Let go of the reins and trust your kids.

I often feel spent. I am overwhelmed and exhausted. I am alone. Most days I spin in a cloud of guilt and disappointment. Sometimes, I am truly so tired it makes me weep, even if only for a brief moment. The truth however, is that I am not alone. I am a member of a phenomenal tribe, albeit an odd one. Some people in this club stumbled upon it, fell accidentally into a dark and scary pit only to claw their way back to a new sense of normal. Others were guilted into joining, manipulated you might even say. Some ached, yearned and begged to get here; trying for years just to join this regular, mundane, and common community of people. At some point, nevertheless, we all became parents and this simple moment changed us all forever.

As a mother that homeschools two bright boys, I am consumed with doing the best I can to make them whole, make them successful (whatever that ends up looking like in the end). I don’t have the luxury of sending them off to school and having the ability to blame a collective of teachers for the things they didn’t teach them, or taught them too well. I am judged every, single, goddamn day. Yes, even by you. Now this judgement is not always negative, sometimes the praise that’s equally hard to take. We have good days and we have many poor ones, like every other poor bastard in this club – it’s rough in here.

Some days I want to curl up like a 80’s mom and watch daytime soaps, eating bonbons all day – that’s what you guys did right? Oh right, you still live with the same judgement even though your kids are grown. You are STILL the one looked at as either a failure or a success when people assess your grown children. Even as adults doing our own stumbling, our own parenting or heaven forbid those of us choosing not to be parents – you’re getting judged. This systemic judgement can dictate our lives and ultimately it’s our children that it affects. Let’s lay off a bit.

You’re probably reading this thinking this is an attack on a judgmental society and perhaps that’s where it stems from, but this is a calling to all parents: Go a little easier on yourself. Take a breath. Regroup. Don’t try so hard to be on your A-game every day. In the end, your kids – they’ve got this.

I’m a very lucky woman; I likely have the hardest working man ever made. He doesn’t take sick days, he doesn’t laze around and most of all he never, ever, ever complains! Now I understand this is what a million and one mothers would kill for, but I’m telling you there are moments when that is hard to match. There are days when I feel broke down, tired, spent and so exhausted I could cry – but in the back of my head I know my other half (my better half) is out there working in the snow, sleet, mud and 45 degree weather and when he gets home he’s not going to complain for a single moment. So I look at our children, pull up my socks and I trudge through. With little effort and zero love and attention to what we’re working on – we continue. We persevere.

Now here my friends is the kicker, and I learned this today. We try so hard to get as much done in a day as we can. We compete with those imaginary Jones’. You know, the ones that are struggling just like us? I worry about what to say at the grocery store when someone hears our children homeschool and proceed to ask my six year old “What is 12X11?” (P.S. don’t do that shit). But the worst part is, we judge ourselves the most – at least I do. I worry more about how I’m teaching, how I’m parenting and how my children move through life more than anyone else could. Maybe that stems from an icky society but either way it’s time to move past it. Time to loosen the reins and give our kids the credit they deserve.

This week has been a nightmare homeschooling my kids – like send them away on the bus tomorrow and be done with it, that kinda hard. My husband, my rock, Mr. Strong and Steady, he’s been away at work this week and that’s very hard on the boys. Truth be told, it’s always hard on them and I knew this, but I still didn’t alter expectations. I have been fighting with my kids everyday to get school work done and they’ve been willing to fight me until we’re almost in tears. It’s been the week of groundings, threats and a lot of separation. I am having a hard time without him near, I always do, but I forgot to think about the boys struggle this week. I pushed and pushed when really they needed to be given the space to mourn, to long for, and to learn on their own terms – instead I pushed. So today we’re hitting the 7-day mark, which is always the turn around. The time where our new rhythm takes over and we’re OK knowing that he’ll be back when he can. So what happened today? Well, my kids got back into their rhythm, got their feet back under them and they took the reins. They didn’t want to do book work today and that’s OK (it’s also a Sunday, so you can see I have moments of sitting on the throne of Helga’s House of Pain), but instead they wanted to “adult”. They wanted to research things on their own, wanted to make a full dinner (I can smell the amazing moose stew and fresh apple pies from here) and they wanted to learn things like “how much soap to use in a laundry swap.”

Some days those battles you’re having need to be tossed to the side, it’s not worth it and it doesn’t matter. Go for a walk, get some fresh air, and if all you have in you is the effort to boil water – them make a pot of tea and watch TV. You won’t find any judgement here. We have a hard time in this club. The expectations are high, the judgement runs thick and our own obsession with “making” the next amazing person is gross. Let’s be kind to our kids, kind to each other and give ourselves a little slack. There isn’t a child in this world that doesn’t’ want to learn, so if they’re having an off day – give it to them! We all have those days and they’re hard. Push through mommies and daddies, cause these amazing little beasts are growing every day. Give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they know when they need a day off. Everyone needs that sometimes, even Mr. Strong and Steady.

Processing Meat with Children

**Graphic images may be disturbing to some viewers.  Please be advised**

On our little growing homestead we raise our own meat, we hunt and we fish.  It’s both a lifestyle and a teaching technique for our children.  Being an animal lover and a complete sentimentalist I used to leave the “ending of life” job to my husband, he was the action and I was the support.  Over time and certainly when we moved up into the quiet mountains it became essential that I was comfortable and confident enough to the slaughter.   My husband goes away for much of the winter and I am left to care for and manage the livestock.  With that responsibility comes the inevitable hardship of having to put things down, luckily with time it has become easier.

 

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Some of our teenage chickens

The first time I ever had to put something down was horrific.  I had raised a batch of chicks that had just turned into teens.  I free range my chickens all over the property and rarely has there ever been an issue.  Come to think of it the only time that having them loose was a problem was that particular day.  My boys had a pony and for some reason he got a bee in his bonnet and started running around haphazardly, chickens at foot.   He ended up stepping on one of my chickens and it was dying a horrible death, but not quick enough.  I can’t handle suffering at ALL.  I am a huge supporter of assisted death and the first one to run and grab a gun if something is down and out – I don’t have it in me to prolong any of that shit.  So here I was staring at this poor chicken and I had two choices, I could kill it or I could walk away and pretend it wasn’t happening and let it die on it’s own.  Living in town at the time I had limited tools at my disposal.  So I quickly looked around and found a big cinder block only a few meters away.  I knew that it would do the trick in an instant and I could turn away and not look.  Truly, I felt it was the cowards way out.  I got into position, got ready, took a huge breath, turned my head and dropped it.  Done. Instant.  I walked off and cried.

Now the funniest part, albeit the only funny part of this story was the reaction I got when I told my husband.   The man is a hunter through and through, and although he occasionally has difficult moments putting things down – they’re rare.  I was expecting a “Awe honey, that must have been hard.  Good for you.”   But what I got was “WHAT?!? A cinder block? Are you in the mafia?” Then he told his friends and they ALL responded the same way, I was “up close and personal, brutal, savage and a little scary.”  Despite the shock, what I came away with from that was that ending suffering was worth just about anything to me.  It was in that moment that I knew, despite breaking my heart a little, I would be just fine on my own when shit went sideways – which no matter how well you plan it always, always does.

20190203_134139So jump forward almost a decade and things are a little different.   If a rooster turns nasty he’s in the stew pot within a couple of hours, if something is sick and not getting any better – done.  Last week for instance I needed to slaughter our ducks.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew it needed to be done and I couldn’t wait until my husband came home from work.  So bundled up and out I went in -20 degrees to catch my ducks and turn them into supper.  Once they were slaughtered both my boys said they wanted to come out and help me process the meat.   Now we hunt a lot, so having them help cut, grind, wrap, is nothing new but they really liked these ducks so I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.  I knew that they wanted to help so that I didn’t have to do it, “Don’t worry mom, we’ve got this.”  Astonishingly they nailed it! They chopped off heads, legs, helped me pluck a few, skin others, de-bone them and then my eldest made us duck stew for dinner.  They were simply amazing and both enjoyed it a lot.

 

I know that as my boys grow up they aren’t going to need me to provide in a way that many kids do.  They won’t ever worry about food, where it comes from or how to get it.  They have a strong grasp on the animals that make the most meat the fast and economically.  Both of them help plan which animals will come onto the farm every year, how we can make the most money off of them and what the turnover should look like.  They haven’t even been on the ground for a decade and they have this stuff down pat.  A decade ago I was still in tears dropping cinder blocks on chickens.  It’s in these moments that I am both proud of my boys and that I know we’re on the right track as parents, at least in that regard.

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Homemade duck stew. Made with love by an 8 year old.

Take A Moment

Homeschooling from a mountain top is like any homestead, small town, isolated place.  It’s you, your kids and if you’re super lucky a parenting partner for back up.  Nevertheless, there is a fine line between savoring your time together and getting all together touched out, talked out, space invaded and fed up with family time.

As parents we often feel this way and there are piles of social media posts, blogs, and books to back it up.  Memes about needing mommy time, wine o’clock, date night or any excuse for a breather flash across a parents screen daily.  It’s natural and it’s reasonable.  There are days, weeks or even months when your little one is extra clingy, touchy, angry, or needy.  The truth is that although there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, we rarely give our kids the opportunity to feel the same.

Today during a typical “Why can’t you just be kind to your brother?” conversation, my eldest started to walk away.  I called him back to finish our conversation.  His response was “Do I have to?”  So, true to form I told him that he did.  You know the whole obey your parents, it’s rude to walk away in the middle of a conversation, you need to talk things through, blah, blah, blah.  However when we were through, I thought to myself he’s just peopled out and I didn’t give him the opportunity to feel that.  We’ve had a long couple of weeks as I have been sick and practically useless.  The boys have been a fantastic help and taken excellent care of me, but now that I’m on the mend we’re all starting to show the signs of needing some alone time.   We’re edgy, and short fused and wanting to be somewhere else for a few minutes.

Parents own the need of occasional personal space and alone time.  We are so confident that it’s OK to feel that way that we write jokes and memes and we even get it printed on shirts and the bottoms of our socks.  Growing up my mother had a magnet on the fridge that said “Raising kids is like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  She would laugh and laugh, show all her friends and I always felt bad.  I didn’t feel bad for me or my brother, but I felt bad that that was the feeling she was taking away from being a parent.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way about parenting, but I do know that I need healthy breaks for my sanity.  These breaks don’t even need to be away from my family, they can be in the garden, or in a book, or in a hot bath, or with a quiet whiskey under the stars.  They are simply small moments alone with my thoughts.

Our children have the right to these breaks as well, and typically we snag that from them.  We have all this “rule and order” that’s been passed down generation after generation on how kids should behave, but we rarely give them the same space to compose themselves that we take ourselves.  They need a moment to walk away and regroup, a moment to think about what they’re feeling to prevent a meltdown, a moment to not get corrected, hounded and managed.  Maybe they just need a little peace and quiet or the ability to say “in a minute” and keep playing with their toys without getting scolded.  With all I have in my heart I love my children, but sometimes I need a moment and so do my boys.

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A Game of Lost and Found

Empowering Children to conquer more and believe in themselves.

 

It has been cold here the last little while, hovering around -20 for over a week.  It’s hard to get out and get motivated in the winter sometimes, but I strongly believe that it’s more important in the winter.  It’s easy to sit inside and cuddle up with a book or binge watch Netflix and our modern day luxuries don’t force us outside like they did decades ago.  As a result, children and adults alike have far less winter skills that we used to – so we’ve decided to change that as a family.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

We find way to engage the kids outdoors and teach them skills without them realising it isn’t just a game.  My husband and I wanted to get them out for some fresh air and exercise, and the kids were in the mood to act like zombies, so like the good little mountain parents we occasionally are – we invented a game.  We played this amazing game a couple of weeks ago and it’s sure to be repeated many times even during the summer months. A game of  survival, critical thinking and adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then proceeded to unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay CLOSE attention to their surroundings as we walked.

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Five and Fearless

Once we’d gone a ways (with a clear snowshoe path leading back to the truck), we asked them to lead the way to the truck but they couldn’t take us on the same route.  They needed to think about it and find an alternate route that would take us to the same spot – cut their own trail, if you will. They looked slightly forlorn, as the forest canopy rose 60 feet above them and a deep quilt of snow covered the ground.

We talked about the surroundings, the details, the things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to study the trail we had left in the snow and think about where the truck was.  Could they point in the direction it was parked?  We asked them to look at the sun and compare it to the position of their body while they faced the direction they intended to walk.  When facing the truck it was slightly passed their right shoulder.  We were less than 20 minutes from the truck so the sun would move very little before we returned.

We didn’t give them the compass, so the boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get us back on sheer brain power.  They looked around for a minute, talked about it between themselves, made a plan and off they went with dad and I in tow.

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Taking turns leading the way

They chose a pretty route that followed an active set of coyote tracks over a hillside and into the forest.  The ground was alive with animal activity.  They looked at the tracks and the different sizes, trying to guess how many were in the family.  It hadn’t snowed in several days, so it was possible that this was days worth of activity from the same family members, therefore increasing track numbers.  My husband tracks for a living so he was teaching them different ways to analyse them and to tell how fresh or old they were.

At one point our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to notice the sun and turn their bodies back to the body/sun position they had started with.  We climbed over boulders and logs, we dipped down below fallen trees and we trudged though snow as deep as the boys.  Just as they were getting a little frustrated and feeling the shadow of defeat creep up our truck appeared over the bank. Huge smiles of pride and success washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.

 

Let Them Be Wild

Learning how to let go, even just a little bit.

As a fairly neurotic parent, I find great difficulty letting go of the reins and allowing my children to venture and learn solo.   Nevertheless, I believe at the core of my soul that letting them loose and controlling less is ultimately going to create, in my case, better men.  It is impossible to grow and learn and develop when we’re stifled.  Take a candle for instance, with a little room to breathe it burns but it will not grow, give it even less space and it will suffocate completely.  let me be wild I find that children living under helicopter parents are similar.  They don’t have the opportunity to learn anything; they’re spoon fed information and there is almost no engagement whatsoever.  How many times do you see parents answering the questions they just asked, or asking leading questions to “help” them find the answer?  It’s like we assume our kids are adorable little morons.  Personally I fight hard not be that parent, so if this sounds familiar don’t fret just keeping trucking.  At least if we’re trying it means we care, and that is more than our kids could ever ask for.  When in doubt help less.

When we moved to this mountain top all my boys wanted to do was run.  They wanted to kick off their shoes and get lost in the woods.  We did lots of hiking and foraging and collecting leaves and flowers and seeds that we found on our journeys, but they really wanted to test their skills solo.  Now we’re on 6 acres of land that backs onto endless miles of crown land (or government land depending on where you’re drinking your coffee at the moment).  We can walk out of our back gate and literally go forever, it’s fantastic.  At 4 and 6 years old however, I wasn’t about to let my kids run rampant in the forest.  As a true-to-form helicopter parent from the suburbs I wanted to see them, hear them, tell them to be careful stepping over that log and to watch out for the stinging nettles.  Nevertheless, I dug down deep and mustered a solution that allowed them to be “free” and me to be able to hover – I strapped our dogs tracking collars to their backpacks.  I could stand on the deck, or do the dishes and watch every single step they took, the direction they were looking and the meters from my handheld.  It was brilliant.  We had a strict rule that they needed to stay on the path that we’d made and take a dog, which didn’t allow them nearly as much distance as they felt (and it kept them within hearing range), but it allowed them out of the gate and into the wild ALONE.  They walked this path, with their Adventure Packs and all the survival skills they’d been taught about 100 times this past year.

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There is nothing my kids love more than hitting the trails and bringing things home to examine and wonder about.  Our rock collections are ridiculous and I always seem to have seeds and feathers and bones scattered on every flat surface in my house.  They search for treasures and creatures, they track different animals and compare their features. They practice physics and the laws of motion, they experiment with biology and study taxonomy.  They learn patience and care and measuring and monitoring.  They are better students because they are wild, because we let them loose.  We learn so much about the world around us, that often I go in with a plan or a lesson in mind and when we emerge from the bush the list of things we learned is only outdone by the list of things I need to look up because I didn’t go in prepared with the answers.

It’s hard some days to find a balance, or even to find my footing.  It takes a lot of motivation (for me) to get out, and some serious effort to foster their focus without controlling the learning.  I try and take a jump in/step back approach.  When I see a learning opportunity, I highlight it or point it out, ask a question that requires some critical thought and then step right back out of the situation while the wheels turn.  I keep a notebook for questions that they ask so that I can look up the answers when we get home.  Nothing is more humbling that home or forest schooling to remind you of how little you actually know about the world.

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So take this bit of encouragement from a mom that tries and fails regularly, because it’s still working.  Despite my failures, I can see that it’s working because I am watching my boys become everything I’d ever hoped they would become: strong, independent, intelligent, brave, kind and self reliant.

Get outside, follow their lead and learn whatever they’re in the mood for.  Find the strength inside to get outside, even on the days you want to binge watch the latest trash TV or become a FB zombie.  Let them go, let them run ahead without you.  You’ll catch up and they’ll have stories of adventure when you get there.

 

 

 

“… But can’t you hear the Wild? – it’s calling you.  Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know.  There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.” – The Call of The Wild, By: Robert Service