The Creative Upbringing. Raising adults who ask Why.
I had the kind of childhood that people write books about. Except, no tragedy or drama. It was this atmosphere of FREEDOM and encouragement that very few others say that they had. At the end of this upbringing, each of my parents’ five daughters were able to say that we knew who God created us to be, and we were all able to begin acting out our part in His story.
This is what I want for my kids! That is the goal! I want them to be free to explore and dream, to find God’s will for their lives and have the courage (because freedom takes risk!) to GO OUT and do it. My parents didn’t see us girls as puppets, they didn’t have a concept of success that we had to meet, there were no numerical goals, we weren’t chided for bad grades or for missing school, we were even able to watch lots of TV. But you didn’t see laziness or craziness or chaos. I have to really look back and think what that childhood looked like for me! You see, it was so unique!
I was the surprise firstborn to my mom and dad, ages 20 and 22, less than one year after they married. God had His hand on them already-- they were seeking Him in a radical, exciting way, telling others about Him, bubbling over with joy from Him. I used to tell my friends that my mom NEVER stopped smiling (she has a smile on her face right now — go see).
My dad went to art school in an era when people looked down on that, calling them “starving artists” and urging them to pick a more lucrative profession. He was extraordinarily talented—like I said, God’s hand was on Him— and burst onto the professional art scene, instantly accepted as designer for the fledgling USA Today newspaper, and helped it become the giant that it is today. He is the hardest worker I’ve ever known, and just a few years later, opened his own home-based graphic design business (before that was even a thing), hiring employees and learning the computer and every program that went with it. He has one of the most flexible minds of anyone — he can learn any new tool or technology, he can love any person from any background that he meets, he can consider any abstract idea without the slightest stress. He’s the definition of “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
My mom was from a single-mother household, grew up in a trailer park, endured all kinds of hardship, but was this shining beam of light everywhere she went. You could see Jesus on her face. She knew from that first positive pregnancy test that motherhood was her calling, and she would love us like God was asking her to. Though she was young and inexperienced, she was so confident in mothering and all the decisions she made, you would have thought she’d read every book on parenting that existed on the planet. But you know, God has the answers, and she was seeking Him — no book needed.
My parents saw from day one that we, their kids, were the future. Instead of looking at trends, or what other people were doing, or resenting how much time we took from their own professional lives, they saw that WE were their most important work. WE were the goal. At the end of their lives, they won’t regret how much they sacrificed for us, as they had their priorities straight. They spent as much time with us as possible.
And yet, you didn’t see them playing on the floor with us, or flashing flashcards in our faces, trying to urge us to learn. They didn’t force us to read before we were ready, yet most of us begged to learn before age 5! There was NO in-the-box learning at all. Spending time with us often just meant they were PRESENT. My memories of my mom are mostly her in the kitchen cooking, with a baby on the hip, playing worship music, always open to a conversation, or ready to help us get tools for a project. Or her voraciously reading non-fiction books, cookbooks, home design magazines, and her Bible. She was an addictive learner, and taught herself everything she set her mind to. There was never a wasted second of her life!
As little kids—seeing my dad passionate about his creative business, my mom passionate about her creative homemaking, them passionate about Christ, passionate about loving their family well — it lit a spark of passion for learning and creating and Jesus in all of us girls. That spark turned into a blaze as we grew!
One of the most creative places for our family was the dinner table. My dad worked from home, so we were able to eat meals as a complete family. My mom was always experimenting with new foods, creating recipes, so one night it would be Japanese, the next night Bulgarian. My dad has always played with his food (he still does), creating maps in the mashed potatoes, 3D faces out of the rice noodles, and so of course we played too, with huge grins on our faces. The conversation at the table was deep from the time we were toddlers — no topics were really off limits, and we were always included in serious adult concerns. We were treated as trustworthy and responsible, and we wanted to live up to those expectations of us. But conversations also always meandered to the more imaginative. Some of my favorite memories are bouncing ideas off of one another, like dreaming up a family restaurant, describing the tree-house inside and the slides and the amazing foods and the costumes everyone would wear. There was nowhere else in the world we wanted to be than at that table with our family — even our favorite TV shows couldn’t pull us away.
After several years of our being in public elementary school, my parents took a giant leap of faith and pulled us out to home-school us. Nobody they knew home-schooled, and it was very uncharted territory at the time. As questioners, they questioned what was the best mode of learning for their kids, and they saw freedom as extremely important. They also genuinely missed being around us, and wanted more time with us to mold our characters. I had already gotten caught-up in the competitiveness of schooling, and grade-based achievement, and had begun to dull my imagination, as memorization and check-boxes had started to control my time.
Home-school was one of the best decisions they could have ever made for me. It took time to wean me from grade-based achievement — I would BEG my mom to buy a red pen and grade my work. But she instinctively knew that learning wasn’t about grades. I needed to want to LEARN, not want an arbitrary 100% on a test. I needed to find what I was passionate about, and pour myself into it willingly. So I tried my hand at everything, and questioned everything. I read every book I could get my hands on, wrote stories, filled journals, baked and cooked and sewed and crocheted, painted, pretended, sang. I even read my mom’s theology books, and spent some time questioning whether I believed in God. My parents were steady ships through all my questioning — they knew that if I sought the truth, I would find it.
When I turned 11, we moved to a small historic farm, and my schooling schedule became even less organized (I think most teachers would be horrified), but my life became one huge learning experience. I would go out into the fields alone in the sunshine barefoot (and in a dress, of course), with a picnic basket and paper and pencil, and spend hours writing and praying and singing to God. Instead of inside the walls of a school, nature was my school. I made beautiful wildflower bouquets, my friends and I would build forts with our hammers and nails and plywood, lay out in the sun in my swimsuit reading “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Pride and Prejudice” and “Little Women” (for the 14th time), I would care for the chickens in sub-zero temperatures, replenish the cows' water at 4 a.m., pick the endless apples and cherries from the trees and cook them, sit on the barn roof and look at the stars.
People always assume that because my dad was such an amazing artist, during our home-school years, he must have given us lessons in art or had us learn the classics. But my answer would surprise them — No! My parents wanted us to DESIRE art, to LOVE making the world more beautiful, to be open to possibilities, and that just can’t be taught. Instead, they talked constantly of beauty, found it in the mundane. My dad brought his camera everywhere and took photos of icicles and clouds and sketched pictures of the sermons at church. We saw how beautifully curated our home was, with artfully unique antiques, rare wallpaper designs, hand-carved architectural details; and how beautifully my mother always did her hair and picked out vintage clothes at thrift stores. We learned that being creative was a lifestyle.
In time, each of us girls found our own niche. No prodding or prompting from our parents. We fell into the things we adored learning about. I loved to read and write, so my dad asked one of his past colleagues from USA TODAY to come teach writing to a group of me and several other home-schoolers. The man was introverted and certainly not trained in teaching, but he was brilliant and widely published, and I wanted to impress him more than anything — and avoid his criticisms. This, I thought, is how learning must occur — experts in their field, training the young. YES.
One of the best gifts my parents gave to me in this upbringing was the freedom to find my own way in the world. With this freedom, I got to keep the natural curiosity that all children have innately. You know how four-year-olds ask “Why?” hundreds of times a day? My thirst for the answer to that question never lessened! I ask why things are done the way they are, and desire to turn them upside down and do them a new and better way! I question the way schooling is set up, I question the need for government, our laws, I question our diets, our habits, our vaccines, our culture, our values. Being given the freedom to question inspires creativity.
This type of child-rearing isn’t unique to home-school, and we did go on to private school and then public school again, and then to public universities! The creative upbringing sprung from my parents’ priority of letting God mold their offspring, allowing our nearly unbridled curiosity inspired by His Spirit to direct our paths. And now I’m trying to give my children that lifestyle too.