In Praise Of Not Doing It All. At Least Not Right Away.
I’m a person who likes to do everything. All at once. Preferably simultaneously while also eating a snack. And this trait has served me pretty well these past six months, which for my family have been nothing short of a combined marathon, sprint, and biathlon (yes, that’s where you ski and then shoot a gun because obviously those two things go together).
Since Babywoods’ birth, we’ve been running nonstop. I’m not complaining, because everything we’re preoccupied with has been the absolute fulfillment of our dreams: having a baby, purchasing and moving to our homestead, renting out our Cambridge house, and creating a successful freelancing business for me.
Yes, it is all awesome and yes, it is all everything I ever dreamed of; but in total honestly, I’m exhausted right now. I’ve been feeling lethargic and out of sorts for a few days and earlier this week during our customary evening hike through our woods (which doubles as our chance to check our mailbox), Mr. FW gently pointed out that I need to slow down. He reminded me that the pace we’ve been operating at is unsustainable, although I continue trying (in vain) to sustain. I’m a badly recovering perfectionist who just had a relapse.
Before Our Move: Epic Hustle
While still in Cambridge, my days were populated with packing up the house, coordinating logistics for our rental/home repairs/move/new house/the purchase of our cars (so much paperwork, people!), writing, going to yoga, and–of course–full-time care of Babywoods. Plus all the standard household maintenance rituals: laundry, cleaning, eating chips at inappropriate times of the day, grocery shopping, blah, blah, blah.
But we told ourselves we could do it because it was for a short period of time: it was only until we moved. And, it’s entirely true that you can push yourself to do just about anything, but the key is for a short period of time. Not forever.
Now that we’re settled in Vermont, we’re suddenly surrounded with both the majesty and also the needs of our property. The other day as I scurried between baking bread, meeting a freelance deadline, harvesting rhubarb, doing laundry, and feeding Babywoods solid food for the first time (so cute! avocado everywhere! she loved it!), I was overcome with exhaustion. I felt weary–and not just because our daughter still wakes up every night at 4am to eat. No, what I felt was a profound, deep fatigue. And so, I’ve realized that I can’t–and shouldn’t–try to do it all at once.
Yes, I want to create a fabulous permaculture homestead where animals and plants frolic in harmony and yes, I want to learn how to use our chainsaw (Mr. FW recently took a two-day logging instruction course, so he’s our de-facto expert), and yes I want to can and otherwise preserve our massive crop of rhubarb, and yes I want to learn the names of every piece of flora on our property, and yes I want to weed our flower beds and restore them to their former glory, and yes I want to develop an amazing home yoga practice, and yes I want to volunteer in our community/church, and yes I want to plant a tremendous vegetable garden, and yes I want be the best writer, wife, and mommy I can be.
But I can’t do it all today. Or even all this year. Or perhaps ever. And that, my friends, is OK.
An Endless List
Something interesting I’m learning about living on so much land is that our projects, and our to-do’s, will never actually be finished. Rather, life out here is an ongoing, revolving experience of opportunity: there will always be weeds to pull, culverts to repair (we seem to have about 9 million culverts on our property), dead trees to bring down, firewood to spilt, bread to bake, and rhubarb begging to have something done with it (sidenote: if anyone nearby would like some rhubarb, come on over! seriously. like soon.). And that’s a beautiful thing. This is a life of wonder and adventure that we’ve chosen; not a life of clean, perfect, completed boxes of organized work.
This is not a life where you make a list in the morning and mechanically tick down it. This is a life beholden to the whims of nature, to the whims of our baby, and to our own physical capabilities. It’s the life we want and the life we chose. Adjusting to this entirely new mode of existence is fascinating for me since I’m obsessed with how people live.
We all choose how we allocate the hours in our day and I’ve never before felt so fulfilled by how I’m able to control my daily output. I don’t have to sit through meetings, or slog through work I find tedious–what I do is arguably more freeing, but also more challenging. I have to self-regulate and create “off” hours, which is tough since I work from home and my home(stead) is also my work.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ve essentially undergone a total life transformation these past six months: I became a parent, I changed careers, I moved states, and I radically altered my lifestyle from ultra-urban to super-rural. I went from having apartment buildings as neighbors to having cows as neighbors. I’m recognizing that’s kind of a lot to process and kind of a lot to become proficient at all at once. I’ve had a few memorable slip-ups and I know there’ll be plenty more as we get our farm legs underneath us.
Rather than feel frustration over our rank inability to work the land to the extent we wish we could, we’re choosing to instead feel immensely grateful to be where we are. To profess profound thankfulness for the frugality, the luck, the everything that’s brought us here. We are so fortunate and I never want to forget that.
Taking Actual Break: Putting Actual Feet Up
Mr. FW was out of town on business for three days this week, which thrust me into a wholly new experience: single parenting and solo homestead management. I’ve never done either before, so it was quite a learning curve. There were a few tears (both mine and Babywoods’) and I definitely ate chips for one meal, but we all survived and I learned that I’m rather more resilient and capable than I often give myself credit for.
Furthermore, I discovered yet another instance of the miraculous serendipity and generosity that exists out here in our small town: I stumbled upon a community lunch at our town hall. Babywoods and I were at the local library for storytime and we were invited to the lunch. I almost cried. My incredibly thoughtful new neighbors held Babywoods and entertained her while I ate a wonderful meal in the company of new friends. I’m overcome with how friendly and welcoming our new community is and I can’t wait to start giving back and repaying the kindness we’ve been treated to.
The other night, I was so wiped out after dashing around keeping things humming all day long that I did something I rarely do. After I put Babywoods to bed, I practiced yoga for a bit (ok that’s not rare), then I poured myself a glass of lovely boxed wine (ok admittedly that’s also not rare… ), and then? I watched TV by myself.
Sounds ridiculous, but I can’t remember the last time I did that–probably sometime before Babywoods was born. I was emotionally drained after my few days of single parenting (I have MASSIVE respect for full-time single parents; I truly don’t know how you do it) and I needed to decompress.
Normally, I’d push myself to continue accomplishing things, but I looked at my rhubarb and I looked at my unclean bathrooms and I declared “nope! mommy’s headed to the couch.” And what a good decision that was. There needs to be space in my life for vegging out sometimes. I need to allow myself to let go lest I become an interminable stress case. Sidenote: I watched an episode of PBS’s Home Fires (produced by the terrific WGBH in Boston) and it was superb!
Stop And Do What You Want To Do
There is, at present moment, baby spit-up on both my foot and the floor. There’s a stack of rhubarb on the counter waiting to be chopped, and I can practically hear the weeds growing in the garden. There’s a looming pile of partially unpacked detritus waiting to be organized in our basement, not a single thing is hung up on our walls (not even the key rack), and we need to install a new toilet upstairs. But instead of dealing with those pressing items, I’m doing what I want to do: I’m writing.
I could easily never write again for how many things I have to do in a day, but that’s a decision I’m unwilling to make because I love to write. It makes me happy and it keeps me sane. Far too often, we shunt aside the very thing that brings us the most happiness because we deem it “unworthy” of our time. We consider it a luxury and not a requirement. So here’s my challenge to you: what is it that brings you joy? That fills you with excitement? And do you do that thing every day? Maybe it’s playing an instrument, or creating art, or playing with your dog–whatever it is, why aren’t you doing it more often?
Giving myself the permission to not accomplish everything in this first year here on the homestead is important. Yes, we could continue with our sprint-marathon lifestyle and probably get everything done, but at a certain point, I have to take stock of when I’m going to start living.
Mr. FW and I always held the homestead out as the time when we’d do just that: live. And so, I’ve got to take my own advice and enjoy my surroundings, enjoy my daughter, and let go of the millions of pressing tasks. To relish one’s daily existence is something I think we all strive for. When we stop spending money in damaging ways, we can free ourselves financially. And when we stop exerting ourselves towards futile ends (like keeping the kitchen floor clean all the time), we can then free ourselves creatively. And when we forgive ourselves for not quite doing everything we set out to, we can then free ourselves mentally and emotionally. And then, perhaps we are indeed free to truly live.