Wonderment Education

animal spirit dance family Nature Mysticism story

My kids spend most nights sleeping under my bed. It doesn’t start out that way, they have  their own beds beside mine that they settle into in a reasonably orderly way. I used to sleep more on their level until I raised my bed up for some visiting guests that couldn’t stoop that low. I didn’t realize I’d made the perfect cave for cats, dogs and kids.

“Thud … THUD!”

That would be Tadg at about 2am. He’s usually the first and last to migrate, rotating his legs or head into the cavernous space below me. He slams into the rounded 4 x 4’s holding up the frame, shaking my bones. Weirdly, it never wakes him up.

Truly didn’t used to migrate so much, but the other night, when I checked to see where I could step to get up, everything but her head had disappeared beneath me. Their legs were likely tangled in a pile with one of our cats perched on top.

This has been our medicine for years, cuddling with each other or at least near to each other, allowing ourselves to sleep as the pack animals we are. There are times when they opt to sleep in their own room or (pre-covid) at sleepovers. But this has been the one reliable constant for us since before Terry fell ill. We will sleep to the sound of each others breath. We will wake to each others sweet groggy faces. Inevitably at least one 4 legged family member will be part of the mix.

 I did not plan this, like most of the best things with us, it evolved organically.

Tadg started it by insisting on sleeping on the floor next to me when we first moved here.

“But its the hard floor.”

“I don’t care, it feels good.”

True of course had already climbed into bed with me. I bought first one fold out sleeping pad, then another. True has a library of bedtime books at the head of her sleep space, two of her latest baby dolls tucked into a small bin-as-bed beside her. Tadg has repurposed the large round cushion that used to belong to the Papasan chair as a corner love nest where he and his favorite cat can groom each other.

At first it felt like camping, now its just how we sleep: together-ish.

Play in the bedroom can last throughout the day. The new workout system gets a lot of attention. Its a challenge for Tadg and a jungle gym for True. Wrestling matches can happen at any time but if Papa is super tired AND YOU ARE SCREAMING EVERY 2 SECONDS THEY WILL END NOW! Also hide and seek can be played in this room, you’d be surprised how many hiding spaces you can extract from a 15×15 foot room with a walk-in closet. And yes, the screaming rule still applies during hide and seek!

After a shower  I negotiate the removal of clothes from beneath our leviathan of a cat hiding out in my closet. She starts her day by chewing on Tadgs finger nails just before he wakes up – she gives a pretty good trim. Once he’s up she moves from her pillow throne by Tadgs bed to her new throne on my closet shelves.

“OK Lilly, I just need this shirt…”

She pauses briefly in the work of running her tongue over the planetary curve of her belly.

“Reooow?” I don’t know if thats disdain, affection, or a prelude to violence.

“And these pants too…I know you have to move for these but…” {swipe} ”…ok – we’re done…thanks.”

Pulling on pants as I walk into the hall (I’m usually the most clothed person in the house), Tadg and True call out to each other from different rooms.

“True…don’t kill me!”

“I won’t! Hey could you hand me that tool beside you?”

“OK, yes.. but don’t kill me!”

“OK I won’t….oops… sorry!”

“TRUE!” Tadg is actually less upset than he normally would be if True accidentally killed him. It must be hard in this game not to kill people.

“Watch out True, that girl with the pink hair is after you.”

“Thank you!”

Like most parents home-schooling their kids, especially single parents, I’ve let more than a few things slide. Too much screen time is probably the worst offense, but I think on the whole its actually been good. The expensive gaming system I got at the beginning of all of this gathers dust. Instead they opt for an experience with really bad graphics, games made by non-professional game designers, that is wonderfully unconventional and more about connecting with friends. Both kids have built and managed office buildings and restaurants, been logging tycoons, become expert virtual fishermen, all while hanging out with friends they can’t see in person for any length of time until Covid ends.

We still get out, we joined a bouldering gym for a few months before it had to close down for the latest Covid spike. And there are the short hikes and brief basketball matches. But none of this is really enough. The kids definitely need to move their bodies more. Kicking them out of the house for the afternoon rarely works, they want the three of us to be together. We all need to PLAY!

Its been hard for me to generate excitement about anything with our culture in such turmoil over politics and health. Our current leader fills the space that should be devoted to leadership with self-adulation, cruelty, and an endless stream of lies. With so many flaunting basic covid care steps while hospitalizations skyrocket, every day feels like half of the country has taken to beating itself with its own stupid-stick. Part of me just wants to curl up with my kids and animals until the country is done hurting itself. But parenting will not allow for that. I have to take what kindling I have left and see what fire I might invite.

If you watch as many self-help youtube videos as me, you know you’re supposed to ask yourself periodically “what you’d be doing if you didn’t have to make money.” I did that the other day. The kids were both away from home for about an hour, I think that was the first time in about 4 months. I flopped back on the couch and asked myself that very question, and for the first time in my life I got a real, no-bullshitting-self answer back:

I’d be teaching my kids wonderment, full time.

I didn’t know exactly what that meant, I still don’t really, but it feels profoundly true. Wonderment. As I think about my MA degree, my creative/spiritual work, my writing, things I’ve focused on over the years it makes sense. I cherish wonderment. It’s one of those keys in life that if employed can open any door. And we obviously need more of it! As a matter of fact I don’t know if you can have too much wonderment.

Wow, that actually sounds like fun.

So… what is wonderment education? What would it look like to focus on that with my kids? Me being me, I started a list:

  • Nature is the basis for wonderment. This is at least true for me. Whenever I experience wonderment it is either directly or indirectly of the natural world.
  • There have already been great wonderment teachers, like Jacque Cousteau. They teach from what they know deeply, the wonderment that changed their own lives.
  • Wonderment unfolds in part from the unknown, and is especially powerful when the known becomes the unknown. A big part of wonderment is how it remakes our map of reality.
  • Wonderment is fundamentally not an intellectual activity, it involves a kind of true seeing that includes intellect, but only as a necessary passenger. It’s easy to get heady about this stuff, accept a kind of wonderment that is not visceral. But that would be selling ourselves short.
  • Grief can be a gateway to wonderment, it may be necessary for the deepening wonderment that comes with adulthood and finally, elderhood. I remember writing about grief when my Father died, how it changed how I listened to the rain, made its sound into soul soothing music. From Good Grief: “Then you realize it was grief that reminded you to open the window so you could fall asleep to the rain, and you’re grateful.”
  • Wonder, visceral wonder, may be the primary way we human beings experience the presence of God while we are alive.
  • Maybe wonderment is what we owe the world most.

It turns out I wrote about this before: Wonderment Rituals.


There is a cliff on the edge of the Monterey Bay  overlooking a well visited beach where, on any given evening, you’ll find a group of strangers gathering to watch the sunset. The faces change, the size swells and shrinks like a poppy opening and closing each day. The only communication shared is the sound of pleasure as the light shifts, each never-before-seen-magnificence is greeted with sighs and sweet moans of delight.

When you join that group, sunset becomes compelling in a new way. That nattering voice that tells you its silly to stand and look at the horizon for a half hour is drown in the rapture of sharing the feeling of wonderment with so many strangers. You find yourself talking to the sunset, urging on each transcendent explosion of color. We are helping make this happen. We have become a larger body of wonderment – that greater heart that says ‘YES’ to each unfolding moment.”

Not only wonderment, but SHARED WONDERMENT. This is starting to get really juicy.

We’re not traveling to Santa Cruz any time soon, and the kids might not be as easily swept away by sunsets as we grownups are. So what can I start with right now to start generating some wonder?

Before winter arrived, I brought my movement circle in from the garage. I just resurfaced it, that would make it circle version 3.5. Every morning I start my yoga there, then my shapeshifting practice. It has already become a favorite place to wrestle or snuggle. We moved our large coloring posters in (Unicorn and Mermaid), along with markers. Its been starting to take shape as a sacred space of play for everyone.

Recently I purchased a gorgeous deck of Animal cards by Kim Krans. Stretching beyond my Swan work I’m now challenging myself to pull a new card every morning. Kids of course are naturally attracted to this process, they want to stare at the animals and imagine what they’re like.

“Hey guys, how about we wrestle as animals tonight?”

“WHAT! YES! What is that? Can we do it now?”

Well, that whole “what can I do to get them interested” step seems to be taken care of. Working with animals it is! This is not your classic merging with animal spirits or even the shapeshifting practice thats evolved for me. This is just unvarnished play, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

“OK True, so you are an Elephant. What are an Elephants defenses?”


“Tadg, I know you don’t want to be a Hummingbird again, but it is the animal Momma said her spirit would visit us as.”

“I know…I’m just tired of being birds!”

“Maybe there’s a lesson in that? OK True, you and I are first. Close your eyes and see the Elephant in your heart. See it grow, bigger and bigger…”

Honestly its hard for her to concentrate on the Elephant growing within her when she’s obviously about to trounce Papa righteously.

“STOMP STOMP STOMP! I am an Elephant!”

Shortly after Truly crushed me beneath her powerful feet Tadg stabbed me with his needle beak over and over again. Papa takes a beating during these sessions. Did it generate wonderment? Not yet, but its bringing us into a shared space where wonderment can happen. The elements that fuel our wonderment potential are here. The circle is cast.

I don’t know where this is going next, I’d like to get at least True dancing an animal. But I know I need to feed this idea, to follow it, trust it. Already my own practice is shifting. I want to be out by a river again, working with the moving water, even in the snow and ice. Especially in the snow and ice.

Wonder is calling to us, its getting easier to hear its whispers and say yes.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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