Wonder in the Time of Pandemic and Beyond: Thoughts on "A Gift of Wonder" by Kim Allsup
Our school year is finally complete, I'm thinking ahead, and I'm cautiously hopeful that the worst of the pandemic is over where we live. I find myself approaching my usual annual review a bit differently and very much aware that this past year was spent SURVIVING A PANDEMIC and my kids are deeply affected. When so many things have been so incredibly ghastly, when we aren't quite sure the storm has passed, how do we go about reconnecting with the world? Can we recapture a childlike sense of awe and amazement and joy? How can I rekindle that spark of wonder and excitement that has been dampened by caution?
For us, part of this will be processing what we just went through and that may take a long time. I mean, what just happened here? Who am I now? Who was I before...this? What things from the Before Times do I want to bring back? What things just need to stay gone? What losses do I need to grieve? Are there any losses I can make up for? What do I do to go forward? What does "going forward" actually look like? How can I help my kids process? Where do we need to "catch up" - do we need to worry about that at all? How do we all move from survival mode to thriving?
It's a chance to reexamine, reevaluate, even reinvent how we look at the world and how we do things. But it's overwhelming. So incredibly overwhelming.
So, surprise! - we're really into comfort food lately. Judge us if you must, but we've been eating the starchiest, fattiest, most delicious foods on the planet (or at least the little speck of the planet on which we live). Tacos. Fried green tomatoes, fried squash. Beans and greens. Cornbread. Mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Berry pie.
And I've also been comfort reading. Just like those familiar green tomatoes, re-reading a book is something I can count on to be delicious. I know exactly what it "tastes" like. I know how the stories end. Or, in the case of non-fiction, I've had time to process the first pass and I can savor on a different level.
A Gift of Wonder is one of those books. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to review this beautiful memoir by veteran Waldorf class teacher, Kim Allsup. (Read my original review in its entirety - and purchase the book - here.) The book recounts Kim's journey with her first class and each chapter focuses on a key element or trait – Curiosity, Resilience, Nurturing, Responsibility, and Balance to name a few.
I wanted to re-read it first and foremost because the stories are so lovely. I need some lovely things now more than ever. I need mental images of care-free children, field trips in the forest, campfires, fuzzy kitties. And yes, A Gift of Wonder has all of these (and many more).
I also feel the deep need to remember what school can look like. Because this last year? Not a model year! My best friend here is newly homeschooling and jumped in with both feet to a Waldorf-inspired path. I keep apologizing to her, telling her I am a rotten model this year - we were just treading water, you know? We crawled to that finish line barely breathing. I need to reconnect with what is possible. Kim hit some potholes herself, but things just seemed to come together, to meet the kids needs every time. And I need to be reminded that I can do that, too.
I was also hoping to find some new "how-tos." Although there is no chapter called "How to Get It Together After It All Fell Apart," I found plenty of helpful ideas. When I read it the first time, my kids were quite a bit younger (6 and 9 - they are now almost 9 and 12). So much of the literature you see shared on Waldorf pages and groups is for the younger children - so little seems targeted at parents of older ones. She describes the Nine Year Change and how she navigated it with her class so well. She included helpful stories and anecdotes about 11- and 12-year olds and how to keep "reality-based wonder" alive for the child "who wants to know the truth, the facts behind the apparition." (p. 55) I just soaked up her beautiful descriptions of what that looks like for older children, and especially for children that have experienced trauma (this past year was definitely a trauma for my kids). I was particularly struck this read by her experience building a child's self-confidence, something I feel my own children need more of after a year of feeling powerless against an invisible scourge. She reminded me to balance order and spontaneity, to be vigilant about not being "enslaved by my own perpetual concerns about the judgments of others" (p. 29), and I found lots of little practical tidbits like using my flute for musical transition cues, meditating on an inner picture of my children each night - things I knew once upon a time, but that had flown right out of my brain, probably to make room for things like laundering masks and santizing surfaces.
In my first review, I wrote:
"The emphasis on story is, for this reader, the best part of A Gift of Wonder. Using stories is really the perfect way to convey the essence of Waldorf education since story is the Waldorf way. If you are new to Waldorf education, perhaps one of the first essentials is to understand that Steiner advocated teaching not through dry facts, lists, and information, but through narrative. His idea was that teaching through story allows the student to internalize and interpret information for themselves, gleaning from it exactly what the individual needs in that moment. Over time, the story remains with the hearer, working on their inner being, and unlocking understanding and insight. Allsup has done this beautifully for her adult readers."
My takeaways from this second reading support this way of teaching once again. I read the same book two years ago but I was not the same person. It was the same story, but I created a different picture. I read the same words, but heard a different message. I found so much of what I needed in this moment.
In this moment, I needed all the little morsels that fed my comfort-food hungry little soul! "I didn't tell them that they would spend much of their adult lives fixing things that were not their fault," she writes of her students tasked with bending in nail points that other people pounded in so that no one gets hurt. I was deeply moved by her description of a spider web that seems suspended miraculously by nothing in mid-air. (How often this year have we felt like nothing is holding us up, but somehow we kept floating?) And in the midst of feeling so overwhelmed to fix all the things, reading, "I had learned that it was not solely up to me to meet the needs of my students," and that connection is essential were just just the things I needed to hear.
I can't fix everything that has gone awry. I can't make up for all the losses, the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty of the past year. What I can do is connect with my kids and create opportunities for wonder to help bring us all back into balance. (p. 124). There are amazing, awe-inspiring, achingly beautiful things and people in this world - and we are going to find them in our lessons and in our adventures in 2021/2022. I still have so many things to think about, but creating opportunities for wonder and connection will be top priorities after re-reading this gorgeous book.
Have you read A Gift of Wonder? I challenge you to re-read it. If you have not read it, you can purchase your copy here. It is one of my very favorites on this Waldorf-inspired path.
Sources for A Gift of Wonder :
Signed from the author: $19 via PayPal to: https://www.paypal.me/authordirect free shipping within the US
The Publisher: http://bit.ly/2F58G4k
Floris Books for European orders http://bit.ly/2F5fUWQ
Booktopia for Australian orders http://bit.ly/2TozYXm