The Monolithic Beast – trials and triumphs of technology and a lack of Waldorf perfection

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I’ve done too much over the last few days and today I have that sensation that will be familiar to most women who have experienced pregnancy – the I think I’ve been hit by a truck sensation, otherwise mildly known as exhaustion.

And perhaps this is why in the midst of all my Waldorf homeschooling planning I went out and bought an enormous monolithic beast/flat screen television.

What was I thinking?

We have not had a plugged in television for the best part of several years now but we have had a small flat screen tv and dvd player kept in a wooden cabinet. For the last decade we have had an on again off again relationship with technology.

I use technology all the time, I use my computer every day. I probably check Facebook too much but that is the limit of my time wasting, mostly I read, I research, I look at beautiful inspiring images on pinterest. Generally speaking I use technology as an extension of my ongoing explorations into topics of interest, I am always researching something. So in that sense I think I use technology positively and when I feel that I’m losing the balance I usually do something extreme like just go cold turkey for a couple of weeks and don’t use it at all.

But having a television as a major focal point in the house is something I have never, ever wanted. That being said there have been periods of time in my mothering years when I have lost sight of my ideals and just let things go and used the television as a babysitter. I had four children in six years with no extended family support and it was a fairly overwhelming experience. Many things slipped, many things I believed in and that were important to me. But I am gentle with myself about these things, life as mother in the contemporary world is not easy. I have just started reading The Incarnating Child by Joan Salter and in the first chapter she writes

Never has motherhood meant such a demand on the total being of a young woman as it does today. Formerly, even earlier this century, there was always a nurse-maid or extended family to help and support. Today, young mothers experience an intense loneliness not known before. Added to this there are sleepless nights, the never-ending washing, housework, shopping, often a crying colicky baby and so on….

I can identify with these words quite clearly, this has been my experience and it will continue to be and the fact that I have chosen to have a large family in spite of it does not take away from the experience of motherhood sometimes feeling like a trial. I am grateful for my role, I would not want to change it but it has been a struggle.

And when we struggle our ideals slip and we let ourselves down.

I could blame the suburban environment for my children’s fascination and starry eyed-ness regarding technology and whilst I am sure it has an impact it is equally my lack of consistency in keeping our house tv free and my laxity in their using it that is to blame.

When I first looked into Steiner education about seven years ago it was partly the distance of the school from our house and partly my own fear of not being perfect that stopped me from going ahead with it. There were many things I worried about, that we might be the only outer suburban Muslim family in the school, the distance and time involved in travelling but mostly it was fear about my own ability to commit and implement such a conscious and structured pedagogy in our own home consistently. It seemed like the odds were stacked against me so what was the point? And yet the fact remains that if I had just started then and tried anyway we may have been able to work towards it bit by bit.

So back to the television. I didn’t grow up with one, the first television came into our family home when I was ten years old and that is something I am eternally grateful for because I read voraciously and I explored outside, I didn’t spend my formative years glued to a box. And I can see how this benefitted me.

But our life was different, we lived on a farm, there was room to run and scream and imagine. In suburbia these opportunities have to be mostly constructed and it is a struggle for me learning to be that kind of parent because it’s not a norm I grew up experiencing. The planned activities/helicopter parenting norm is utterly strange to me.

That being said, I love creativity so there are many childhood activities that I can do without much fuss spontaneously and joyously, I love art, craft, painting and constructing. I let my children play in the dirt as though we live on fifty acres.

We have spiritual ideals that are often at odds with mainstream society yet I understand youth psychology fairly well, I don’t want to emphasise too many things as forbidden because it just creates an idealisation and the likelihood of the children gravitating towards them later on and I feel like this about technology too.

I think there is probably a huge amount of wisdom in completely restricting screen use during early childhood even right up to the teen years. I notice that there are things in our homeschooling curriculum that my children struggle to maintain their attention with that they probably wouldn’t have a problem with if they had not experienced the instant gratification and overstimulation of the screen. Things like storytelling without pictures, we can only do a bit at a time because my children lose interest. The thing is my children have been exposed to screens and so I have to work with where we are, they are too old to make drastic changes. And yes, there are times I kick myself for not following through earlier but I have to live where we are right now.

So if we are going to have occasional access to screens then it might as well be fun! Our front living room is a child free space in that it isn’t a common area and there has to be a reason to invite the children into the room. With such a large family I wanted there to be at least one room in the house that is never chaotic. And so it is in this room that I have chosen to put the monolithic beast. However, I have no intention of it dominating the room in any form other than being a large black cube and occasional home cinema.

As this baby is most likely to be my last, in a way I feel like I have one last chance to do it properly and give them a glorious, imaginative screen free childhood! So, I’m not really sure what we are going to do. But, one thing I am focusing on is not letting my lack of perfection stop me from implementing other structures of a Waldorf based pedagogy. I spent most of yesterday homeschool planning hence my squashed by a truck feelings today. The more I read, the more inspired I feel as long as I don’t let my areas of failure get to me. With age comes the awareness that these areas of supposed failure are always a matter of perspective.
The internet is filled with perfect blogs showcasing perfect families and yet I am sure these families have their area’s of failure too because this is simply human nature.

Besides look at the splendid creations that can spring from the purchase of a monolithic beast!

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So as evening approaches the ‘truck’ is rumbling away a little bit and I almost have the energy to arise and make a cup of tea.
On one side of me is the monolithic beast and on the other is The Incarnating Child. These paradoxes and contradictions are the story of my life. Perhaps I am lazy or simply too contrary or perhaps I just have too much on my plate.

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