The winter holidays have been my least favorite time of the year for as long as I can remember. As a child from a divorced home, the pressure of deciding where I'd spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was crushing. Either my mother and her family or my dad and his family would be disappointed, or so I felt. Even the seemingly easy task of telling the adults what I wanted for Christmas was enough to make me feel burdened with responsibility beyond my years. It was no one's fault. It was the nature of the way we have chosen to celebrate these holidays coupled with the way the cards fell for my parents. I guess it really couldn't be helped.
There was one Christmas though that I have a small but poignant memory that has kept me believing that Christmas can be more than intense stress, dealing with massive overspending and how it comes into my home, and sadness. I was maybe five years old. My parents were still married, but as all memories of this time when they were both occupying our little trailer, it was more as if they were shadows than real people and I was nearly alone to be as I would be. Our Christmas tree was up and lit. I still believed in Santa Claus and, this Christmas, I'd see him. I grabbed my pillow and a quilt off of my bed, my dad tucked me in, and I resolved to stay awake, camped under our tree all night. I remember how the tree smelled of warm plastic and how the colored lights shot tiny beams like stars when I got sleepy. I laid there thinking of how Santa must love me, and to meet him would be magic. Just magic. I didn't care what I got for Christmas. I've never been someone who wanted much in the way of stuff. My wishlist is pretty simple. I just cared that I saw this man, this grandpa, and felt his magic.
I woke up the next morning with the gray of a winter's light seeping in through the little window in our trailer's back door. I hadn't met Santa. Sleep was too precious a thing. There all around where I had slept were our Santa presents. He had been there working all around me as I slept, being careful that I didn't hear and stir.
It's that achingly sentimental memory that motivated what I wanted Christmas to be for my children when I became a mother. The focus on the material that made me so nervous that my stomach would be sick, the rush to be everywhere and buy the best present would be secondary to acknowledging the magic of the time and what variety of beauty that can be celebrated as Christmas. Traditions are hard to amend though. American Christmas has become barely more than a frenzy of excess and disappointment as it never quite plays out the way you had it pictured and resembles little of the Christian and Yuletide traditions that inspired the holiday at all.
As much as I wanted something different for my girls, it has too often been much of the same. Phone calls and endless conversations about what my girls want for Christmas. Me feeling like that little overwhelmed child who just wants people to smile and not feel slighted or out done. The girls get so much from family that my husband and I can't even begin to compete with quantity nor do we want to try, so I focus on quality and substance. Our little family trying to fit in visits over a period of a few days. Returning home with a car load of gifts and no place to put many of them. Experiences and conversations a blur. Exhaustion. Irritability, and weeks of recovery.
Christmases prior I tried to make change. I asked that certain toys not be bought. We've worked out a schedule of visits and stuck to it every year. We don't celebrate our own Christmas until we can be relaxed at home, even if that means that Santa visits us and the grandparents. At our home celebration we rest in the spiritual reasons for Christmas and Yule and read the stories. I've learned that I still would love to be home and have grandparents come and see us sometimes, but I know that isn't the season of our lives. I now know that it doesn't matter if you have preferences for gifts, children will get what the giver wants them to have. And, Christmas often equals hard feelings and stress as much as we try to stave it off.
This year, while I know I can't take it all away, I can make a conscious effort at affecting what I can. There are several things I'm doing this year to make the season one that brings a little more rest for me than discomfort.
1. I'm giving up scrolling my newsfeed in Facebook or making posts about my day for the entire length of Advent. I know giving up something is associated with Lent, but I'm striving to live an authentic life these days. I'm not making myself unseen and unheard in my Truth any longer. I'm living boldly in order to fully express the me that God made. What does that have to do with a Facebook newsfeed? In my feed on any given day, I am faced with racism, ugly politics, hate, bigotry, violence, and horror stories about suffering inflicted upon women and families by institutions and scared people. I'm triggered emotionally by what I see and it affects my well being and my ability to process the news on my own terms. It creates for me the sensation of fight or flight without anything to direct it toward. I see these posts from those I know or have known, and to be honest, it is heartbreaking. Being in that space can make it so easy to be paranoid and lose hope. I can refrain, clear my head, and return when ready. This season is for celebrating and acknowledging Truth, and I will accept nothing short of it.
2. I'm being honest about what happens to toys and excess material goods in our home. We donate them. All of us do it. We just took two boxes of toys to Goodwill in order to clear out what isn't used. Our cabin is teeny and I want it to be as beautiful and comfortable as possible. Lots of things clog up the energy. It is a work in progress. My girls have very honed interests. While something might be appealing to them for awhile in newness, they fully recognize what they truly hold as valuable. "For you may palm upon us new for old: All, as they say, that glitters, is not gold." -John Dryden
3. I'm volunteering to take on some cooking. I've always wanted to, and I love to cook. I love to watch people eat my food. So, my mother in law has asked that I help and I am so happy to!
4. I'm taking time for mindfulness and being right here - right now. My spiritual walk takes precedence over all extraneous things during this season of kindling the light within. It's not just a metaphor. It's action to take. I have goals.
5. I'm continuing the traditions that we've made as a nuclear family that bring home the purpose of this holiday for me and my family. For us, it is a time to celebrate a man who came to light the path and share with us the tools of salvation. Jesus was a spiritual hero - The Redeemer. All the pieces of Christmas are supporting roles to this beautiful piece of the spiritual puzzle... this includes Ole St. Nick.
As an adult, we can control what we do with our experiences in order to adjust the impact we feel from them. The question is always, how can we use what we know to express Truth, experience Truth tangibly, share Truth, and light the path of Truth for others? This question if taken on in a meaningful way can make massive difference in even the most difficult of times or challenges. There is always something there for us to claim or reclaim in Truth. Christmas is a season of warmth, love, reflection and togetherness. Any appearance that does not reflect that does not have to remain.
I've been laying in bed for hours every night before falling asleep. Not completely unusual except for what is keeping me awake is not my racing mind. It's so loud my mind cannot do any thinking beyond what could be making this overwhelming noise. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, gurgle, pop, swoosh, swoosh, to the beat of my heart. It's the sound in my right ear. It is there all the time since September. Sometimes it is so loud I have a hard time hearing people when they talk. Other times it is subtle and barely noticeable. The best times are when there is background noise. At night, the sound is all that there is.
I Googled it. It's potentially a lot of things, some of them major things. Coupled with my terrible migraines it makes me a little wary of it not being looked into quickly. I went to my family doctor as an ER follow-up for migraine and stomach cramps a few weeks ago and mentioned it to him. He looked in there and listened to my carotid. Nothing is clogging my ear. My carotid sounded fine with the stethoscope. He recommended I try to get my neurology appointment moved up. It is scheduled for January. The appointment was made in October. I call. I tell the receptionist why I'd like to get in sooner. She explains that I'll have to go through the ER at the hospital and the ER doctor will do a consult with the neurologist. That will be the only way I could be seen by him any sooner. Thanks and no thanks. To think we wonder why the cost of healthcare is so outrageous. Don't blame it on the docs.
So, I wait. I wait and I analyze. I wonder. I wait. I wait like I've been waiting to see a dermatologist for this thing that has come up that needs examined. Again, the referral was made in October and I don't see her until December. After finding out that no dermatologist in my region of the state will accept my insurance, I had to make an appointment with a doctor in Lexington which is three hours away from home.
This isn't unusual for those of us who live in the Kentucky coalfields. I feel incredibly sorry for people who have limited transportation, funds, and are dealing with a major illness. A good doctor comes into the region and it is like rolling dice as to when you might actually get an appointment. Otherwise, you are referred to the surrounding cities for care - two or more hours from home. Fred D. Baldwin writes in an article titled, "Access to Care: Overcoming the Rural Physician Shortage": "Rural residents must often travel hours to consult specialists, and many rural communities lack even primary care physicians (physicians certified in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and psychiatry). In fact, rural Appalachia still labors under a double burden, according to Lyle Snider, research director in the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health's Division of Community Programs, Research, and Health Policy: the fewest primary care doctors and the most severe health problems. These situations are related: having too few doctors means that dangerous conditions go undiagnosed too long."
The problem of physician shortage has gotten better as I have gotten older. I can directly see some of the strategies the state and healthcare agencies have used to recruit more doctors into the area. The most obvious one being recruiting residents of these rural counties into the field. I can think of my small graduating class and the class under me and point out at least seven of them who became a doctor, midwife, or PA-C and came home again to serve.
I, too often for the small number of times I have actually used an ER, have had the experience of there being cultural and linguistic barriers to receiving proper care. It seems doctors from outside of the country and/or state were at one time given incentives to practice here. That's a good thing because without them we'd have been up the creek without a paddle. However, I very much doubt that they went through any cultural sensitivity training and I know personally from experience that there is often a language barrier as well. It hasn't been unusual to hear of disappointment in a doctor's visit or a feeling like the doctor didn't take the time to listen and understand. I know people who have left that little room having no clue what the doctor ordered.
So, that said, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to see a neurologist without leaving eastern Kentucky, even if I have to wait until January. It is a step forward. However, the problem is far from being solved. A report, Rural Kentucky's Physician Shortage: Strategies for producing, recruiting, and retaining primary care providers within a medically underserved region says, "Then there is the issue of retention. One source of dissatisfaction on the part of rural physicians could be that the workload and demands placed upon them generally are greater than those experienced by their metropolitan counterparts. Those within Kentucky’s health care industry also point to decreased opportunity for professional contacts in medically underserved areas as a reason for premature physician departures from rural regions. There also are economic concerns. The federal government has become the largest contributor to graduate medical education, paying more than $7 billion annually toward that effort. Yet, federal and state governments have been criticized for failing to develop incentives that better encourage rural practice. Rural physicians typically derive a larger share of their gross practice revenue from Medicaid and Medicare patients, but these publicly supported insurance programs pay physicians at lower rates than private insurers. Rural physicians also typically have received lower Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements than their urban counterparts for performing the same medical procedures."
Well, what do we do? I couldn't imagine serving in the healthcare field here. Being a patient within it can be stressful enough. And, is just another way that living rurally is vastly different from metropolitan living. So, I wait, albeit not very patiently, to figure out what this potentially big deal thing is going on in my head. I pretend like it is no thing at all until I lie down at night and it begs for my attention.
It is inevitable that by writing this piece I'll tick someone off, or incite them to explain their position as to why they don't believe homeschooling is a responsible choice. It is also very probable in just mentioning that I homeschool and have done so since my oldest began her educational journey, that someone will say to me that they wish they could do that or could've done that, or that they commend me for doing it because there is no way on earth they would want to manage that. Thank God for public school - right!? We should all be thankful for that option.
I'm working on an article about making the choice to homeschool in southeastern Kentucky where the public schools are losing enrollments by the thousands. It has made me once again deeply look at my choice to go that route. It has the potential to be controversial. Simply going to the grocery store with a few school aged kids during school hours can be enough to get some stares. I'm writing this anyway. In my experience, what I'm about to reveal about our day to day is the truth of choosing to homeschool. It's important that we aren't kept in the dark about our individual experiences with choosing the education that is right for our families.
I'm a former public school teacher. I taught in a rural farming community in north central Kentucky for four years before having a child of my own. It was an amazing experience. I earned a Master's Degree in Teaching during that time period. I also made some friends who I still communicate with today mostly through social media. Despite the hard work and about $30,000 in loans to go toward graduate education, I could not make the choice to remain in public education after having children of my own. One of the hardest things I have ever done is to reveal to my principal, whom I liked very much, that I wouldn't be returning the following year after my daughter's birth.
The decision to not put my children in public education was one I had made long before becoming a mother. My husband was always in full agreement. That decision is one in which I was extremely confident, maybe more so than any other decision in my life. Having my oldest now in 3rd grade/4th grade, I'm still very solidly there. Though, from time to time, my husband may hear me whisper, "I should just send them to school." In return, he looks at me cross-ways.
While living in the city of Louisville, we had the excellent opportunity to attend the Parent/Child classes at the Waldorf School. We would often talk of how to afford the tuition for one child, let alone if there were more. I had been the breadwinner up to that point while my husband finished graduate school. He was then completing a tattoo apprenticeship and we were living off of fumes. The next choice was to home educate, and when we moved back to the coalfields, away from the option of Waldorf schooling, that was the only choice for us.
If you aren't familiar with the Waldorf educational philosophy, I will sum it up in two words - soulfully beautiful. I cried real tears when we toured the campus of the Waldorf School of Louisville for the first time. Hoping to recreate this in my home, I dove head first into the ideal. My daughter (then, the only one) would not eat many sweets. She would not have plastic, meaningless toys. She would be surrounded in clean, simple beauty. She would not be exposed to media through television or video games. And, I'd be a Waldorf purist. We did OK for the first few years of her life.
Having a second child and moving close to family, where there wasn't a Waldorf community and more influences outside our nuclear family were upon us, things changed a little. I grew as a mother. I opened more to the possibility of my own family culture. One still very based in Waldorf philosophy, but one that worked for our lifestyle. We had a lovely preschool experience.
Then, it became time to introduce "real" schoolwork. I also got a longing to add some outside work to my schedule and earn a little extra green. I wanted to maintain my daughters' sense of wonder. I wanted them to be excited by learning and to enjoy "school time". There was so much that I knew we'd be safe from. Yet, when I became intimidated by actually carrying out a Waldorf grades method and switched to the Charlotte Mason method, the first step in my realization of what homeschooling meant was revealed. This was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. Could I maintain this choice, and still be a person? I was so glad to be fully responsible for their education. I believe it is my right and duty as their mother to hold no one else responsible for it but my husband and I. But, this meant I had to give it my all and do it well all the time. The overarching theme of my life was going to be mother, teacher, and wife. The dreams I had of exploring careers would be on hold. My time to have a hobby - reduced. I'd need to learn to be consistent, less spontaneous, and well planned.
It is incredibly hard to maintain a household, tend younger children, and make sure that the school aged children (who are in two different grades) complete their lessons. We are still in elementary grades, so home educating them is very hands on. I still experience frustrated students. They still cry when they get confused during math. I still lose my cool and have to regroup, or just chalk my day up to a loss and vow to try my best come morning. Sometimes, I feel like a failure for weeks on end because there isn't time to clean the cabin the way I'd like. I'm too tired to call my grandmother whom I haven't seen in a year. I can't figure out why my wee one begins to tantrum right when I sit down for the lesson story with my middle daughter. I long for meaningful, adult conversations and to be able to spend whole days writing again.
People say that they wish they had the money to be able to stay home and homeschool. It isn't about having the money to do it. There are ways to make it work. Most homeschooling families I know work with a very limited budget. Mothers or fathers work long hours to try to make up for income lost by one or the other being at home. Or, the stay at home parent will work late shifts, or find work from home jobs that they tend to at night. We learn to live frugally. Many of us live in a way unfamiliar, but respectful of time and energy. We go without things like cable TV, data plans, vacations, multiple vehicles, new clothes, tons of presents at Christmas, and the newest electronics. Not saying this is better or awesome, but it is what we are willing to do in order to provide this education to our children. At the time we made the choice to homeschool, we gave up 75% of our income in order for me to stay home with our daughter. We made it work. If you believe in something and want it bad enough, you will make it work.
There are those moments when I know that what I'm doing is working. When I hear my toddler singing the Circle Time songs loud and clear. How she giggles at the motions. When my older two daughters run to greet their daddy and grab their main lesson books to show him what they did, proudly. The days when I see their deep thinking reflected in their play or their questions to me. How when they complete something difficult, all the whining becomes meaningless, and they say, "I think I really like doing..." And, sometimes, one of them will say, "I love homeschool." That's how I know it is working.
Last year, I jumped back in to committing to a Waldorf education for my daughters. It takes tons of commitment, planning, and willingness to let go. I found a homeschool Walorf curriculum that works really well for us (Waldorf Essentials), and the authors offer a support service and program called Thinking, Feeling, Willing that has helped me stay on track through all the ups and downs of the school year. I'm incredibly blessed by this program. We have joined a wonderful homeschool co-op that keeps me in tune with other local homeschool families, offers field trips, special classes, and time with peers. Even when I wake up feeling like I don't want to do lessons that day, I know I have support. I know that I can manage.
Our Waldorf inspired homeschool doesn't look like private Waldorf education, and every other Waldorf inspired homeschool will be different from ours. My girls watch some TV (commercial free), they have some commercial toys like My Little Pony, and they love to overindulge in sweets at their grandparents' houses. Shoot, mommy will even let them have a Sprite with their fries and burger from time to time. Sometimes (no, honestly, quite a bit), I wake up in a panic thinking that all of our little issues would be solved if I became purist once again. Then, I realize that if I let go just a little more, the issues wouldn't seem so huge.
The truth about homeschooling is that it is a choice that requires immense time, dedication, willingness to always be a learner yourself, to research and find the answers on your own, presence, and a strong will to see your family through the times that are tough. All sorts of families make the decision to homeschool for many different reasons. You can easily get the impression that we are all religious zealots, super strict, or our homeschools are picturesque. Even in my rural area, if you polled our homeschool co-op, you'd find that there is as much variety there as anywhere and we all get along. There is so much more I could say about homeschooling, making the decision, getting support, and the reasons why I made the choice. I've written this for those considering, in the midst and wondering if they are "doing it right", those who feel they cannot do it but want to, and those who feel we are doing a disservice to our communities. Don't underestimate us. There's a lot of fantasies around homeschooling. The truth is far richer.
I've had chronic migraines since I was thirteen years old. The only times I haven't had consistent headaches were during pregnancy. Since giving birth the third time, my headaches have become so bad and often that there have been days when I felt that not being conscious would be better than experiencing another second of pain. I've been brought to my knees by these suckers screaming, "God! Help me!" I'm in the process of getting medical help for my headaches and have been to a few different doctors in connection to them. I've only treated them with medication one other time while I was in college. At this point, if I cannot rely on medication or some other remedy (I've tried many) to make them less frequent and more tolerable (dare I hope for them to be eliminated), I will be devastated. The migraines exacerbate some other health and emotional issues that I have and it has created a feeling of being broken.
I turned 36 last month, and I have been confronted with the fact that I'm "older" on many occasions, including trips to the doctor. I've never considered myself "older". The word "old" doesn't even register to me until 70 - maybe. I don't mind the passing of years, and I am so happy to be an adult. You couldn't pay me to be a kid again. Yet, I'm frustrated that at a time in my life when things are comfortable and I am secure in so many areas, that I feel so physically and in turn emotionally down.
Once I get over the fact that a situation has occurred, I am generally very proactive about changing or improving it if it doesn't suit me. I've been doing so much to create health and well being in my life. I eat a diet of whole and properly prepared foods per the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation. I have a daily yoga and meditation practice. I take walks. I'm at a very healthy weight. I'm physically strong. I strive to stay spiritually connected. I don't jump to easy fixes when lifestyle adjustments would produce healing derived from within my own body. In fact, I'm a little obsessive about healthful living. I work hard at it.
Because of my effort, I am often embarrassed or incredibly sad on the days when I feel so sluggish, depressed, or when a migraine has been triggered and I lose a whole day of productivity or forbid I need someone to help me get through the day. I get angry when the pre-headache feelings create within me a mood of less patience and irritability. Having a chronic issue like this isn't something I have invited to stay, or something I want to allow me exceptions to living a full life. I want it GONE. Now! I'm a homeschooling mother of three under age 10. I'm a wife. I'm a writer and spiritual counselor. I'm busy, and striving to be at my best - the way Creator intended me to be.
At age 33, which I referred to as my Jesus year, I gave birth for the third time in an experience that was incredibly profound and blessed. Jesus was the man in the red cape that year. A constant reminder that I am loved, supported, and that my highest good was being written as much as I wanted to seek it out. If age 33 was my Jesus year, then almost three years later, it is time for a Resurrection. A rebirth. Creator saw Jesus through his physical torment and blessed him with Divine life. I still believe I'm loved, supported, and that my highest good is being written right at this moment. I believe in purpose - Divine purpose - and a Love that surpasses all turmoil. I know there is a plan for this. A reason.
I'm tired though. Really tired. And on the days when it feels as if my brain is pressing against my skull with a force that will explode it all into a mush and 1,000 little pieces, I have a hard time reminding myself that there is something more to this issue than pain. I don't want to be embarrassed at needing to spend the day on the couch, or worried that I'm appearing slothful or weird because I can't function normally through the pain. Pain is very misunderstood in our culture. I am also finished with trying to muscle through or pretend the pain isn't there in order to not be a Debbie downer. I have important work to do. I'm not a pill popper and I refuse to go that direction in terms of medication as a band-aid. Where do I find the willpower to keep at this until I find the answers and life in there?
I don't know where this path leads. I think of everything in life in a journey metaphor. A walk through the woods. I don't know where this path leads, but I'm going to chronicle the steps. I'm going to be resurrected and able to feel bliss again.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.