Our family gathered to wait with us. It was snowing, and all the local buses were on calls. Our drivers came from Elkorn City to Prestonsburg to pick us up. We waited over two hours after getting the news. I had time to explain to Ivy about surgery. How most of the people she is close with have had surgery. How she was born and alive because of surgery. How she's strong, and I won't leave her side. I would never leave her side.
She slept on the ambulance ride. I texted with some of my mama friends and family a little, but I mostly watched her sleep. It was hard to reach her where I was belted in, but we had the kindest EMTs with us, and the man in the back also had three daughters. He'd reach over and run his fingers through her hair every now and again. He won't know how much I appreciated that he wasn't afraid to touch her for me.
Like I said, I planned. What would this look like? I had only been with my job since October 2015. I guess they'd just have to let me go. I had been a stay at home mom for 10 years and nothing like this had every happened to us then. Now, I had made the decision to change our entire lifestyle so I could find fulfillment and a purpose beyond parenting, and this happens. As my mind is always analyzing, I asked - What is Universe trying to tell me? Have I become a neglectful parent in my pursuit of engaging work? Am I a selfish mother in even considering how this all will affect me?
Thank God, it wasn't cancer! Ivy is on the mend. University of Kentucky Children's Hospital and her surgical team were amazing. She had a 6cm vascular abonormality that was a total bizarre fluke. They removed it all, and now, almost two weeks later, you can only tell that she was operated on because she has four little incisions covered with surgical tape.
We got home on a Monday evening late. I went directly back to work the next morning. I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay, but now, we are dependent upon my income. My income pays for all the new things in our life. A house that meets our spacial and privacy needs, tuition for cottage school, babysitting, food, insurance and my medical bills, my supplements and medicine, and gas money. I can't not work.
Again,because we can't do without this income, I thought, what have I done? I had to think on it awhile. I came to a conclusion that I had come to months ago as I was making the decision to go back into the workforce. It doesn't matter if I am a stay at home mom or a working mom, I'm going to have guilt placed upon my shoulders by myself and by society for all the things I'm expected to be and cannot. We cannot be everything - even to our children. Becoming a parent shouldn't mean we are expected to. Then, I realized, being at work was a kind of relief. I wanted to be both places, actually. At work, I could breathe. I could focus on something a little less heavy for awhile. I could see something through from beginning to end.
I remembered an essay in _Brain Child Magazine, online that I had read back in September before I knew I had gotten my current public affairs position. Aubrey Hirsch writes:
I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.
Before she ends the essay this way, she wrote, "Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him." With those lines, I was reminded how I'm not a natural nurturer. When my own mother was caring for my dying grandmother, she broke down in her stress and grief and said, "I'm not good at this stuff. If I had wanted to be a nurse, I would have went to school and become one!" I realized so much watching my mother caring for my grandmother, and when she spoke those words so much acknowledgement poured through my soul. Hugging, rubbing, touching, holding... it all wore her out too. She too had to make an effort to do it in an extended way. I realized it wasn't that she didn't want to hug me growing up, but she got tapped out quickly. It didn't mean anything was lacking in her care of me or her love for me. It just meant she would show it in different ways that aren't typically associated with the act of mothering, and she did.
I hadn't thought I would be a mother up until a few months before I began trying to become pregnant with my first child. My plan was to be a writer. For various reasons, plans change. In this season of my life, I'm revisiting the dreams of my early twenties. Some would call that a mid-life crisis. Others might say I'm finally accepting myself. The biggest point is that I don't have to feel guilty for it. In fact, I have come to understand the huge contribution working mothers make, and how it actually is more difficult in many ways than being a stay at home mom. Mentally and emotionally, being a stay at home mom almost devastated me. It brought me to a very dark place after years of denying to myself that I really felt the way I did about not pursuing my interests.
You DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a mother. I wish for the life of me that society would help us convey to our daughters that you DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a woman. For if you find yourself a mother with a career or job, you may also find yourself holding the brunt of household chores, cooking, bill paying, errands, and outside family commitments. Going out and finding yourself is just another thing to add to the plate that is already spilling over the edge. Yet, it might be the most important piece in being not simply a caregiver, but a role model for your children. Being a role model can be achieved in the home and outside of it and will be particular to any given woman.
I'm still trying to find the balance of being both in the home and out of it. The truth is, I'm going to give up most of the yoga classes I teach so I can be home a few more hours in the evening. Mothers need rest and cuddles too. Even mothers who get tapped out quickly. We all need self care, but from what I see, especially women. Pursuing the interests and hobbies that help us nurture ourselves so that we can nurture our children and loved ones.
Hillary Clinton, back when I was younger was known for saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." She is right. Back in the day, the whole holler watched after your kids while they ran from house to house and hill to hill. Only since we have become nuclear families and neighbors with closed doors have we lost the village mentality. That doesn't mean that it still doesn't take a village.
Things happen, and I will be the mother who deals with them as they come. I will be the mother who seeks and finds herself. I will be the mother who shows her daughters that a woman can be whatever she wants without the permission of anyone. I will be the mother who knows and understands that we are each unique and being a good mother simply means providing an environment where your child is nurtured, safe, fed, warm, and loved however that may appear.
Two days after I accepted a position teaching on an emergency certificate at Henry County Middle School in northern, central Kentucky, I received a call for a job offer as an editor and reporter for the Flemingsburg newspaper. I had put in my resume with the career center at Morehead State University where I had graduated just a few weeks before with my Bachelor's in English and Creative Writing. Both of these offers came from that. When I turned down the newspaper offer, my heart sank. I had taken the teaching position because I felt like I had to. How could I turn down $25,000 a year? It was more money than we had ever seen. I might not get any other job leads. Working at Big Lots furniture department couldn't last forever. Yet, I had never seen myself as a school teacher. I come from a family that have devoted their life to education. I was confident I could do the work, but I didn't really want to from my heart's standpoint. So, when I told the newspaper I was already employed, I could have cried. Patience and trust in Universe is a hard lesson to learn.
Teaching middle school taught me a lot of important things. I also have a $35,000 Master's Degree in Teaching that I'll be paying for the rest of my life. I won't ever go back to teaching in public education unless it is at the college level. I could have taken the newspaper job, potentially been happier, and in a lot less debt now. Hindsight. It must have not been for me to do right then.
I hadn't planned on being a mother either. I've written about that before. Everyone was shocked when I changed my mind and began trying to get pregnant. When I finally did give birth, I didn't go back to teaching. I had always thought that if I had children at least one parent should stay home to raise them. I had always felt like motherhood was a thing only those who are ready to sacrifice everything to be a deeply devoted nurturer should embark upon. I thought that, for me, it would have to look a very particular way in order to work. I knew me. Why have children if you have to pay someone else to raise them? I've held so many strong ideas as golden. It's a beautiful thing how life teaches us even when we are mule-headed.
That same little girl was always more at peace outside of a child's world. I didn't play much with toys, choosing books, chemistry sets, long hikes, and arts/crafts instead. I wanted to hang around the adult table and listen to their stories and talk. As a mother, I have been present and attentive, but not the mother who sits in the floor and plays for hours with toys or watches many cartoons. I'm still the me I have always been. I'm a good mother just as I am. I have a good relationship with my children. They know I love them and find my lap home. They know my words, my food, my stories, and my songs. My lap and arms will always been their home.
I still ascribe to the dream of homesteading, homeschooling, and living off the land. It just isn't doable with small children as a solo project. So, my plans have had to adjust. There are so many ways a good life can look. There are countless forms of good parents. Each of us are unique and important. I have to be open to all the possibilities. I have to be willing to learn and change my ideas based on experience and new information. I have to see myself and my fulfillment as an important piece of what it takes to be a good mother and a good example of what a woman can do in her life for my daughters. I am me and I am their mother. That is fact.
What I also am is a capable, literate, educated, backwoods, mystical, yogi, mountain woman who loves to read, have long and meaningful conversations, philosophize, study the people of the world, and to listen and share stories. I have a contribution to make and the opportunity to do it with a great group of people in a place dedicated to making sure the stories never die. Taking this job sets our family on a new path. I am having to change everything about our life, and that is a little scary. It is the right decision though. I am making it from a place of hope and I will not feel failure or guilt for making it. It is a decision I am making as my heart has opened, come to understand, and forgiven my own mother. It is a decision I am making in honor of my paternal grandmother who was a proud working mother and reminded me not to martyr myself for an ideal that was not manifesting. This decision holds in memory my maternal grandmother from whom I first learned the feeling of nurture and who was a single working mother of three. She was also a working grandmother who provided a roof for many years for five adults and three grandchildren. They all were good mothers. They all loved their children and did their best. That is all we can do. Give it our all and move forward from a place of love.
I start full time next week. I have a lot to do to prepare. There's a great deal to be excited about. My efforts will allow us to begin the process of coming off of welfare, get a more reliable vehicle, find a home that has more space for our daughters to come into their own, travel more, not have to worry as much about money, and provide a well rounded education for the girls. I need to celebrate.
This was the last morning of September. I woke easily and early, did yoga, and prepared breakfast. Deladis, my oldest daughter, woke before I had finished my yoga practice. She turned on the light in her room and began making a music video for her YouTube channel. She's 10 and very into movie making. She's learned the technology on her own. Rarely does she ask for help.
After breakfast, I offered to help her fix her hair. She agreed and we chose a wooden and leather hair piece that I've had since high school. I took my time, feeling her thick, sandy hair between my fingers. Somehow, we had extra time this morning. I made her a lovely little bun. The clasp accentuated it beautifully and set off her navy shirt. She looked so grown up. For a moment, I glimpsed the young woman she will soon become, and I wasn't the least bit nostalgic. I was proud.
In 24 days, I will turn 37. I'm less than 5 years to 40, and according to some standards, in the midst of middle age. If I'm still waiting to reach the pinnacle of adulthood, I'm out of luck. I don't think there's a such thing. That's fine with me. I'm satisfied here. No one could convince me to turn back the clock and moving forward has to happen in its own time.
My great Papaw Johnson owned the Cowshed Trading Post in Isom, Kentucky. I spent most of my early childhood there tending the store with him and keeping my Mamaw company. Papaw was one of the wisest people I will ever know. One day, while we sat at the kitchen bar, he told me, "The seasons of the year are like life. In the spring, you are born. In the summer, you mature. In the fall, you grow old; and in the winter, you die." I may have been 7 when he shared that analogy, but I knew exactly what he meant. I knew too that he was the winter to my spring.
In that case, when looking at the totality of a life span, I'm existing in late summer. Yet, in every phase of life, I think there are cycles within cycles. Time isn't linear. The theory is complicated, you can take Einstein's word for it. You can also consult the Doctor.
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” -Steven Moffat (for Doctor Who)
This passed spring began a time of radical transformation for me. Feels silly to admit it. It felt sometimes like I was losing my grip and would drift away in some random state of magnified chaos. I felt out of character, but I was in the process of acceptance. I was accepting who I am in relation to the life and relationships I was experiencing. Dare I say, I was opening the door to the possibility of peak maturity. Pretty laughable. Some might even call it a mid-life crisis. The process continues, though it is more peaceful and grounded these days.
Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that makes great use of mantra (sound vibrations) in all aspects of the practice. It is my chosen practice on most days. One of the mantras used often is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. Birth. Existence. Death(Transformation). Rebirth. You can also see the mantra as one of the many names for the God/Source. In its essence, it is the same idea my Papaw shared with me thirty years ago. The difference is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma forms a complete and perfect circle. Birth and life are familiar to us. It is death and what, if anything, comes next that intrigues or terrifies us. We naturally resist death as we resist change. We fear it. Stepping into the unknown is risky. There's so many questions that can't be answered until you are in the midst of the action or transformation. Old patterns, concepts, relationships, habits, and rituals fall away as they no longer serve us. What will there be to cling to for comfort? Who are we if not familiar?
Winter can be a cold and bitter time. We tend to dread it. It's difficult to keep the inner flame lit when all seems so starkly contrasted as snow against skeleton, dark trees and gray sky. Yet, because the spent leaves gave themselves over to new form, earth, literally becoming our foundation, new life springs forth. The cycle begins again. Ma - the mother. Rebirth. The next step. The death of anything is nothing more than a Divine renewal. It is the force that brings form, experience, or wisdom. Like birth, death opens the possibility of creation. No matter what our belief in afterlife, we can agree this is a transition from physical form to energy. We know energy cannot be destroyed only transformed. Sarah Bernhardt said, "'Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."
I remember when Oprah Winfrey turned 40. She had an on air birthday bash. She talked about how 40 was the new 20 or something like that. The theme regardless was her readiness and openness to experience the fullness of life. It was 1994. I was almost 16. I understood that the struggle and hang-ups of her younger years were refined and she was moving forward in a spirit of freedom. She was unapologetic. A goddess. I remember thinking when I watched the program that getting old was relative and not something we have to do.
In times when we can either let go to make room for our truth and grow, or continue to cling to the things that have arbitrarily kept us going, we must choose to be courageous or give up our meaning. Lately, I'm doing my best to be brave and honest with myself. Saying it is hard is understating. Deladis isn't a baby or even a little girl anymore, but there's so much to look forward to as she grows. I will never stop being a witness to her beauty, laughter, creativity, fire, and tears. I'm always the birthplace and the place she can come to be safely reborn. I can hold her and give her space. I am the energy. As my life becomes more truthful, and able to reflect the light I hold within, I recognize further that time is a formless container, meaning nothing more than a context for our history. What we do with it matters.
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.
Accepting truth doesn't make it any easier to deal with, but it does bring a sincerity to every breath thereafter. It seems to really live is to live your truth. Sat Nam - Truth is my name. Truth does not harm, no matter how uncomfortable. Truth forces us to listen to ourselves and acknowledge where we are in this life.
I'm in a transitional phase as those who have been reading here already know. My world view is changing - expanding. I've become more empathetic. I'm accepting many truths without blaming myself for misunderstanding. Guilt has no part in my process. I'm unashamed. So many things I've realized have been very difficult. The way I am mothering needs to change in order to bring more joy to our days. I've taken action on that. How I am educating my children needs to be more fluid and I have begun to desire a broader experience for them. Action has occurred there. I want to release my creativity in a way that brings it outside of the hobby and into the professional. I'm doing it! I'm finding my voice, asking for what I need, and making new plans. I'm hopeful despite the darkness. I know there's a light.
The hard part about this new truth is that it may be for me only. It's so brand new that I haven't been able to discern what lesson I am to take away from the knowing of it. The fact that it might leave me very alone in the experiencing of it makes it that much more complex. It's just the way it has to be. We land in places in our own time and for our own reasons. It's very much like many episodes of Dr. Who with Amy Pond. Everyone has their own particulars and sometimes things become muddled as they try to glean where the particulars meet to form a clear idea where two or more experiences become singular.
I had to find the courage to admit truth and yesterday as I stoked the fire in the belly, I found it. I decided to lay consequences aside and use my voice. Accepting things as they are is the first step to being able to make things better. With acceptance comes understanding. With understanding comes the ability to build upon what is and transform.
The kicker is that I don't know that I am brave enough to see this truth completely through. As I said, it is one I'm most likely to experience alone. Having been so lonely for so long, going back to that place is a scary proposition. However, in typing that, I just realized, I haven't left that place. I'm still utterly alone on the peer level. I'm still there, grasping at the wind, hoping to catch a ride somewhere.
As exciting as renewing old dreams, discovering independence, reclaiming my womanhood, demanding respect, and shouting victory over concepts that no longer serve me is, I have seen that it would be so easy to just box some of these things up, put them away, and continue in some improved form of the way things were. This way I am not disruptive to others. This way no feelings are hurt. This way I'm not forcing my energies upon another's life inadvertently or otherwise. That would be the easy way. I know I can do that. I have my daughters. I'm writing again, and I have yoga. Those things can be enough to bring me joy from time to time. Yet, I know in my heart of hearts that the easy way is not acceptable if I want to provide the right example to my girls. I don't want them to be ashamed or hide themselves from the world. Therefore, I cannot consider that an option for myself. I have to process this truth in a healthy way. So, the new work begins.
Like running downhill full force...
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.
No, I'm talking my basic personhood. I've taken detours and received certifications, a Master's Degree, and pursued side interests in hopes of making money that would allow my husband to not have to work so hard and free him to be with us more, but nothing that I felt spoke to the real me or allowed me to be fully myself in this world. When the girls were born, I took their education upon my shoulders because I felt there was no other good option here at home. To provide them with what I felt they deserved and to fulfill my responsibility to them in bringing them into the world, I gladly took on the traditional role of wife, mother, and homeschooler. While my husband took on the pressure of providing for us solely on his income, he was still free to pursue his goals in art and music.
Is being an adult claiming responsibility? As a kid, I had always been told this. Adulthood is about sacrifice and responsibility. I don't know though. It may just be my family's makeup, but I can't remember many adults around me that would have said they were leading a life that made them happy or that made them feel fulfilled. I saw sorrow, depression, heartache, and anger written on the faces of many of the adults who loved me so very much. It covered my world. Am I selfish in thinking it doesn't have to be that way?
My main goal is to show my daughters that the world is wide open for us. There is no role we can't accept or value we have to feel pressured to espouse. It is about following our heart and going forward from a place of love and respect for others. All else is a coin toss, and the odds of us winning are perfect as we are infinitely supported by the very stardust we were created from.
An independent, strong minded woman makes people nervous. A woman that seeks her own fulfillment so that her light can shine as brightly as possible in this world, can expect to be seen as scandalous. She may not fit in any box set out by society. She may take risks others see as unnecessary. It may be hard for those who feel the need to fit her into a category to be with her as she steps into this empowered place. The fact is, she isn't going to care. What she knows is that if you love her and want her, you will walk by her through all of it. If you cannot, it is okay. Both you and she will be okay.
It isn't about living in the shadows of another. In this mountain culture I've grown up in, the matriarchy is a hidden power. There isn't a person on this planet any stronger than an Appalachian woman. They've held families together for generations of rises and falls. Through all of this, she quietly worried that her best wasn't enough and it would all fall through her fingers. While all of her family knew it was really her that bound them all together, her effort wasn't pronounced except maybe at her funeral.
I pray that my daughters don't take a lifetime to learn that they can speak up about what they need and not feel guilty for needing it. I want them to know that if their current situation is not making their heart sing that patience, a fearless heart, hard work, and their empowered voice will change that. They aren't obligated to anyone but those who they choose to be obligated to and those who call them mother. I want them to be brave. I want them to know they are worthy of the type of love that wants the essence of them so hard, their every breath is like a song, and that when they give that kind of love, they should expect it returned to them.
Our lives matter right now. I've decided for the sake of myself and my daughters not to wait for mine to begin anymore. I'm surrounding myself with the people who feed my spirit and want to know me for me. I'm talking consistently with those who already have shown me that they do. I've went out on a limb and decided to return to the game plan of my youth modified for what I know now. I'm excited. One day, I will be able to type here that I am healthy, happy, and fulfilled most every day. It's coming.
There, at the top of the world, as I took deep breaths crouched over that ageless rock, the coin was tossed. The butterflies in my stomach set free for a time and I felt whole again in the silence. One day, my Ivy will know what she's capable of because her mother did her best to show her. It might not come easy to either of us, but she will know.
"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.
"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.
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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