As neat as that scenario sounded, it never really happened as I pictured it. It wasn't long before my husband was deeply involved in making a more cemented career in art and music, while also spending his free time doing both. Those were his dreams. I found myself gardening and tending animals mostly alone. We never got to the point where grocery and department store trips were only a few times monthly. Then, it became difficult to travel with small children. Sleeping in a truck bed for days at a time makes for irritable babies and mothers. John started travelling alone. After awhile, he opened his tattoo shop in effort to create a more steady income, and we all know that having a business requires an incredible amount of time. Homesteading alone while mothering three little girls and homeschooling them as well was just too much. It wasn't at all what I had dreamed.
There isn't a place beautiful enough to trump the necessity to create a day to day life that works for you and brings you joy. When I chose to live in this lonely holler, I didn't think I'd actually be alone most of the time, meaning away from other adults. I didn't know that often I'd be literally trapped behind a swollen or frozen creek, unable to get out with my children without much difficulty. I expected a shared experience. A dream built by two. Through no fault of either of us, it just didn't come to be. The idea was great, but the application wasn't for us to do together. I realized this year, in part due to the severity with which the Hashimoto's had changed my ability to cope with the emotions and stress I was experiencing, that it was time to make adjustments. For my well being and vicariously for that of my daughters, we had to change what this dream had actually become. I've written quite a bit about my inner process on this path here.
This summer was spent drawing up a plan for the girls and I. How could I give them a kind mommy who felt joy, a rich and stable childhood experience, prepare them for independent womanhood, and also give myself a fulfilled life? I knew it was going to be tricky and look nothing like I had planned our life to be for so long. This past week, the oldest two of my girls began going to school away from home for the first time. They are attending a small cottage school on a family farm. This idea had only been a few months old, but it fell together with ease, and they both enjoyed their first week immensely. They are very happy about going to school. Over the last few weeks I have completed freelance writing work, began teaching yoga at Evolation Yoga in Pikeville, and applied for a couple of other interesting work opportunities. My plan is coming together. It is intimidating and freeing all at the same time, but it seems to be affirmed by the Universe, and that is all I need to move forward.
Someone who advises me spiritually told me this spring that my spirit is like a penned up wild horse. I had a hard time believing that at first. I felt so dull and uninspired. Once I picked back up the dreams that were personal to me, just as my husband had always pursued his own independent of our marriage, I realized how much I had become stifled by limitations I had put on myself regarding what I thought I had to be as a wife and mother. I didn't want to fail at homesteading and homeschooling. I had thought it would be such a joyful life for all of us. I still think it would have been. This isn't a grass is greener thing. As nothing happens in a vaccum, I had to adjust what I allowed for myself to be in order to see my spirit freed. It has been imperative that I change my definition of what it means for me to be a good mother and drop any guilt associated with what I had always thought it should look like for me.
Honestly, this whole time, even as I was making these changes, I had felt as if I was failing as a mother. Not failing or neglecting my daughters, but failing to find everything I needed to be fulfilled by being a mother. It was as if I was somehow defunct in comparison to women around me who seemed so satisfied in the role. I've learned motherhood is so very different for all of us. There isn't one of us doing it - right. In loving and providing for our children, putting their needs first, and considering our own well being and fulfillment as an essential part of giving them the childhood they deserve, we are each doing it very well. I read an article on the Brain Child Magazine website that helped me put what I am trying to do for my daughters in perspective, the way I am choosing to do it now.
After all, isn’t this movement away from us and toward independence the central goal of parenting? Isn’t this what sets parenting apart from gardening and cat ownership? That we want our children to leave us? That we don’t want to be number one in their lives forever?
I'm still okay. I'm still a loving mother. I am also working very hard at making myself a more emotionally available and present mother. A mother that is alive and not simply going through the motions. A mother that has dreams and acknowledges their validity. I'm a mother who doesn't need permission or approval to seek a varied and colorful life for myself or my daughters. If we believe we have one go around in this world, then right now is the time to be alive. I can't wait any longer to grow if I am going to raise bold women capable of growing as individuals and nurturing a planet of sacred situations and souls. That takes a goddess in the flesh. That is what we are. I am a warrior mama. I'm fighting for my free and wild spirit. I'm fighting this disease for my health. I'm fighting the fight for the full expression of all women for the sake of my daughters. And... I got a faux hawk today in order to mark my realization that I'm a warrior and a rebel at heart... always.
All things good are wild, and free. - Henry David Thoreau
On Friday, I will be going to interview and tour a cottage school that I am hoping will be a fit for my daughters come August. I'm relieved. I'm nervous. I'm hopeful. This is a big move for me. It means I am also looking for good full or part time employment outside of the home. A few weeks ago, I wrote of my plan to expand my horizons in juggling motherhood, work, and homeschooling, but I soon realized that I was still stuffing myself inside a box of expectations. I was continuing to hang on to these notions of what I should be doing as a person who chose motherhood and chose it completely. I still feared letting people down.
I don't fit inside any boxes. They cannot contain me. I will not allow them to contain me.
I visited my grandparents in South Carolina this weekend. My Papaw is very ill and so is my aunt. My Mamaw is holding her own and trying to not lose her cool. I can't imagine what she's feeling right now with a sick husband and daughter. We just lost my uncle, her son, three years ago. In the midst of all the emotion my family is processing, she sat me down to talk. She always sits me down to talk, without fail. I think this talk was the most powerful I have ever had with her. She told me it was time to step out, take care of me, and show my daughters what I'm capable of. In her nurturing sternness, she instructed me to not wait around another minute. That I must do what it takes to be fulfilled, independent, and in the world. She assured me that I am a good mother. I have done an amazing job with my daughters, and will continue to do so in whatever construct my family takes.
My grandmother spoke to me like a pioneer of feminine empowerment. She was a pioneer of feminine empowerment. Once she completed her education, she worked as a paralegal. Financial independence was always important to her. She gave to those in need. She fed and raised four children. She gave in expansive ways to her community through managing an outdoor theater, writing and telling our stories, genealogy, community service, and diligent, honest work within our justice system. If there is anyone to listen to at a time like this, it is her. As she spoke to me, she revealed that she saw and concerned herself with my lonesomeness and needless self sacrifice.
It's time I allow myself to be wild, and FREE.
Adventure. Excitement. A jedi craves not these things. - Master Yoda
This quote from the wise and infinitely old Yoda has always befuddled me. It felt like a let down. A jedi's life is anything but lacking adventure and excitement. Why should not one seeking these things become a jedi? It's only been the last couple of years that I really meditated on the meaning of these words. (As if Star Wars is the undistinguished instruction manual for life compared to sacred scripture.) I understand now. They don't crave it because in their acceptance of who they are the adventure and excitement find them. They don't have to seek it out, or make it for themselves. They just have to be. I am that I am. There are no exceptions. Acceptance is destiny.
I haven't failed because I'd like to send my children to school. It doesn't mean that I am weak because at this point in time I seek outside employment and independence. Changing plans and feelings is a healthy thing not to be feared, but embraced. The ability to change our minds is an outgrowth of freedom.
One of my new goals in all this self searching I have been doing is to move toward financial independence. I currently depend upon my husband to provide all of our family's financial needs while I remain at home house-wiving, homeschooling, doing all I can do alone on our homestead, and working on side projects. It is hard for me at times to have to think about the fact that I am spending another person's hard earned money when I want to buy a gift for my girls, or something I don't particularly need, but want. We also have to make a lot of personal sacrifices in order to make sure bills are paid and we are all fed well and kept healthy. For example, I currently have two pairs of pants that fit me the way they should and don't completely fall from my body if I take my belt off. I'm rarely out of the house, so I make do.
In looking at my options for work alongside my hopes and dreams, then factoring in what I'm actually capable of doing with little to no childcare, I can't help but think of how things have changed since my childhood. My parents had readily available free childcare from my grandparents, great grandparents, and aunts and uncles. We really were raised in a village it seems and if I am honest, I don't know what would have came of us if we hadn't been. I have very little time that is not consumed by raising my children. I'm their primary caregiver, as it should be, but there is little time to be with friends, adult conversations with a real person, or to hold a job outside of the home because my daughters' grandparents aren't able to provide daily childcare (as most of them are still working full time jobs passed retirement age) and we cannot afford a paid sitter.
Another thing I noticed as a child was how completely absorbed the adults around me were in financial concerns. Did we have enough money? While I'm concerned with our family's finances and I have a clear picture of what I'd like for us in terms of lifestyle and how effectively our money is spent, I let go of most of the worry around the amount we have available. Yet, recently, I began to see the need for me to have earnings of my own more than I ever have. While it should not be the case that money brings power to a voice, I have come to realize that it does, even within many family structures. Traditional roles of womanhood and motherhood are truly outdated if we desire to be seen as peers with our male counterparts. Tradition is not always a good thing as many are informed by outdated ways of thinking and viewing the world. I feel a movement away from these traditions and to a more balanced way of being is in order.
Southeastern Kentucky, where I reside, is once again in the midst of an outward migration of people. I see quite a bit on Facebook that friends and family are planning moves outside of the region to Tennessee and Ohio most often. Our family's choice to remain in the mountains is a big one. It is in many ways a sacrifice of opportunities for ourselves and our children. However, as we currently see things, there is much to be gained by staying and trying to create our own way of life in the region. This will always be home to us who were born and raised here. It is as integral to who we are as our heart or mind. The truth is, those who stay here will have to depend on themselves and their community to develop a sustainable life post coal in the mountains.
I don't know if my current plan will result in financial independence for me, but I will have a little pocket change I hope. My plan is to make myself available as an editor to anyone requiring those services. I'm working with one client in California at the moment. I'm teaching yoga one evening a week, and I am offering my services as a writer/blogger to interested parties. It blends my passions with what I am capable of doing while still very much within a traditional role in my family as a full time mother. My success will depend a lot on my ability to market myself within the region, but also outside of it.
My dilemma is not unlike the one that residents of southeastern Kentucky are facing now and for the future. As more coal jobs are lost and our populations decline, we are searching for ways to make life here a possibility. The most common suggestions I've seen touted are tourism, farming, and manufacturing. A recent article from The Daily Yonder written by Tim Marema reported that populations of rural counties in all states who relied on these economic replacements have all lost population since the Great Recession. The only counties seeing growth were recreation counties and those only grew by 1.4%. For counties like the one I live in and those directly around us, any of these replacements would be difficult because of a lack of infrastructure and our location away from most major interstates.
As I have diversified my possibilities of earning for myself and my daughters without a typical hired position, I believe the region will only survive from a diversified approach that utilizes the internet and technology to reach populations outside of the region. We will have to put our unique stamp on what we do to attract people in and make a visit worth the effort to get here. We will also have to accept that our lifestyles may look very different from the ones we see away from here because it has to and living here is a choice.
I may have bitten off more than I can chew with my hopes of financial independence while still choosing full time mothering and homeschooling. I have no way of knowing without trying. Trying is the only thing to do. I want to show my daughters a world of possibilities in a reality of limited options. I can't help but see that it parallels the consciousness we are striving to get to in our region. Moving past the realization that what is currently taking place is unacceptable and in spite of our realities there is a world of possibilities. We have to do the work and imagine them. We have to really try.
Every day by default is Earth Day here at the Confluence, so we didn't do anything out of the ordinary to celebrate. For me, today has been one of those weirdly productive days. Those are few and far between. School went beautifully - even math! I cooked three meals. Dishes are washed and kitchen is swept. I've done a load of laundry and changed the bed linens. I've fed the chickens and goats. I bathed all three little gals and myself. I submitted a manuscript. And... we dug another lasagna bed.
When you are homesteading (sort of) and the partner isn't home long enough to mow grass on most weeks, you become industrious. The goal is to grow most of our vegetables ourselves. Organic produce is hard to come by in these parts, and that is what we desire. I love growing things and always have. So, I came up with a plan to do it myself with the simple garden tools we had on hand. Lasagna beds cost nothing.
Step One - Be ready to work and don't be a whiner. Oh, and grab your tools.
We found this shovel in the hills. I have no clue what type it is, but it makes the work simple and easy on the back.
Step Two - Get down and dirty... remove the sod layer and set it aside to use later. I remove it in rectangles. You'll end up with this.
Step Three - Make a trench. You can make a deep or shallow one. I have beds where I have done both. The deeper ones will require more filling and I save those for when I have cardboard to use. I'm starting to believe all that isn't necessary though, so this one ended up 5 inches deep all around. I make the trench by loosening the dirt with the hoe and shoveling it out. Put the dirt aside. This is your topsoil and you will use it later.
Step Four - Fill your trench with organic debris. I gathered mine from the forest floor. It's sticks and leaves mostly. The girls wanted to put in some goat poop, so I said "have at it." Deladis added a rotting plum too. Whatever. As long as it will contribute to rich, healthy soil. One of the buckets you see next to the bed is composted chicken manure. We will use that in a later step. Yes, sometimes good food requires playing in poop.
Step Five - Top the debris with the sod. Turn the clumps grass side down to kill out the weeds and grass.
Step Six - Mix your manure and topsoil on top of this and spread evenly. Use the hoe to break up clumps. Surround your bed with some kind of barrier to set it apart from the yard. Voila! You're done.
Let the bed rest a day or so and then plant it. I plant veggies much closer together in these beds than a traditional garden and still get good yield. This bed took about two hours to make. We'll see how well it does. The point is that it is doable for a lone mother with littles around all the time. The girls loved helping. Gweneth thought the wind was going to blow her away, but she hung tight. The goats ate the buds off of all my irises too. It's a give and take. Good luck if you give it a try!
The rains came washing the cold away, making all things new.
When we moved back to the mountains after seven years of being away, our ambitions were high. The plan was to homestead. John was going to paint and play music. We'd travel as a family to festivals to sell his wares and talents. It seemed a simple plan at the time. Implementing it was another thing all together.
Plans have changed now and yet things are slowly progressing toward the original vision. I handle most of the homesteading duties as I tend to homeschooling and homemaking. Our garden is not a huge plot with a bounty to sell at market. It is now several raised beds and lasagna beds in our side yard. It produces enough for our family for two seasons and a bit to can or freeze. The gardening doesn't take me away from the cabin and is manageable for the girls and I.
This week we put in strawberries, a variety of lettuces and salad greens, and spinach. We also joined a program in our region called Grow Appalachia that will support our efforts this season.
Gardening in your pjs is a technique we've mastered.
We also added two new farm friends to our two cats and twenty chickens. Snow White and Sunflower are Kiko/Boer mix nanny goats. They're less than two years old. Their breeds are good for both milk and meat, however, here they will be lawn care and pets. I'd love to have fresh, raw, goat milk, but I also dream of traveling. Asking a friend to milk your goats is a little more than I think we can pull off at this point. Trying to take it a step at a time. Thinking manageable.
Plans evolve. The spring rains wash away the heaviness of the winter and life moves forward into rebirth. The blessing is that we can adapt as our heart leads.
"Is where we live a kind of lost place, Mama?" my Ivy Pearl asked.
Without thinking, I answered, "Yes, it is, Ivy."
In the few days since she asked, I've been thinking of all the ways that we do very much live in a kind of lost place. Beginning with our cabin being located through the creek and in the woods. People don't visit often. It is like a world all to ourselves if we want it to be, until the summer comes and more people come to visit our landlord and our hearts race when we see someone walking up the road and are unsure where they came from. We can do yoga on the porch in our jammies. We can run and scream like wild banshees. We can fall asleep in the grass and feel safe. We can hear the birds chirping, the creek running, the frogs singing, and the coyotes dueling it out for the alpha factor. It is easy to feel alone and lonesome.
Southeastern, Kentucky is that kind of place the rest of the country/world only hear about in terms of coal, poverty, drug addiction, or bluegrass music. It is still perfectly acceptable to publicly make fun of the "hillbilly". Tolerance and equality preaching folks have done it to my face on numerous occasions and I'm supposed to laugh as if it is a funny joke. Many times I haven't the energy to explain to them what they have just done to me and mine. It isn't worth the conversation. Other times, I'm too angry to speak. It seems to the rest of the country that we are good for entertainment, slave labor, and self perpetuated stagnation.
Nevermind our beauty, kindness, deeply meaningful art, old and rich culture, and the way we insert complexities into the English language that are older than the country itself. We are a kind of lost place. Only known to ourselves. Visited mostly by ourselves. Praised as home by many and few. The world knows us not.
I read an article not too long ago that talked about a study which found that there is a human gene that induces the need to explore. I sit here in this lost place with my children and ache to explore the world with them. These hills are in my blood, in the dust that made my being, in the air I breathe, and they inform every cell of my body. The Kentucky mountains will always be home. Maybe because of that I long to understand the places that aren't lost. I long to understand the other lost places as well. I want to share this world with my girls. It is thought that those people whose ancestors traveled the farthest to inhabit the world have the largest presence of this wanderlust gene. Our ancestors were the Native Americans, Scots-Irish, and early eastern European paid explorers. They came here to find home. They explored the known world before settling here. We have the wanderlust gene.
This winter was a rough one for most of the families in the mountains. It kept us home for weeks on end and behind closed doors. Spring is the busiest time for my husband's tattoo shop, and it will be awhile before we can travel as a whole family. The girls and I ventured out on our own to visit my grandparents in South Carolina. With our modern day compass plugged in, we set out like a burden had been relieved of us. My Papaw has been diagnosed with bone cancer. It won't be long for him. He made ready awhile ago. Love and the wanderlust gene made this mother brave enough to travel alone with three small children. A drop in the bucket to some, and yet to those who reside in a lost place it can seem the pinnacle of excitement.
I even took the girls to a Cultural and Kite Festival in a city unknown to me. That is something I can't remember ever doing before.
We'll travel and know the world as home. Starting out small for now, as finances allow for small, we will go. The limit is through all space and time. We'll come back to our little lost place when we want to feel grounded again and know what's familiar and as connected as our soul. We will be free.
Today, we are preparing for another round of snow. There is the possibility of six inches. My car is in the shop for who knows how long. Yet, I feel okay with that. Me, who doesn't like to sit around the house, is okay with these moments here, just me and my girls. In our school time today, I found inspiration to write for the first time since the snow in my girls' enthusiasm for getting back to a normally structured homeschool day. I was inspired by the fact that even though we have had a rough patch, we have 122 attendance days completed as of the end of this week for the 2014-2015 school year. I was inspired that my house feels tidy enough in this moment. I can not feel like talking to people. I can only want to see a few folks. I can dream of travelling. I can be playfully envious of Anthony Bourdain and his job. I can get wrapped up in a good television story. I can grieve. I don't have to feel guilty about it, or lazy. I don't even have to accuse myself of being stagnant. I can be productive on my terms. I can be still and content right now as I am. Is this what contentment feels like, or is this the stillness of grief?
"The more quickly you empty your cup and open yourself to new ideas uncritically, the sooner you will see natural learning blossom." - Sandra Dodd, Deschooling for Parents
Confluence Academy (the name of our little homeschool) has been going full speed since beginning lessons after Christmas break. Going into the break, I was feeling a major burn out and questioning how I was going to keep us on track the rest of the year. I know it was in part my being overwhelmed from depression and my health crisis, but a big part of it was playing teacher and placing myself under arbitrary rules. My big experiment in letting go has also included school, and because of it, we are accomplishing much more during our attendance days than we were.
We have been attempting a Waldorf education for our girls off and on since we became parents. What Waldorf asks of us is so vastly different from anything I experienced while in school, and the lifestyle, if you are a purist, is far removed from the mainstream experience. The concepts that Waldorf expounds were anything but what I was asked to do while teaching public school and obtaining my Master's of Arts in Teaching. "Proper" Waldorf education in the home would mean that I would truly devote much of my life and time toward learning the philosophy, correct application of the concepts, and the activities of home life that support the education. Committing to this kind of study while in the middle of carrying out the principles ascribed, mothering, homemaking, and trying to work on the side, soon overwhelmed me and created a heart conflict. I didn't want to do all this studying. I wanted to use my free time for me time. Us mamas have so little me time. Yet, I wanted my girls to experience the beauty and the gentle guidance this method allows.
"Stop thinking schoolishly. Stop acting teacherishly. Stop talking about learning as though it’s separate from life." —Sandra Dodd
I've had to let go of the idea that we'd be a purist Waldorf home. There are many things we do that aren't in line with the stricter aspect of the philosophy. I'm a student though. I love being a student, and I'll do my work whether or not my heart is in it at all just to earn the A+ and say that I did it. As we all know, being a good student and learning are two totally different things. Being the student is all about performance, doing the work, and getting it right. It's a rewards based task. Learning is about understanding, taking a subject/topic in deep, and integrating it into one's repertoire. Learning is a life task. I was raised in a home of educators. My grandfather taught vocational school. My great grandmother taught English. My grandmother was a substitute and a secretary at the Board of Education. My dad began going to college to become a physical education teacher, but did not complete the degree. I earned my master's in teaching. You can imagine how our journey to homeschooling has been for me. I've been the "student" since I have memory. I have taken that attitude into my approach to homeschooling my daughters and have found for one of the few times in my life, it hasn't served me well.
"Deschooling is not just the child recovering from school damage. It's also the parents exploring their own school and childhood damage and proactively changing their thinking until the paradigm shift happens." - Robyn Coburn
These days, I'm working on deschooling me. I'm having to take it slow, because doing my "school" work is a way of life for me. Allowing myself to enjoy my free time while also keeping up with my responsibility to provide a well rounded education to my children, has been a weight off. I still study Waldorf methodology. I still participate in the support groups for my curriculum, and we are still right on track with our lessons. Nothing has slipped. The only change has been my expectations of what we are doing and my level of stress. I'm seeing the learning in every opportunity we take. Literally, how can you keep a child from learning? They are built to learn.
The education we are providing our girls is unique to our family. It meets our needs while expanding the world view of our girls, and supporting their choices for their individual life paths. It isn't a prescribed "Waldorf" education, but is very much inspired by the ideas. We are eclectic homeschoolers. I can relax and not follow exactly what the book lays out, but I can trust my instincts as a human being. I don't have to be a good student. I don't have to be a constant teacher. I just have to be a mother who supports learning. I can let go of my book work a little to allow the real learning and growth to begin. My daughters can know their mother and enjoy our lesson times - or at least be at ease in them most of the time. I am capable of my own accord to guide my children down the learning trail, and I can follow their lead. Let go, mama.
I'm depressed. I think that is the first time I have ever admitted publicly that I am truly depressed at the time that I am depressed. I've been prone to depression since I was a child. I can pinpoint the years of my life when depression ruled the day. Yet, as I have gotten older I have found myself dealing with it on a day to day basis far less. I thought for a good long while that I had beaten it. I thought that the most I'd feel were moments of sadness, frustration, or let down. I didn't think that depression would come again.
Admitting that one is depressed can have so many negative repercussions to how one is perceived by their peers. While there are many difficult aspects to living with depression, people who are depressed should not be ruled out as productive, interesting, and lovable people. Assuming that someone who is depressed is ungrateful, lazy, selfish, dramatic, or emotionally stunted or overstimulated is like saying someone who has diabetes is also all of these things. There may be a personal component to having an illness like depression or diabetes that is often chronic, but science tells us that genetics also play a strong factor in our predisposition to developing it. There is no one to blame for depression. People who are depressed should not be counted out.
Currently, I'm struggling with the compulsion I feel to do things "properly." It has taken over so many aspects of my life that I wake up every morning with an intense pressure to do things as prescribed by the text I'm reading, the mentor I have chosen, the philosophy of whatever group label I have dove into for support. I'm overwhelmed by all of these things I've told myself that I have to do to be successful that when there just isn't enough time in the day to research educational philosophy, I think about the laundry list of things to do in the day while I'm supposed to be focusing on God during meditation, or I fight the urge to let my toddler watch some TV so we can peacefully complete our school lessons, I feel incredibly guilty and as if all the effort I've put forth to do this mother and homemaker thing well has just been washed down the drain. The day is a loss. I've failed my children. I've failed my husband. I've ceased to matter in the larger scheme of things. I'm just a failing housewife.
I know. It's irrational. I completely understand that and recognize it. Does that make a difference in battling these feelings? Mostly not. However, it is a starting point.
The task before me is learning to let go of these labels, rules, and prescriptions and adopt what is truly a fit for me and my family. I have to learn that the effort is as important if not more so than the result. I have to stop the thoughts of failure. I have to accept that the me that God created, the joy I feel when allowing myself to just be who I am without apology, is enough for me and my family.
It's so easy to feel the burden and guilt for not being content and happy. We are bombarded by the positive thinking movement (which I believe has much merit) saying that happiness is a choice. It makes it seem so simple to choose to be happy and content. They say begin by being grateful for what you have, as if someone who isn't happy is an ungrateful person not recognizing the many things they are blessed with every day. We can't simply make a list of what we are grateful for and suddenly expect to be happy or not depressed. Gratitude can be fully lived and recognized while in deep depression.
Every day is a new day even when depressed. Often, while depressed, facing the day at all is something that makes you feel dread. When you measure yourself against your peers and their accomplishments, it is easy to feel like you aren't doing enough. Motherhood is a lonely place many times. I've written that before. I long to have a voice in things that matter to adults. Many of my feminist friends (and no I'm not saying that I'm not a feminist) would say that what I'm doing as a stay at home, homeschooling, wife and mother is a choice that I can un-choose. Probably, a lot of those who would say that aren't mothers yet or have chosen not to be. When another person's life and opportunities in that life become your responsibility, choices become infinitely more complicated. I could ask for the greater world to become more interested in mothers and all that we accomplish in a day, but in our culture of leisure,consumer values, and immense access to information about our world, domestic life is pretty boring. Raising children becomes something that isn't our "work", but the thing we do as we do our real work, or depending on arrangements, when we have completed our real work for the day. I know to some, I'm wasting my mind by not taking on some "meaningful" work. Does it sound like I resent that? Perhaps I do. Perhaps there's a hint of jealousy. Perhaps I just want to eat my cake.
So, from this place in my life, I have a lot of hard work to do. I'm someone who believes I was born with all I need to be happy, content, and prosperous. I believe we are all important. We are born children of the Most High. We are wanted by God. Planned by God. That is no small thing. What that tells me is there is the possibility of Light. I first want to accept where I am, speak/write my experience, and then begin to adopt the practice of letting go and feeling my way rather than using unbalanced intellect and sacrificial willing to obtain the Ideal.
It is inevitable that by writing this piece I'll tick someone off, or insight them to explain their position as to why they don't believe homeschooling is a responsible choice. It is also very probable in just mentioning that I homeschool and have done so since my oldest began her educational journey, that someone will say to me that they wish they could do that or could've done that, or that they commend me for doing it because there is no way on earth they would want to manage that. Thank God for public school - right!? We should all be thankful for that option.
I'm working on an article about making the choice to homeschool in southeastern Kentucky where the public schools are losing enrollments by the thousands. It has made me once again deeply look at my choice to go that route. It has the potential to be controversial. Simply going to the grocery store with a few school aged kids during school hours can be enough to get some stares. I'm writing this anyway. In my experience, what I'm about to reveal about our day to day is the truth of choosing to homeschool. It's important that we aren't kept in the dark about our individual experiences with choosing the education that is right for our families.
I'm a former public school teacher. I taught in a rural farming community in north central Kentucky for four years before having a child of my own. It was an amazing experience. I earned a Master's Degree in Teaching during that time period. I also made some friends who I still communicate with today mostly through social media. Despite the hard work and about $30,000 in loans to go toward graduate education, I could not make the choice to remain in public education after having children of my own. One of the hardest things I have ever done is to reveal to my principal, whom I liked very much, that I wouldn't be returning the following year after my daughter's birth.
The decision to not put my children in public education was one I had made long before becoming a mother. My husband was always in full agreement. That decision is one in which I was extremely confident, maybe more so than any other decision in my life. Having my oldest now in 3rd grade/4th grade, I'm still very solidly there. Though, from time to time, my husband may hear me whisper, "I should just send them to school." In return, he looks at me cross-ways.
While living in the city of Louisville, we had the excellent opportunity to attend the Parent/Child classes at the Waldorf School. We would often talk of how to afford the tuition for one child, let alone if there were more. I had been the breadwinner up to that point while my husband finished graduate school. He was then completing a tattoo apprenticeship and we were living off of fumes. The next choice was to home educate, and when we moved back to the coalfields, away from the option of Waldorf schooling, that was the only choice for us.
If you aren't familiar with the Waldorf educational philosophy, I will sum it up in two words - soulfully beautiful. I cried real tears when we toured the campus of the Waldorf School of Louisville for the first time. Hoping to recreate this in my home, I dove head first into the ideal. My daughter (then, the only one) would not eat many sweets. She would not have plastic, meaningless toys. She would be surrounded in clean, simple beauty. She would not be exposed to media through television or video games. And, I'd be a Waldorf purist. We did OK for the first few years of her life.
Having a second child and moving close to family, where there wasn't a Waldorf community and more influences outside our nuclear family were upon us, things changed a little. I grew as a mother. I opened more to the possibility of my own family culture. One still very based in Waldorf philosophy, but one that worked for our lifestyle. We had a lovely preschool experience.
Then, it became time to introduce "real" schoolwork. I also got a longing to add some outside work to my schedule and earn a little extra green. I wanted to maintain my daughters' sense of wonder. I wanted them to be excited by learning and to enjoy "school time". There was so much that I knew we'd be safe from. Yet, when I became intimidated by actually carrying out a Waldorf grades method and switched to the Charlotte Mason method, the first step in my realization of what homeschooling meant was revealed. This was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. Could I maintain this choice, and still be a person? I was so glad to be fully responsible for their education. I believe it is my right and duty as their mother to hold no one else responsible for it but my husband and I. But, this meant I had to give it my all and do it well all the time. The overarching theme of my life was going to be mother, teacher, and wife. The dreams I had of exploring careers would be on hold. My time to have a hobby - reduced. I'd need to learn to be consistent, less spontaneous, and well planned.
It is incredibly hard to maintain a household, tend younger children, and make sure that the school aged children (who are in two different grades) complete their lessons. We are still in elementary grades, so home educating them is very hands on. I still experience frustrated students. They still cry when they get confused during math. I still lose my cool and have to regroup, or just chalk my day up to a loss and vow to try my best come morning. Sometimes, I feel like a failure for weeks on end because there isn't time to clean the cabin the way I'd like. I'm too tired to call my grandmother whom I haven't seen in a year. I can't figure out why my wee one begins to tantrum right when I sit down for the lesson story with my middle daughter. I long for meaningful, adult conversations and to be able to spend whole days writing again.
People say that they wish they had the money to be able to stay home and homeschool. It isn't about having the money to do it. There are ways to make it work. Most homeschooling families I know work with a very limited budget. Mothers or fathers work long hours to try to make up for income lost by one or the other being at home. Or, the stay at home parent will work late shifts, or find work from home jobs that they tend to at night. We learn to live frugally. Many of us live in a way unfamiliar, but respectful of time and energy. We go without things like cable TV, data plans, vacations, multiple vehicles, new clothes, tons of presents at Christmas, and the newest electronics. Not saying this is better or awesome, but it is what we are willing to do in order to provide this education to our children. At the time we made the choice to homeschool, we gave up 75% of our income in order for me to stay home with our daughter. We made it work. If you believe in something and want it bad enough, you will make it work.
There are those moments when I know that what I'm doing is working. When I hear my toddler singing the Circle Time songs loud and clear. How she giggles at the motions. When my older two daughters run to greet their daddy and grab their main lesson books to show him what they did, proudly. The days when I see their deep thinking reflected in their play or their questions to me. How when they complete something difficult, all the whining becomes meaningless, and they say, "I think I really like doing..." And, sometimes, one of them will say, "I love homeschool." That's how I know it is working.
Last year, I jumped back in to committing to a Waldorf education for my daughters. It takes tons of commitment, planning, and willingness to let go. I found a homeschool Walorf curriculum that works really well for us (Waldorf Essentials), and the authors offer a support service and program called Thinking, Feeling, Willing that has helped me stay on track through all the ups and downs of the school year. I'm incredibly blessed by this program. We have joined a wonderful homeschool co-op that keeps me in tune with other local homeschool families, offers field trips, special classes, and time with peers. Even when I wake up feeling like I don't want to do lessons that day, I know I have support. I know that I can manage.
Our Waldorf inspired homeschool doesn't look like private Waldorf education, and every other Waldorf inspired homeschool will be different from ours. My girls watch some TV (commercial free), they have some commercial toys like My Little Pony, and they love to overindulge in sweets at their grandparents' houses. Shoot, mommy will even let them have a Sprite with their fries and burger from time to time. Sometimes (no, honestly, quite a bit), I wake up in a panic thinking that all of our little issues would be solved if I became purist once again. Then, I realize that if I let go just a little more, the issues wouldn't seem so huge.
The truth about homeschooling is that it is a choice that requires immense time, dedication, willingness to always be a learner yourself, to research and find the answers on your own, presence, and a strong will to see your family through the times that are tough. All sorts of families make the decision to homeschool for many different reasons. You can easily get the impression that we are all religious zealots, super strict, or our homeschools are picturesque. Even in my rural area, if you polled our homeschool co-op, you'd find that there is as much variety there as anywhere and we all get along. There is so much more I could say about homeschooling, making the decision, getting support, and the reasons why I made the choice. I've written this for those considering, in the midst and wondering if they are "doing it right", those who feel they cannot do it but want to, and those who feel we are doing a disservice to our communities. Don't underestimate us. There's a lot of fantasies around homeschooling. The truth is far richer.
Kelli B. Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, and avid yogini. Haywood is the Public Affairs Director for WMMT-Real People Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Connect with her on Facebook @ Confluence Mama.
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