Sometimes there is so much to say it is paralysing. The last couple of weeks have been like that, so full and intense that I don’t really know where to begin in recording it. But it would seem strange to not write about something that has been quite transformative, in my mind at least. I’ll have a stab and see how I do.
First of all, thank you to everyone who wrote such nice things about my last post, it was lovely to receive such kindness here and on Facebook, I really don’t have words. Thank you for thinking of us and sharing your thoughts and hearts.
When we found out that Stephen’s Dad had passed away we were getting him ready to go the airport on a business trip to the UK. The irony of this is far from lost on us. He hadn’t been back for over 8 years and was booked on a flight the day his Dad left this world; it meant he was able to be with his loving Mum within 24hours which was, I think, a godsend for all concerned.
What this meant was that Stephen had prepped the farm for his absence; we knew he’d be gone for a week and he’d done everything he could to get us more than ready. As it turned out all of his hard work meant that I only had to shift one bag of feed in a two week period, a blessing I was eternally grateful for. I’m not sure how things would have gone for us if events had been different but I know that we couldn’t haven’t managed for 2 weeks alone without the work he put in before hand.
So, Stephen left and it was me and the boys, for two weeks. Or should I say me and the boys and the farm for two weeks. If you had asked me before our little adventure if I was up for managing the farm and the boys and school and the house, in February, the answer would have been a resounding bugger off. But, as it turns out, we managed, survived and, in our own way, even thrived. It was hard, really hard at times, but we worked as a team and got through together.
First of all, I have to say, I would not have done this with younger kids. Huwyl is 9 1/2 and Neirin nearly 6, this made a massive difference and was a lifesaver for me. Both boys were able to chip in on the farm and around the house (well Neirin was mainly able to not set fire to things and occasionally stay inside alone) and I was very grateful for that help. Huwyl in particular worked so hard alongside me, and extra set of hands when needed and maintaining the positive perspective he has on life. He never grumbled, even when I did, and slogged through cold mornings and snowy afternoons right by my side. He’s a pretty special lad.
While Stephen was away the weather really sucked. It was down at -39C that first lonely weekend which felt something akin to having every ounce of energy or joy sucked right out through my face whilst beings sand blasted with ice. It was cold. Not only does the cold make extra work (Huwyl and I became experts at whacking ice blocks out of pig troughs with a mallet) but it makes everything you do that bit harder. We wrapped up in our crazy cold ninja ensembles each morning, hiding our mouths and heads and every other bit of us before we ventured out into the deep freeze that was outside. Those morning chores are the worst, the assault of cold against a still tired body would send anyone back to bed with an extra duvet. But the thing is, the real thing is, we had no choice. The furnace needed filling, the animals needed food and water and that was that. So we did it.
We did it when it felt like the air itself was going to freeze you from the inside out. We did it when the snow was coming down, covering paths and turning the world into one big snow drift. Again. We did it when we were tired and would rather stay inside. We did it because it had to be done.
But, and this is the perverse bit, there was joy in that. Even though it was work I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it, when it was done I felt really filled with joy. Partly it was because it was done and didn’t have to be done again for several hours, but mainly it was pride. It was that feeling you get when you do something way beyond your boundaries, when you feel like an elastic band being stretched to the point of breaking, and then it’s done. You look up, breathe and take in what you’ve achieved. It’s an amazing feeling, one worth slogging and working hard for, that feeling of pride at work well done.
The thing is though, when you stretch something that far it doesn’t return to the same shape, it becomes something new. I’ve experienced this sensation before, this feeling of expansion after hardship; travelling in Nepal was one of them, parenthood another! But I didn’t expect the simple act of doing chores in winter to have that same effect, to shift not only my body but my mind too. That feeling of capability, of pride, of the sheer joy and having done something when normally I would have caved in and called in the man of the house, was wonderful. I got addicted to Huwyl saying “Mum, you are amazing!” when I would beat the crap out of a foot and a half of ice or when I dug a 2 ft deep 20 ft long trench through a snow drift so that we could reach the cows without going down to our hips in the snow. He’s a pretty amazing motivator that lad.
So we got through. Hour by hour, day by day. I obsessed over the weather report, hauled wood and filled the furnace to keep the house warm. We used the kids’ sled to move gallons of water and load after load of wood. Our outside time was doing the chores, morning and afternoon, snow or…more snow. We ticked off the days, I looked forward to not having to do the late shift on the furnace any more (turns out I can do heavy lifting only if I can have early nights too) and we moved through our fortnight.
I can’t say I enjoyed each day, that it’s something I would choose to do again. But there were moments of such triumph that I can’t say I wouldn’t either. The feeling of working along side my boys, of doing important and necessary work together was amazing. I gained new respect for them and saw what they were capable of. I also gained new respect for myself, I saw what I could do when I needed to. I also gained new gratitude for the work that Stephen was doing alone, unfailing and uncomplaining while working full time, to spare me the slog in the cold each day. I think because he does so much of the big work on the farm I have always half seen it as Stephen’s endeavour, seen myself as more of a side kick. Not now. Over those two weeks I realised that I too was willing to fight for this life we’ve made, that I would slog and work when it was needed. Over the course of each of those days I became more invested in our life here, in this small holding we’ve built. It became ‘ours’ in a way it hadn’t before.
And it occurred to me that this is probably true for all of us. It’s through our work that we gain ownership of things. When we are invested, through creativity, through determination and diligence, through pure slog, we make it ours. As I explained to Huwyl, many kids in this city we live in don’t face real challenges, they face challenges someone has made up for them, and they know it. They know the work they do isn’t necessary or needed and so they don’t care about it. I saw the pride the boys felt in their work, I know it felt good to them to actually contribute something to the people they love the most. Day after day I’d offer Huwyl the chance to stay inside, warm and cosy, while I did chores. Day after day he refused, instead walking alongside me, helping me with my work each step of the way.
The photos I’ve added here aren’t from those two weeks, but from a walk we took in January, before the deep freeze hit. It was a good day, the three of us enjoying the freedom of sunshine and still air, no responsibilities or worries for that short while. I look forward to the spring when we’ll have the chance to roam more easily again, when the sun will warm our faces and the ice will melt away. I look forward to the leisure of sitting outside, not rushing in on the heels of a freezing blast of wind, not slipping into snow drifts with buckets in my hands. But I’m also looking forward to the work of building gardens and pastures, of raising the animals, of days falling into bed already half asleep. It’s good to rest, but it’s good to earn it too.