So this is a topic that's been in the back, and sometimes, the front of my brain since Liam was born. There are a lot of different ways to raise a child, and there seems to be a lot of competition between parents concerning what way is the best way. CIO or co-sleeping? Weaning at 12 months or child-led weaning? Wooden toys or plastic ones? Baby Einstein videos or PBS or no TV at all? To vaccinate the child, or not? The list goes on and on and on and....anyway.
I was on a list for November '03 babies for a while after Liam was born, and got a little sick of all the arguing back and forth about one method or the other being wrong, and the alternative being absolutely right. I also realized there's at least a bit of lying going on between parents regarding their children's abilities, since clearly one or two of these babies may have been walking at nine months, but seemingly 80% of them were, at least to read this list. So I muddled through doing what seemed to work for the three of us, and let everyone else do their own thing.
Fast-forward two years, and now I have a toddler who is clearly healthy and happy. He nurses, he sleeps with us, and he has never been left to cry it out. His toys are a mix of wooden toys and plastic ones, and these days he is quite attached to his plastic Disney figures and a collection of plastic kitty cats. We eat nutritious food at home, but I'm not cringing if Liam scarfs down french fries when we go out to eat. Although Liam watches little TV, he knows a lot of the toddler characters by name since we have some books and toys featuring them. His favorite shirt at the moment has Pooh on it. So clearly my parenting philosophy is of the "do whatever works to keep child happy and parents sane" school. Not completely AP, not completely mainstream, and pragmatic to the core.
All of this leads to my current issue. We're interested in sending Liam to elementary school at the local Waldorf school. Essentially, the pedagogy makes sense to me on many levels. The problem I'm having is that there are a number of lifestyle issues associated with Waldorf families that, to me, have merit, but which can be carried way too far for my taste. The idea of limited to no TV for young kids makes sense to me. The idea of encouraging nutritious food is a no-brainer. Unstructured play is good in my book. So we signed on for the parent-child program this year just to get a taste of the community.
In Liam's classroom you'll find wooden and fabric toys. Nothing plastic, and certainly nothing with batteries. You will find friendly adults, nutritious snacks, and song. What's the problem, you ask? Well, the problem is that I'm not sure I fit in as a parent. I'm fairly sure I'm not crunchy enough. Liam is fully vaccinated; many of his classmates are not. We're vegetarian, but we shop at Super-Fresh, and not everything we buy is organic, mostly because we are not made of money. We don't have a compost heap in our yard. We drive cars that get good gas mileage, but they are not hybrids. We use a lot of Dr. Bronner's for cleaning, but we still use Ajax and Tide as well. I treat Liam's sore, teething gums with Motrin, not homeopathic teething remedies. I just don't have the zeal, and I definitely lack the courage to live so far out of the mainstream. And I don't dare breathe a word of this to anyone in the class for fear of, well, peer pressure. Didn't like it in high school, don't like it now. And I'd bet there are other parents with the same issues, but I don't know for sure since no one talks about it.
Liam and I went on a playdate to the house of one of his classmates, Z. There was not a piece of plastic in that house that I could see. All of Z's toys are carefully crafted, unstructured, wooden and woolen items. Liam and Z quite like each other, and I like Z's mom, so it would be nice to have them come over to visit. However, does that mean I need to hide the Pooh and Mickey balloons before they arrive? Do I hide the Legos? Do I hide the Sesame Street books? Do I clean all traces of Danimals yogurt and whole-wheat Fig Newtons from the kitchen? Or do I just leave things as they are, figuring that hiding our true selves is just as wrong as complying to standards I don't fully support, nor even believe are attainable? And also, I wonder, does Z perhaps have a stuffed Pooh or some other verboten toy that was conveniently picked up just before our arrival?
I think there's a lot to be said for crunchy living, and we in fact are viewed as a crunchy family by our neighbors. Still, I would really like to know how many of these other Waldorf parents really live that way-out-there lifestyle, and how many do as much as makes sense to them, and just let the rest go. In essence, is a lot of what I see a competition to prove who's crunchiest?
And then there's the flip side, where, chatting with local moms at the playground, I get the distinct feeling that some of them think I'm disadvantaging my son by not enrolling him in every toddler enrichment class that comes along. How many of these parents are stressed to the hilt trying to teach their kids everything up to and including trigonometry by age 5? And even if they manage to accomplish that goal, will it really increase their kids' chances of happiness or success (however one defines success) in life? I dunno. And again, how many parents are really doing all these activities, and how many are in a Developmental Derby with each other?
So, after a few months of Waldorf, it seems to be a good fit so far for Liam. I'm not sure it's such a good fit for me, but I guess the day is still young, school-wise. I may have to sit back with a decidedly non-crunchy Diet Coke and mull the issue over a bit more. If I still feel this discomfort in a couple of years, I may become the founder of Pragmatic Parenting International. Time will tell.