what living in a barn taught me
When my children and I first bought land in the country a few years back, we needed a place to live for the six months it would take for the Amish to build our simple home. We didn't have too many options at the time, so we sat long and hard about what we might do. After going through the possible scenarios of renting a place in town or moving in with friends and family...we decided to try something completely different.
Spending time on our new land brought us great joy and since we felt an immediate draw to it, we made the decision to live on the land. It was important for us to immerse ourselves in all that the land had to offer. With the timing of the seasons, we needed to be able to start planting the garden right away and putting up our animal fences. For the kids, they were excited to play in the creek and spend more time just being outside. As the Amish were building our barn, I imagined the simplicity of living in an open space with a dirt floor. I imagined sleeping in the hay loft, falling asleep to the crickets and waking to the sounds of the chickens. I imagined a life of free from toys, video games, and the internet. I imagined our days being filled with the work of actually living...hauling water to drink, chopping wood to cook on and going without what we have come to believe are the 'necessities' in life (refrigeration, running water and electricity). At the time, my children were 12, 10 and 5 and they were up for this adventure with me.
We had the Amish build us a 30 x 18 structure with a loft (that would later be used for storing hay) and an outhouse that would be built in close proximity to our barn. We laid wooden pallets on the earth to keep our belongings up off of the ground, in case it rained. We stored our food in glass mason jars to keep out mice and used the creek to keep any perishables cold for a few days. We kept our water in 5 gallon containers and bathed in an old cow trough we found on the land. We cooked over a fire and collected food from our garden and the plants on our land to supplement the small amount of food purchased from the co-op. We washed our clothes by hand in the creek and hung them out to dry on a make-shift clothesline hung from one tree to another.
We spent our evenings playing catch or frisbee in the fields...our laughter echoing through out the whole valley. Before bedtime, I read chapter after chapter of their favorite books to the children, getting as much in as we could before the daylight disappeared. I spent the days watching the kids swim in the creek, hike in the woods, and picnic under the vast pine trees in the forest. We built tree forts, made mud bakery cakes and sold fresh picked flowers at the top of our driveway. I looked into my children's eyes and saw this glimpse of what childhood should be for them. It was, in short, a summer that will be hard to forget.
Now, I am not here to try and fool you into thinking this life was pure bliss and without struggle.. I am not even here to try and convince you that everyone should actually live in a barn. There were days that, despite the beauty of it, were just...well...hard. And if I didn't share the difficult parts too, well, I would just be trying to pull the wool over your eyes...
Life in the barn had it's inherent challenges...there was the constant mud underneath the pallets every time it rained (and subsequently standing puddles that brought in the mosquitoes). There were the chickens that were so ever confused as to whose barn it was and subsequently finding the occasional egg or chicken poop in or on our couch cushions. There were the storms and wind that left me up all night, on vigil, over the children, praying that our barn was sturdily built. There were the days it rained and cooking became impossible. There was the wet barn and all of our damp belongings that never seemed to have enough time to dry out. There was the cold...oh, the cold...no matter how many dry layers we put on, we always felt the cold in our bones. There were the wild critters that ventured in our barn at night, with me silently hoping they would not climb the stairs to greet us. And the bats. Flying over our heads while we slept, with nothing to be done except hope they would leave soon.
There were mornings that I sat on the steps leading up to the hay loft and just cried. Cried because, despite choosing this lifestyle, it was hard. Despite knowing we had the luxury of this lifestyle being somewhat temporary, it was difficult in the moment. I was a single mom responsible for everything...and I felt, at those moments, that I was failing my children miserably.
But this blog is not about that. It is not about getting stuck in the difficulties of life. It is about taking a deep breath and wiping away the tears despite the pain life sometimes brings. It is about knowing that raising children is hard, and not having a home is harder, but also that the days don't stop because of this. It is about knowing that sometimes experiencing difficulties actually make us grow stronger as people, in ways that might not otherwise happen. It is about acknowledging that, at times, everything seems impossible, but going ahead and doing it anyway and finding the beauty in it. It is about creating a life for our children that is magical and free. Knowing we can teach them how to look at things just by what we choose to look at. We can pass down our strength, our flexibility, our optimism. We can choose to focus on the good..because these days, we all need more good. If not for us, then for our children.
So today..if only for today, I will make sure my children see me focusing on what is good in this world. I will let them be children in every way and experience childhood with eyes of wonder and hope. I will let them feel, for this moment in time, that life offers lessons for all of us, but the lessons in what we choose to focus on and where we spend our energy may be the most valuable ones ever. We have that power. We have that choice.
And I learned all of this by living in a barn.