Winter Update

Today is a particularly lazy stay at home Winter day. My two school going children are on holidays, we are all moderately unwell, we’ve had a conglomerate of different viruses for a few weeks – gastro, sore throats, coughs.  My lovely not so Waldorf homeschoolers are watching movies and yes we have been literally glued to screens for the last two weeks! I’ve been watching Christian homemaking vlogs again, I love families that make mine seem small and I love all the organisational tips. I’ve been wondering lately about my introversion and sensory issues and how they kind of propelled me into domesticity through necessity not ideology but now fifteen years or so into it I genuinely value the art of homemaking. I don’t however, excel at it but I do my best and I’ve learned to be gentle with my failures and shortcomings.

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making cookies during Ramadan

Ramadan and Eid came and went. Bit by bit we are getting closer to an understanding of what might be the cause of our littlest man’s health problems. I can’t really describe what it’s like to have a sick and vulnerable child. Alhamdulilah for this amazing public healthcare system that is providing us with wonderful care for free! I’m just so grateful for his daily health, grateful for every day we spend together.

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Over the last year or so I’ve felt a profound shift in my own attitudes and sense of self. Perhaps it is just the extended break and time alone after years of conflicts but I am feeling very internally quiet. It’s not that I don’t still get caught by some thorns or barbs but I don’t take them so seriously anymore. It’s like Rumi’s guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

feelings come and go and there are amazing things to learn from them but ‘I’ am something deeper and more substantial than emotions and thoughts and I appreciate that sense of wholeness/spaciousness in the centre of my ‘self’.

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I’m gradually starting to feel reconnected with my faith and maybe I shouldn’t jeopardise that by writing about it but it is something I am grateful for, to be able to approach Islam without negative associations and connotations and find in it something like the way of life I first loved (and to have learned to stand firm through all those negatives).

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Mother’s Day Delights

Homeschooling wise we are becoming more and more eclectic and unstructured.
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And Art. I need to find a way to make time for it. Art is the thing that makes me happiest.

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the beginning of some wall decoration using wet on wet watercolours

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. How do I protect them?
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. 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

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?
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.

Summer Solstice

We are 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.

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 left  me with a feeling of balance.

Days at home

 

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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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Radical Homemaking

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So it seems that out there in the real world beyond my house there is already a term to describe what I am trying to get at with matriarchal homemaking – domesticity without the gender inequality….and a whole heap of other stuff.

I’m still trying to get a real grasp of what I really feel and think about these things so today I’m going to tell a story and this story will provide context and make sense of the questions I am trying to answer. It’s a story about gender, culture, spirituality and religion. It begins in my childhood home where feminism was espoused but not necessarily fully  lived. Still a home in which gender norms did not necessarily prevail – a mother, a (gay) step-father (the marriage ended when I was twelve), three small half-brothers. A home full of art, culture, music, discussion, intellectual argumentation. Unconventional and in some ways brilliant, sometimes dysfunctional (aren’t we all?), hilarious, difficult, enriching and stimulating, challenging and tough. In many ways it was a fabulous life and in some ways it was heartbreaking.

We were, for all intents and purposes, homesteaders before it became trendy. We raised our own meat, my step-father had a beautiful jersey cow that he milked. We churned our own butter, we drank the milk raw. We grew vegetables, we ran food related businesses, we worked. He preserved fruit and made jams and fruit cakes. My mother spun fleece from our sheep and knitted it into beanies and thick woollen sweaters. Tasmania is cold. We lived in one hundred year old farmhouses. We worked. Life on a farm is hard, running your own business is difficult. It was all hard work, it wasn’t really intentionally gender specific. It’s hard to remember but my mother washed the nappies and did the bulk of the cleaning and childcare. I think.

She also read Germaine Greer and I wore overalls.  The women I encountered as a child were feisty and loud. Most people we knew laughed at religion and laughed at the idea of the home being the domain of women, we were people of equality or so it seemed.

By the time I got to university I was adamant that I’d never have children. I lived within a small subculture of art students all with similar ideals. Gendered oppression was something I read about in books, I couldn’t recognise it in its more subtle forms at that stage, I thought it belonged to faraway worlds. It was not part of my life or my conscious thought.

Because of this ideological basis (which I did not recognise as an ideology) I never considered motherhood as a viable career choice. It was lesser, you couldn’t just be a mother, you had to be something else. I went to art school and I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to live in the inner city and surround myself with bookshops and art galleries.

Our family hit a series of hurdles and I experienced fairly severe clinical depression. I was diagnosed with PTSD but I didn’t know what to do about it so I did what many soul searching young adults in the first world do, I travelled. I found myself in Morocco and I became fascinated by Islam. When I wrote about my first trip to Chefchaouen I described it as a town which was filled with a sense of ‘in-placesness’ , a tangible stillness unable to be expressed in words. I filled my sketchbooks with my new ‘obsession’ layering and pasting Arabic and Persian newspapers with text and drawings of my own, it looked like a kind of orientalist exoticism but it was building as something so different than that within me, I just did not have the language to articulate it and I had a conditioned resistance to considering that it was something spiritual. Five years later after a move to Melbourne I met a Muslim man and my curiosity about what he believed led me to look into Islam more deeply. Quite astonishingly within months my ‘research’ became a personal quest and I became a Muslim. I didn’t know what I was doing. Most of me recognised it, resonated with it at a deep non-verbal level. The other bit railed against it, rejected some of it.
It was, to say the least, turbulent.

I was occupying that cultural no mans land that often happens to Muslim converts. I wasn’t sure where my culture ended and Islam began. Often people assume that I converted to Islam because I fell in love with a person but it was the other way around, I got married because I had fallen in love with Islam.

Immersed in a world that was the complete opposite to what I was used to, a world in which there were distinct roles and expectations for men and women my reality was turned on its head. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I didn’t know what the religion really indicated about these things , I loved the idea of being at home with babies. I was filled with a warmth that I wanted to pour over things and gift to my family – love. I thought our expectations and wants were in alignment.

Needless to say it was the utmost naivety and a recipe for conflict. Our expectations of each other were way out of whack. I wanted to be at home, I wanted to be with the children but not the way he wanted it. Both of us felt like we were experiencing injustice.

My experience of domesticity within the framework of strict gendered expectations is what has made me a true ‘feminist’ . It was all theoretical before, lived experience is what creates a fire in the stomach. Yet motherhood has also seasoned me and brought me into being a woman in a way that is in conflict with some aspects of feminism. I don’t want an equality that is a sameness. I believe I have the right to be with my babies when they are small, it’s more than a right, it’s a known…the small child belongs to the woman’s body and space, psychcically mother and child are one in the infant years.

So what exactly is my feminism and my homemaking, my spirituality and my womanhood? These are things I am fleshing out. I know what I don’t want, I know what I feel is harmful, not just to women but society as a whole.  I’ve a large family to raise, they are my purpose. I love order and cleanliness but I’ve learned that I can’t do it all without killing myself. I protect my physical health now and I prioritise the education and guiding of my kids into adulthood over a superficially perfect home.

My roots have me seeking out the ways and methods of my childhood. I want to grow my own food, I want to handcraft. There’s a fullness in me that wants to nurture the world, I long for beauty and calm and peace. I’m attracted to fully-fledged home keeping.
Yet, not as some kind of insipid pandering to systemic male power, so I guess I am radical.

A visit to a Waldorf school

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!

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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? I wish so much that we could create schools that combined aspects of Steiner education with Islamic spirituality.

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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