The Full Plate, on rural homeschooling

disclaimer: the pic above actually has the word ‘brain,’ and the goat’s name, ‘qenee’ (sic), our pathetic scanner won’t do 8.5 x 11.
‘Mom? How do you spell pony?’
‘Okay. Thanks.’
Papers rustle, then, ‘Mom? How do you spell brain?’… ‘Tracks?’… ‘Goat?’
This is my 6yo daughter who is currently obsessed with writing and illustrating. This obsession comes from a strong desire to learn to read and write brought on, partially, by the realization that some of her peers can already do both. She felt a little behind until I explained to her that all of us have different schedules and different abilities. Her friend may be able to read, but if I sent that same friend to the barn for a sheep halter and lead line and sent him into the pasture to catch Duchess, he wouldn’t know where to begin. DD, on the other hand, could carry out those instructions without a problem. One child isn’t more wonderful than the other, they simply have different skill sets. For the moment, though, it’s not a sheep but a goat she’s thinking of because my husband and I just finished treating our goat, Queenie, for hoof rot. DD has goat on the brain.

Sometimes I wonder how I created my really long to-do list. Feed, water, clean stalls, groom, train, shear, shots, till, mulch, plant, tend, harvest, preserve…and homeschool! Did I actually agree to teach two classes at co-op? What was I thinking? Either I’m a glutton for punishment or just a glutton in general. I do love to have a full plate. How has this effected my children? Are they gaining anything? Missing anything? Are our plates overfull?

Every morning we get up and have some quiet time, breakfast and then get moving on our chores. Ideally, we feed the horses, chickens, goat and sheep and make sure everyone has clean water. We put hay out in the pasture because we are grass-challenged (another word for having a severely overgrazed pasture) and turn the horses out. Each day, I try and pick one horse for a good grooming and a few minutes, at least, of ground work. Once that’s done we check the rabbits, make sure the cats are fed and put Rosie on her cable. Then it’s school time. The effect that all of this focus on our farm life has on the kids is that it has taught them responsibility. They know where meat comes from and it’s not out of a Styrofoam package we bought at Wal-Mart, where it was injected with extra beef flavor, possibly to cover up the green taste. They know this because they went with me to drop our steer off at the abattoir and because of the wild game that if often butchered right here at home. They know that if I send them out to pick some oregano that they should not come back with rosemary or swiss chard. Martina, as a baby, quickly learned the difference in quality between a green tomato and a red one as she crawled around the garden and took precisely one bite out of every tomato in it. Travis has learned the value of good friends and strong prayer when he was caught in the woods on an undependable four-wheeler, with 2 friends and 1 large black bear. He has also helped feed our family by hunting wild turkey and deer. These kids are not growing up with Nature Deficit Disorder. So far as I can tell, the effects of our rural life are positive.

They are gaining a strong sense of self-reliance and the knowledge that they have the ability to work hard, provide for themselves and a sense of family and teamwork. For me, this is one of the most powerful reasons why I do what I do. They have had major opportunities to work with fabulous instructors at interesting activities such as equestrian vaulting, homeschool plays, and Irish dance, all during the day, on weekdays.

Then there are the things they are missing, and I admit, there are a few. They miss living in an area where there were hordes of similar aged kids to play with. I suspect that the necessity of providing their own entertainment may be of great service in their lives, even though they bemoan their isolated status. We often do not participate in arts-oriented events because of the driving distance and the same is true of any kind of real dedication to dance–I am unwilling to sacrifice my little bit of time with my husband and spend it driving my kids 45 miles to evening dance classes. Maybe they are missing out on being really great at something because of my unwillingness to be an 18 hour per day cabbie. Maybe they are learning that it’s okay to take care of yourself, too. Maybe I can justify every sacrifice, every suggestion that they are missing out on something by offering a positive slant to it! I really don’t believe they are missing much by living in rural America.

There are days when our plates do seem to be overfull. On some of these days, it’s difficult to swallow everything–the drive to *another* co-op, the difficult attempts at friendly chat when what I am thinking of most is how many chores I have to get caught up on, the worn to the bone feeling I sometimes have when I realize that at this point in time, my marriage truly is on the back burner and I don’t like to leave it there too long. Other times, though, it’s a beautiful thing to have a plate too full–the slew of ‘I love Mommi’ cards I get, calls from college junior son and my working-girl 19 yo daughter, the first pea of the season, the first tomato eaten perfectly red ripe and warm from the sun, when the pony understands and does something I have taught him…perfectly. On those days the full plate is golden, or as my kids would say, ‘It’s money.’ Living life in the country has it’s trade offs, to be sure. Fine dining is scarce. Irish dance is not to be had in any form, lesson or performance. We are a bit isolated by faith, too, being non-Christian and living in rural North Carolina but that’s okay. These are choices we have made as a family and though sometimes we all long for life in the suburbs I don’t believe any of us wants to really move back there. We love our sheep, our garden, the empty fields both in front of and behind us. I love that I never had to explain to Martina what a goat track looks like or how big it’s brain is…she just knows.

About Bettina Colonna Essert

Illuminated Magdalene High Priestess and facilitator of empowerment and healing circles for girls and women, including a monthly Red Tent Temple. BA in English, minor in anthropology. Waldorf homeschool mom. Reiki master, cranial sacral therapist, herbalist, menstruvist, feminist, epicurian.
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