In a small coastal town of Maine, the Chittenden family is living a life many of us aspire to. Their house and garden are quintessentially homesteader, handmade from the ground up: house, furniture, food and clothes all come from their own toil. But the most precious thing I witnessed was their connection and dedication to their children.
When you step into the Chittenden home, a sense of calm and order will settle over you. Shoes neatly lined in a row, a few thoughtful handmade toys in baskets, a comfortable chair and books occupy a sunny light-filled corner of the house that they designed and built together. These gentle nurturing scenes echo throughout their space, a space clearly all about raising their children.
One might think that the orderly appearance is timely, but as you witness the family move within their environment, you see that their actions of being present, and of doing things with ritual and intent is ingrained and seemingly effortless. Their home is an authentic reflection of this way of life, and what struck me is that it really is a way of being for them, to be present with gratitude. It seems that when we truly are this way, life unfolds emanating these qualities, no matter who we are or what our means.
Our journey north this summer was a quest to be more connected with my own children. Intuitively, I knew Meg Chittenden was very aligned in her role of motherhood in a way that I found intriguing, and I wanted to learn from her. Parenting can be a natural gift, but simultaneously it can be filled with skillful parenting choices that we can share with each other. Something Meg had mentioned briefly on social media about a “water treatment” once caught my attention and, after I dug a little deeper and came to know Meg, I felt that she was the keeper of a deeper parenting experience and that, by learning from her, we could add more reverence and nurturing to our experience of parenting and childhood.
In the early evening after the sun sets, you will hear Meg calling, “treatment time” to her children, in the same manner a mother might say it is time to read books. The children look forward to this, and together they ascend the staircase, brush their teeth, and then perch on the side of the bed expectantly.
Twice a day, Meg gives her children this nurturing treatment with water. Once before breakfast in the morning and again after brushing teeth in the evening. It takes little more than 10 minutes, twice a day, and Meg feels that it is “a way of easing the children gently across the thresholds between sleeping and waking.” Meg is a Waldorf teacher and was introduced to this water treatment through a training in Anthroposophical home healthcare. (Anthroposophy is the path of inquiry out of which Waldorf Education originally arose.)
The Chittenden children are incredibly free and lively. They are very energetic, full of movement, exploration, and animated chatter, but their willingness to be calm, centered and receive direction and attention is also striking. Earlier, we were lucky to be a part of the family’s nightly gathering where the children are invited to release energy through song and dance. We all participated in this beautiful expiration, and then when Meg felt the diminuendo, she let the children know it was time to go upstairs for treatment.
As an invited guest watching Meg nurturing her children, I could feel their open spirits taking in the love. This mothering from Meg soothes them gently towards a sound sleep at night and, when morning comes around, lifts them up again beautifully into the day. The nourishment this interaction provides is clearly profound for them.
I asked Meg whether she ever felt like it was a chore, and with all honesty, she answered that she found grounding in the ritual, too. She said that for her, the treatments have become like “bookends to each day,” giving her a sense of clarity and purpose in her role as a mother. No matter what difficulties the day has brought, closing it with a warm and loving touch, a quiet moment together that they can all count on, is like a soothing balm for the soul. Beginning each day in the same way helps get them off on the right foot together too. The children see having treatment as a gift, and likewise Meg feels it is a gift to give. “It affirms the connection between my children and me, and I look forward to it as much as they do.” She did mention that, if the family is out late or disrupted in their schedule, she doesn’t worry about missing treatments. They just slip back into the rhythm again as soon as they can, and are always glad they did.
I was also interested to know if the children squabbled over who gets to go first, or about where they sit, and Meg explained that, by establishing a consistent pattern that they always follow, they essentially eliminated this kind of bickering. Celia always gets her face treatment first, Clancy always gets his foot treatment first. Celia always sits on the right, Clancy always sits on the left. They know what to expect, and this leaves them free to simply take it all in.
The treatment happens in two parts, first the water treatment and then an essential oil application. The basic element of the water treatment is a soothing face wash with warm, scented water. Then, oil is applied to the feet. Meg explained that, while she gives her children foot rubs at other times, the treatment is more of an application than a massage. However, the intention brought into the hands is essential, and she likened it to a slow and mindful dance. She said she imagines moving her hands the way a leaf glides over the surface of the water, making sure that the “heart” of each hand (the palm) connects with her child’s skin. Meg says that, in her experience, when you bring clear intention and mindfulness into your interactions with children, whatever the specifics of the exchange may be, it awakens in them a vital sense reverence and connection.
After watching Meg’s treatment with her children unfold and feeling the loving presence the interaction created, I found myself wondering how I could apply this to my own children. I felt that pang of sadness that can arise when you feel like you have missed the boat. Instantly I wished I had known about this sooner, and I wondered whether or not my children would be receptive, given their ages. Then, more honestly, I wondered if I myself was able to dive into that deeper giving space, to commit to it and make it work. I also felt some joy in knowing that the treatment could be given to the elderly also, and that I could do this with my Grandmother.
When we arrived home from Maine, I felt really inspired to at least try this with my family. A week went by and, with the overly busy life I lead, it just was not happening. Then one evening, Maya was struggling emotionally around bedtime, and it struck me instantly that this was the perfect evening to nurture her with the water treatment. Maya was aware of the water treatment, as she knew we had travelled to Maine especially to learn about it from Meg. When I told her I was going to give her Meg’s water treatment, I saw light grow in her eyes. As I gently went to work nurturing her, I could feel her tension ease and the difficult feelings of 10 minutes prior were washed away and replaced by a whole heap of loving and good feelings in both of us. I could see her appreciation, that I was attentive to her, that I was giving to her. I could see that having her face, feet, and hands gently bathed felt good, because it was nice, but also because it felt like I was there, really there, really present with her. I decided that, even if I could not bring the water treatment into our daily rhythm, I could certainly draw on the experience when my children were having soul fevers, when their vitality seemed low, when they would not have a bath but needed a wash, or most importantly when I felt we all needed to strengthen our loving connection.
I really felt like Meg had gifted me with another parenting tool, to add to my heart and hands, that I could feel for when we needed it. For some of you, it could be something you bring every day. For others, like myself, it may be something you save for now and then. However it works for you, I feel that, even if you only try it once, it shows a beautiful willingness and openness to trying something new for your family. As parents, showing our children that we are willing and able to explore new ways of being when we feel it has value is really important.
You can read step by step details of the water treatment below the images, and if you have any questions or would like further information, and inspiration, you can connect with Meg.
Bellow is a basic example of the water experience, but is not equal to the depth of guidance that you would receive with Anthroposophical training. I do not claim that this is correct or professional, only my interpretation gained from watching Meg. Thank you to Ian, Meg and the children for welcoming us into their home, and sharing their life.
You will Need
A medium bowl to hold water
Wash cloth for each child. Meg uses unbleached organic cotton washers.
Essential oils, one relative to the time of day and another for your child’s disposition and needs and blended with a carrier oil.
Bring great attention and care to your actions throughout the treatment. The children’s attention will follow yours.
1. Half fill a bowl with very warm water. Children need warmth, and just a little warmth on individual parts of their bodies helps them learn how to recognize their body temperature and feeling. This will resonate at other times, like in winter when they may need to wear mittens because their fingers are cold, but they may not otherwise recognize it.
2. Add a drop of essential oil to the water. Meg uses lavender or chamomile for the evening and rosemary or lemon for the morning. After removing the lid, Meg lets her children smell the oil, which they clearly enjoy. As she drops the oil into the water, she says softly and clearly, “one golden droplet.” Then, she and the children watch together as the oil spreads in shimmering concentric circles across the surface of the water. Here, the children are witnessing the relationship of oil and water.
3. Dip your fingertips into the water, and create a vortex. Water comes out of the faucet disorganized. By swirling the water into a vortex, you restore the inherent integrity of water. Observe with silent attention the spiral that forms fleetingly, the sounds of the water dripping from your fingers, the scent of the oil as it rises on the warm vapor. These little golden moments of focused attention create a calm that is like a simple meditation for both parent and child.
4. Dip a rolled washcloth into the essential oil/water bath, soaking the cloth fully and then ringing out as much water as possible. Again, take time to enjoy the musical sound of the water dripping back into the bowl.
5. Lay the cloth in the center of your child’s face, then roll it out so it covers the face. Supporting the head from behind, gently wipe your child’s face with the cloth. You can then wipe hands and feet as well.
6. The second part of the treatment involves essential oil mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin. You can use any oil combination that is soothing and appropriate for children, or you can select a solution that is responsive specifically to your child’s nature. For example, Meg feels Clancy needs the protective qualities in a peat extract solution, and for Celia, she uses rose oil. Meg has each child’s oil prepared in bottle.
7. Pour a small amount of oil into the palm of your hand. Draw your palms across each other so that both hands are covered in oil. Take one of your child’s feet gently between your palms, one hand on top and the other supporting the foot from beneath. Draw your hands slowly from the heel towards the toes, focusing on the place where the heart of each hand connects with your child’s skin. You can do this a few times, leaving the foot covered in a light layer of oil. As she does this, Meg speaks the following verse*:
I cup my hands to receive from you
One golden droplet (pouring oil into palm)
One golden droplet (sung)
Sunlit droplet, warm me through (spoken slowly while applying oil to one foot)
Sunlit droplet, warm me through (repeat this phrase as you apply oil to the other foot)
*Meg mentioned that, while this is the verse she usually speaks, if the children are feeling squirrely, she may tell them a slow and simple story as she applies the oil instead. A quiet, descriptive recounting of something that happened during that day usually draws them in, for example. Sometimes she sings a song instead. She says she seeks to maintain rhythm while also being responsive to the needs of the moment. It’s not always perfect!
8. With the oil remaining on your hands, you can also lovingly coat the area over your child’s heart.
9. In cool weather Meg warms wool socks between two hot water bottles and, after applying oil, she slips a warmed sock over each foot.
Safely Choosing Essential Oils for Children
Read further about choosing essential oils for children so you feel confident your choice is right for your child. Some essential oils are to be avoided during pregnancy and are not recommended for small children. A very good guide can be found at the Herbal Academy of New England Safely Using Essential Oils for Children.