Treading Water

I’ve been here before. Unable to make it work. Overwhelmed by the debris of daily life, swallowed by both the details and the larger picture.

All this hatred and contempt makes me wonder how to guide my Muslim children into adulthood here in this atmosphere of intense malevolence. I want to run, but where? How do I protect them?

This country is degenerating. Is it? Or was it always like this and I didn’t know? The shield of my whiteness has lowered and all I see is pain and injustice and a deep, deep commitment to maintaining a hierarchy of racial oppression.

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The fight against misogyny and racism is so enormous, so much bigger than me, all I can do is offer it to God. Somewhere I read ‘God is my inexhaustible resource’. I read about a man who had seven versions of himself. I need to be seven. In the minutiae of my daily life it is hard to get the dishes washed or the clothes dry or something healthy cooked and ready for eating. We ate Indomie last week, that’s a register of how my house is falling into neglect. I cannot do everything, I cannot be everything.

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These are the times when I am all ideals with little application. Homelife feels like chaos. I’m seriously contemplating school. The questions I ask myself are

do I get a formal divorce?
are there any clean pants?
what is rotting in the back of the fridge?
will my baby be ok?
how do I guide my sons towards a healthy masculinity?
is crying in the car worse than being forward facing?
can I get up and pray without waking him up?
will Ramadan tip me over the edge?
are we looking down the barrel of a holocaust?
will I be able to cook dinner?
what is the real ‘Feminine?’
will I ever ‘know’ God?
am I making a mess of it?
should I try and get a ‘real’ job?
why is my arthritis flaring?
is this my fault?

and so on

All day, every day.

who am I?
why do other people not question themselves the way I do?
am I strong or self-pitying?
do I know what I am doing?
is homeschooling a mistake?
am I ruining them?

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I’ve been here before and I’ve learned to ‘chop wood and carry water’…be still and be carried. I turn to one small patch of my corner and give it my full attention. This small thing I will do well. I’m sitting quietly nourishing him at the breast, he breathes in and out, the curl of his hair wrapped around my finger. I am only one but I can still give it all I have, whatever I do I can choose to do in love.

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I’ve been here before and I know the days turn quickly. In my country there are people of beauty and goodness, soon my baby will be running and talking and I will make bread and soup.

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I am not a failure, I am just stretched thin.
I am not alone in it, this is our modern world. We are mothers, fractured, carrying weights that were once carried by many..we do it side by side, we do our best.

Joyful Mess

I talk about mess a lot. I guess for people who don’t have children or who haven’t been made responsible for a household mess it must seem kind of boring and irrelevant but for those of us who have been immersed in a life in which mess has become an

Enormous. Central. Factor of existence

it’s definitely relevant, it’s something we can’t get away from, it simply never ends.

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I’m a tidy person, my preference is definitely for things to be clean. Even in my student slum housing days I took a lot of pride in creating a beautiful home space, it’s just something I love. My Mum too always created a lovely home so I probably inherited it from her, I’m grateful for the effort she put into our home environment. There are various reasons why I can’t stay on top of the mess in my house though so it never remains in the state I feel comfortable with but rather than going into those causes I want to talk about how I cope with how things are.

Mess makes me feel anxious, if you aren’t this kind of person you can stop reading now!

I’m a highly visually stimulated person, I’m in touch with what it is about my environment that I enjoy and what it is that bothers me. The ways things LOOK matters to me because it impacts my psychological state. So conversations about roles and gender norms and women and housework only matter to me up to a point, in the end it is ME that requires a clean, organised and beautiful home. It is what I strive for but I simply can’t achieve.

So where’s the joy in mess?

It comes down to priorities. I tried for years to stay on top of it and tore my hair out failing. Who did what and when and how was also a highly contested and charged topic during my marriage. So mess brought with it a whole myriad of negative emotions for a while. It is why I came up with the term matriarchal homemaking. I have learned to discover what I do want through what I don’t want. I know what I can do through what I can’t do.

I’d love a clean and peaceful and beautiful house but the experience of family togetherness, of creative shared endeavours, of love and learning together, travelling places together, eating healthy time intensive foods, caring for the environment, mentoring and guiding the children through adolescence, these things are all more important, they are a higher priority.

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out and about having a picnic whilst ignoring the abysmal disastrous mess at home

And above and beyond dealing with the negative reactions and expectations of folk who are still attitudinally immersed somewhere in the nineteen fifties I had to come to terms with my own attitudes towards MYSELF about mess. I had to let go of trying to control my environment.

I still want to come up with strategies to make things easier, I still prefer the idea of a house that doesn’t look like it’s being squatted in by a horde of feral elephants but I know it’s going to remain just that, an idea, for at least another ten years and I am ok with that….I think….I hope.

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learning to knit, crafting, handwork, simple meditative togetherness, it’s all more important. 

So embracing joyful mess is what allows me to do things like spontaneous Summer Solstice happenings. I literally trod over boxes of unpacked fruit interspersed with clean washing that had somehow been dragged into the hallway in order to get outside and bask in the sun. I’ll spare you photo’s of our underwear interspersed with carrots and Bok Choy.

Priorities.

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Mess is joyful when it enables us to be. It’s as simple as that…

Summer Solstice

My love for and interest in all things related to Waldorf began many years ago before my children started school but in terms of practical implementation and adopting it as a way of life we are still fairly new to Steiner education. This means we are new to developing a seasonal yearly rhythm. As we are Muslims our rhythm needs to not just take into account Muslim festivals but to filter existing festivals as usually incorporated  into a Waldorf year through the lens of an uncompromisingly monotheistic faith. There are many Muslims who send their children to Steiner schools and many Muslims who homeschool in a Steiner inspired way. Our adaptation of the festivals will differ from family to family, we are all different. For me, this whole area is a work in progress.

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Midsummer Fairy in the apricot tree

Over the last few days I found myself brimming with a creative yet anxious energy. Because my hands are often full (with a baby) and because I have formed habits (since becoming a mother ) to deal with my creative energy in a cerebral rather than handcrafting way, I started to write. It didn’t help much, I felt very pressured and scattered, not grounded at all. It then occurred to me that it was Midsummer Eve! It was Summer Solstice! The Summer energies were at their peak. Could it be that this was what I was feeling?

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A Waldorf daily and yearly rhythm are based around cycles of breathing in and breathing out. In Sufism we call this contraction/qabd and expansion/bast.

The whole of reality breathes in and out. 

In ancient times human beings were innately connected to the cycles of the Earth and the expanding universe. In the contemporary world however we are totally out of touch. We cannot even see the stars anymore because of pollution. Electricity has extended the day well into the night, we no longer follow the cycles of the moon or sun. Disconnected from the natural/created world we are also disconnected from Source/Creator.

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When we bring our attention back to the natural world we increase in reverence for the Divine Reality that we Muslims call Allah/God. 

This is why I think the Waldorf calendar with it’s recognition of festivals we consider ‘pagan’ has relevance for us as Muslims and it doesn’t need to be something that gets our monotheistic knickers in a twist because ‘actions are according to intentions.’

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Islam has always been a faith that pays attention to the cycles of the natural world. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, our festivals are heralded by the sighting of the moon, we pray according to the position of the sun. So it seems like a natural extension of this to pay attention to the cycles of the seasons, to the longest and shortest day, to the tides. Giving attention to something is not the same thing as worshipping it as an individual entity. On the contrary paying attention to rhythm and cycles is a way of honouring the interconnectivity of everything. What Islam does is simply bring this multiplicity and interconnectivity back to a Single Source.

Since we are just starting our journey towards a full Waldorf rhythm I hadn’t organised anything for the Solstice so what we ended up doing was a kind of on the spot happening.
We gathered together some things orange and yellow, we made chalk drawings, we took Midsummer Fairy to a lovely spot in the apricot tree, we ate some oranges while basking in the sun and we felt ourselves radiating with the Summer energy. We recited a surah/verse that begins

‘Allah there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal’

We also recited the following poem.

‘The radiant beauty of the world
Compels my inmost soul to free
God-given powers of my nature
That they may soar into the cosmos,
To take wing from myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.’

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Afterwards, satisfied and relaxed, I started to ponder about the significance of nature orientated action. Our interaction with the cycles through a simple acknowledgement and commemoration gave me a feeling of balance. But this is a conversation for another day.

Instagram as a Meditative Practise

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Instagram has been around for years but I only realised quite how much I enjoy using it recently. It is interactive and visually focused, it is topic based so you can explore all areas of interest to you and it’s incredibly user friendly. The aspect I enjoy the most about it though is that it can be used as a place of intentionality.

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I recently began a series of instagram photographs tagged #thirtydaysofhomeschooling. I loved the idea of recording a whole month of moments but as the days passed I realised it was not so much the recording or the online interaction that I was enjoying (although these things were great), it was the rhythm and repetition of ensuring I did the same thing every day.

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Although I don’t have a lot of time or skills to take fantastic photographs one of my favourite things to do is curate and assemble objects. I love moving furniture around a room for this reason. In the course of this little self assigned project I’ve looked forward to deciding what to photograph on a daily basis, initially I gave myself an exact time to photograph but with breastfeeding that proved difficult so I chose a window of a few hours.

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I started to discover that the act of recording was causing me to be intentional not just about the photography but about the actions I was undertaking to create the image – making a meal, reading to the children, setting up a homeschooling activity, I started to approach these things with a reverence I don’t normally have simply because I was paying more attention to them.

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What do you like about Instagram and why?

Waldorf as a way of life

Today we visited the Sophia Mundi Steiner School Spring Fair. I’ve been past the school plenty of times on the way to Collingwood Children’s Farm but this was the first time I have been inside. I took one step into the Prep and Grade One classrooms and just felt I was at home! I had such a resounding sense of surety that Waldorf education is the way to go…it wasn’t just that, I feel like it is a vocation. It’s not just a methodology for teaching my children, I want our lives to be infused by it…like Islam it is a way of life.

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I realised that in all these years of being attracted to Steiner, I have never actually been to a school. I’ve read about Waldorf, I’ve attempted to create a Waldorf influenced homeschool but I’ve never actually been out there and seen how it works in the world. The beauty of it almost brings me to (good) tears.

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Of course it is about more than lovely wooden toys and soft colours and handmade things, there’s an energy to these spaces and an energy to the people I encountered. It’s a wholesome, enriching way that brings children through and into the world softly and in a gentle, subtle way draws them towards becoming full beings. It’s everything that I long for my children and all children. I came away wondering why aren’t ALL schools like this? Why can people not see the difference between this and mainstream education?

We have many hurdles as a family to overcome. We are fighting the Technobeast. I wish we could just get rid of it all, it’s as much my struggle as it is my children’s. I’m telling myself bit, by bit. Softly, softly.

Lili was in awe of the classroom spaces. I think it really helped her to be able to see Waldorf outside our own home. She begged me to please let her go to this school! It isn’t possible but it IS possible to immerse ourselves in our Waldorf homeschool. I feel inspired.

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Spring 2016

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The year is drawing to an end already and this space has remained largely empty. I haven’t had time or free hands for our usual arts filled approach to homeschooling. It’s been a bare bones/skeletal kind of year and I’ve really just focused on the dry necessities such as literacy and maths. That been said the way these things are folded into our days kind of organically is far from dry and nothing like the way a school would approach it and our experience just leaves me marvelling at how easy these things are when children want to learn.

When Lili turned seven we started spending time learning to read more earnestly. I purposely delayed pushing academics with her before this age ( in line with both Waldorf philosophy and the advice of our faith) but it turned out that her interest really increased in natural tandem with reaching these milestones anyway so our approach has still been mostly child-led. She enjoys it immensely and it’s a beautiful process to watch unfold. We are half-way through ‘Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’ and whilst it took a little while to really get into this method of teaching/learning we are finding it so straightforward now. We spend about twenty minutes per day plus story time and letter writing practise.

I’m continuing to use computer programs for Maths. Future School is my favourite as it has video tutorials on all topics. Tom has finished his program for his ‘year level’ this year,  not that we stick to year levels entirely but it’s nice to know where they are ‘at’ according to the system. There are still some topics that need to be brushed up on so we will go back over them. I don’t like the Future School Gr 1 curriculum so we are using IXL practise for Lili.

We’ve been doing a lot of reading out loud since it’s so easy to pick up a book and listen to Tom read while I’m busy with the baby.

Zeph (who has always been my child most suited to unschooling) is preparing for high school next year. Mostly I am letting him pursue his interests and passions which largely revolve around technology since this is what he will be able to follow up in detail once he starts Year 7 at his new school. Unlike his siblings he has always resisted more formal learning so it will be interesting to see how things go next year. He teaches himself to do a wide range of stuff and I know with the right guidance he will be able to flourish.

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It hasn’t happened, the garden until yesterday was an overgrown jungle. At least now the grass is no longer one metre tall! It’s time to plant the Summer crop of tomatoes and cucumbers, I really want to do it early this year so we make the most of the season.

I’ve been reading a lot about gut health and whilst I’ve known that I have ‘gut problems’ for a long time, it is daunting taking stock of what really needs to be done to attempt to heal it (leaky gut). I’m deeply concerned that I have passed these issues onto Ollie as he is already experiencing repeated ear infections. I’ve been reading up on the GAPS diet and I think we need to do it, the question is when? I can’t do it now, I don’t have the hands or time. Plus I eat a mostly plant based diet and it is SO meat based, I can’t handle that aspect of it, very challenging. I can bring myself to cook chicken as long it is as ethically sourced as I can muster but this is very expensive. I’m thinking to start with two special organic chickens per month and make bone broth with them.

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I am making our  own yoghurt using the machine from GAPS Australia which is a long ferment, up to 24 hours which hopefully means the yoghurt is almost casein and lactose free.

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It’s takes about thirty hours all up to make including the setting time in the fridge. Twelve small jars will last our family about one week. I use Schultz organic milk so it’s not any cheaper than buying pre-made organic yoghurt but hopefully it’s softer on our tummies.

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Ollie has been diagnosed with ‘Failure to Thrive’ which basically means he is not anywhere meeting his milestones in growth and it is currently unexplained. He needs to see a Geneticist to work out what the underlying problem might be. It’s very worrying and I’m really grateful for my faith because it’s a source of strength. He is now eight months old.