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.
This is the current situation in the hen house. Sitting hens and their guard sister. Women folk getting about the business of doing what they do. They depend on me.
These two girls do too. They wait for me morning and evening for their attention and food.
I'm pretty sure that my efforts saved this girl's life. She requires feedings, walks, grooming, and attention.
And... there's these three. Building pirate ship bunk bed forts in the morning after plates of DQ gravy and biscuits, power outages, changed diapers, band aids, smiles, and tears.
These pictures were all taken today. This is my day. Most every day. A constant giving of life needs and comforts that make living happily for these people and friends possible. It's the hardest work I've ever known and yet it is the most important.
Sometimes I get in such a routine of day in and day out, I forget that my heart and mind are demanding more of me. They are demanding I feel this life and live it with all I have. That I, who is constantly apologizing, live it unapologetically. It isn't any coincidence that the more you learn about yourself and the reality of life, the more life can ache. Falling back on the routine, and going about it as you always have, can be a way to numb that ache.
Get your slop boots on.
Shoulder 50 pound feed bags across the yard and pour two in the big barrel drum.
Get them fed and some good yard greens in their run.
Watering takes 3 gallon jugs filled by squatting over the creek - hands in cool water and minnows with their babies grazing your fingers.
Try to look not melancholic, or full of thoughts, or tired, but never can quite pull it off. Wondering if I will always be that girl who feels, thinks, and worries about her impact on others just a little too much. Hoping one day the fire in my heart will gleam in my eyes.
A moment down the path to my special place. It kind of hurts to breathe. To be alone. To feel alone.
A reward from the kind Mother after a walk with my daughters and our dog through the fields. You are ok. You are supported. Remind yourself. She says.
Check on the garden. The grass desperately needs mowed.
Yoga and breath. Yoga and release. Then, it comes. The fire in my heart chakra and solar plexus. It burns uncomfortably hot. It has a wash of tears behind it, like a flood that wants to drench the flame, but the flame says absolutely NOT! I'm here. I'm... here. I'm HERE!
That's the moment that you realize the routine is a cloud. It can completely blur the feeling that comes from wanting to know what all is possible for me. What all I can really offer others who want to be there with me. What example I can be for the women I am raising. Being in the cloud deadens the ache, the burning, the churning stomach. The release is when I know there is so much more to be done. So far to go. It's the moment I want someone with heavy arms to hold me so I can just be and feel, and figure this all out. I'm ready to grow. The energy is there. So much energy. It really is the hardest feeling I have ever had to feel. Deep fears of my entire life made into a truth holding the answer to who I really am. And, I lay in savasana trying not to think my way out of feeling it. Knowing it is there and meaningful, and longing to share itself.
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.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide
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