Bird needs to wear a jumper to school.
The play by play of this particular morning goes something like this:
It is a grey morning in late Autumn and Bird exits her room wearing a light tee shirt, thin cotton skirt, and no socks….COMPLAINING SHE IS COLD.
I respond to this with something like, “You are cold because you are dressed for Summer but it is Autumn. Please go put on leggings under your skirt and put on socks and a jumper”
Then I waited for the resounding “No” that was to follow.
Now, I don’t bargain or reason with my 6-year-old. She can ask as many questions as she wants AFTER the “Yes mom”. At such a young age she doesn’t get to demand long winded answers for complex problems before she agrees or to learn that all rules have exceptions if she creates a good enough argument. She needs clear directions in a loving tone.
Pause as her temper rises and I bring my breath low in my belly and let my frustration dissipate. Then a repeated:
“Bird, please move your feet back toward your room and put on warm clothes.”
Sometimes kids get stuck. They yell “No” and then kind of forget what soapbox they’re standing on and then feel obligated to adhere to their previous stance. When this happens you can help “unstuck” them by offering movement. Give them the literal first step and once their feet are going, often the behavior will follow.
This was not one of those times.
“No. No. NO! It is my body!”
She actually said that. In teaching my daughter boundaries with her body I've also undermined my parenting role. Talk about unforeseen consequences.
The reality is, while it is her body, her care is at this stage, a shared responsibility. Now we are stepping on some real divisive territory here but I think it can be summed up with: she has responsibility training wheels on. She can try it out and make small mistakes, but her brain is not yet fully formed and it is my role to keep her body, mind, and soul relatively in tact until the time she is fully autonomous.
I then offer to walk with her into her room to hel…
...find your grounding
...Why is she still yelling?!
…Nope. That was the end of my good parenting.
I picked her up and brought her to her room, removed all the Summer clothes from her wardrobe, and told her if she could not make the appropriate choices on her own, I would eliminate her ability to choose. “Now, put on pants and a jumper”.
She closed the door and I heard her cry. I placed her little skirts and tees out of reach and sat on the floor to take a few long breaths. Before leaving, I told her to put on her shoes and I got a subdued “Yes, mom.” that left me feeling quite hollow.
We had a quiet car ride and I dropped her at school with a hug and kiss only to watch her turn away with slumped shoulders and a downward gaze.
My car ride home was a pensive one. Lately, everything in our home feels like a battle. Any direction is met with obstinance, sassy remarks, and generally selfish behavior. Things that are common place, like helping set the table and putting clothes away is now regarded as a form of torture; behavior that feels too mature for my 6-year-old. But, what I reflected on most was the difference between what we want from a child versus what we want from our fellow humankind.
I often think of parenting as the task to help create the kind of person I would respect. I don’t want her to grow up to be happy. The older I get the more I believe happiness is a choice not an environment. I want Bird to grow to be resilient, a critical thinker, have a clear mind to make the choice between right and wrong, then the fortitude to stand up for those beliefs even if it’s not the popular opinion.
She already has such a strong sense of self and has the determination and creativity to find what she wants and get it. When she is met with real life consequences to this (friends don’t want to play with her, she is reprimanded by a teacher, or her polite words and charm gain her the favor of those around her) she often steps back, analyzes, and adapts.
My child will be fine in this world. I already know that at 6. But the strength of will and craftiness that ensures me of her success also drives me mad in the meantime.
My only game plan is the original game plan. As a parent, I set the environment and the expectations of our home. Even if I never reap the rewards of those lessons, I hope her peers will.