Today I take the munchkins up the street the big open field that I’ve claimed as our “outdoor” classroom. Conveniently just 5 blocks from home, it’s magically all I ever wanted it to be: accessible, safe, abundantly spacious, clean. And even though it’s not fenced in, it’s so, so big that they can run long distances and move freely without ever getting too close to the street.
I pack the usual stuff: some snacks, some books to read, a blanket to sit on, a water bottle. But then, I also pack something new this time: my wireless headphones. Yes, I intend to get my dance practice in while they run around and do their thing. I am looking forward to a much larger studio, with the fresh air, endless floor, and outstretched sky.
I dress in a single layer, even though they are more bundled up. I want to be comfortable. I plan to break a sweat. I love how I’m preparing for a real dance moment. I am taking great care to insert my creative practice into a moment that is usually all about them. Everyday I ask myself, how can I take up more space inside our family learning lab? How can my creativity and my process as an artist be visible and integrated into all we do?
My joy matters. As the mother, the artist, the primary facilitator of our family-centered education, I am the pulse of this whole dance. I am quite certain that the happier I am, the more connected I am to my own passion spaces—which for me is in the dance, the writing, the community building, the village making—the more engaging, liberated, and adventurous I’ll be when holding the space for my children and their learning journeys.
As I get deeper into these experiments with integrating my creative labors into our everyday learning lab moments—impromptu counting games while I’m dancing in the middle of a circle they’ve created around me, wall-mounted collage art while breakfast is being made, reading these blog posts aloud to my children for storytime—I see that my kids really are learning all the time! Every single moment, no matter what we’re doing, is ripe for some deeper understanding, for more tangible discoveries about how they shape and are shaped by the world around them.
Basically, I don’t have to force the learning. It’s already always happening! I can totally have fun everyday with my children and be deeply immersed in my creative practices as an artist. There is no war here, no separation, no conflict of interests. Being their mother, their teacher, their caregiver, is not in opposition to developing my dance methodology, and writing my books, and devising workshops, and running our family business. In fact, the more rooted I am in my passions as an artist, the more joy, creativity, and positive energy I can source as I navigate all the demands of mothering a band of little people. And when Mommy is more joyful overall, then everyone else is expanding in their joy spaces too.
Mommy’s joy really is contagious. When we first get to the big open field, the magical moment I’ve been dreaming of is not fully coming together. People are whining about this snack not being that snack, people would rather nurse continuously than run around in all this space, people are complaining about not being able to go barefoot in 40 degree weather like they did in the summertime. At first I am annoyed that my children haven’t seamlessly jumped into their happy place, and let me just enjoy my insta-groove, personal dance party. But then, I remember I am free to begin my practice, as is.
It catches them by surprise when I just start running around them, dancing in a circle, jumping side to side, shaking, gyrating, spinning my torso, waving my arms like wings toward the sky. I am getting in plenty of booty rolls as the beat blasts from my pink headphones, headphones that are slightly off my ear so that I can still hear everything they’re saying and be, you know, visibly responsible-parenting in public space.
Bloom keeps asking me, “Mommy, why are you so happy dancing?” I just make sure to keep moving every time he asks me. I want this part of his childhood to be remembered so clearly, all these beautiful moments with his joyful, dancing mother.
They are all paying attention now. I dance with more intensity, kick up my legs, twist and jerk and bend and leap, slide to the left, to the right, back it up, shake shake shake. This makes them laugh more and more. They start to chase me around, imitate me, make up their own moves. Before I know it, they have abandoned the snacks and no one is pulling on me or complaining about something. They are finally running around, happy and free! They are making their own fun, getting into their own adventures, individually and collectively.
This moment is really nice, how it’s all come together. I see it has been up to me all along. I have to be the one to get the party started. I have to center my joys, and in doing so that creates an inevitable momentum of vibrant energy that enlivens the moment for my children. My example inspires them, makes them want to seek, to play, to explore, to grow, to ask new questions, to have big fun, to access more of their own joys.
This ability to tap into what truly brings them joy will carry them very, very far in life. It is sort of like a superpower I have cultivated over the years, and I’m glad they are getting plenty of good practice with it while they’re so young.