The following is a guest post written by Heather Caliri of A Little Yes.
To be honest, I’m still not sure why I freaked out about the clay.
My daughter had found the battery-powered pottery wheel at the thrift store. Her face flushed with excitement, she placed the box on the counter and paid for it with her allowance.
I was tentative at best. The thing looked like a toy instead of a tool. Plus I remembered from school how hard throwing clay was. Would she get as frustrated as I once had with centering it?
She asked for my help getting set up. I held the instructions in one hand and the air-dry clay in the other. I read aloud about wedging the clay, centering it on the wheel, about slip and water and — that’s when I noticed my heart racing.
I knew I shouldn’t be this upset by a toy pottery wheel, but I was. And I didn’t know how to calm the heck down.
I was babbling that maybe we should slow down for a minute — practice — wait — when she took the clay out of my hand, set it on the wheel, and pressed the pedal. Whirrrrr. The wheel spun around like a child’s record player.
I looked at my daughter. She glowed.
I wish I could say my nerves ended there, but in truth, I still felt anxious. Art classes in school were fraught places for me — filled with frustration and shame and moments of exhilaration.
It wasn’t that I was terrible at art; it was that I wanted to be better than I was. It was hard to practice when I hated almost every piece I produced.
Photo by Penn State
My daughter’s purchase plunged me back into that sense of uncertainty. I was afraid for her — I was afraid for me. I was afraid, period.
It took a lot of self-discipline to stay there at the table with my child. I wanted to stop feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable and panicked about how to guide my kid into something new. I don’t know how, my heart cried out. I don’t know how! I stayed, trying to keep my mouth shut, trying to still my heart instead.
My daughter is, unsurprisingly, a lot like me. There are moments when we are learning together where she is as edgy and nervous as I was with that pottery wheel. Her spirit skitters away from me like a frightened bird, and I’m left wondering what I said — or did — to scare her.
At those times, I think: Why should ten minutes of reading practice make her freak out? Why is she resisting playing some math games? It was so simple. Why did it upset her so much?
As I write this, I wonder why I’m surprised that learning might frighten her. Shouldn’t I understand when learning to homeschool often fills me with fear?
Adults forget how hard it is to be a beginner. How alarming it is to doubt that we can pull off something new. How humbling it is to admit that we are clueless. It’s not that we get over the fear of trying new things as adults.
It’s that most of us don’t put ourselves in that position very often.
In truth, our sense of bewilderment and fear about homeschooling is exactly the same fear our own children face when learning to read.
It’s the fear of the unknown, of feeling incompetent, of not knowing how to get better at a new skill. It’s a deep impatience with not being as expert as we wish we were. And when I feel the deep vulnerability of a beginner, I long to hide my discomfort, pretend it doesn’t exist, or panic.
Photo by _FuRFuR_ (Sébastien Rofidal)
In short, I do the same thing my daughter does. I wonder: What if we could see those moments of nervousness as a chance to develop empathy for our kids?
What if we could learn from their ways of coping with being a beginner (in my experience, kids are much better at it than adults are)?
What if we could cultivate patience with beginnings, at any age?
What if we could look on learning together as an act of deep collaboration instead of a burden we shoulder alone?
What if we could remember that everything worth doing — relationships, work, creativity, wisdom — starts with an awkward beginning?
What if the best lesson about learning for all of us is that that it’s okay when we don’t know what we’re doing?
Do you ever find yourself feeling vulnerable as a homeschooler?