It has crossed my mind recently that our little woman-stays-home experiment may have run its course and it is time for me to get a job to bring in some money. Oh, farming is a job. Cooking and preserving is a job. Cleaning the house is work. Wiping dirty little bottoms and washing sheets soiled by failed training efforts yet again – these are all jobs. But money is money and separate from all of that. And it is possible we need a little more of it.
If you have been with me from the beginning, you have watched me grapple endlessly with money. I have pretended not to need it. I have learned to respect it. I have listed off all of the resourceful ways I can do without it. I have yearned for more of it. Worried I didn’t have enough of it. Concerned myself with my spending habits. Wondered if I could change.
It turns out we are all capable of incredible things that we set our minds to. And we also set our minds pretty firmly on certain things whether we like it or not. It turns out I am set on having enough money in my life. I thought I could shift what ‘enough’ meant, so I went about tweaking our budget, spending differently, changing our entertainment habits. In short, going without. We earn a living on this farm of ours, but its not one that affords many luxuries. Inherently, there is a stay-close-to-home aspect about it all.
In place of travels I was to reap the joys of being at home more with my children, of popping jars of homemade pickles in January, of making berry pies from our own berries, of having fresh yogurt straight from our cow. Shannon Hayes and the other Radical Homemakers cheered me on! I know I will keep being a hands-on housewife with or without an off-site job. I learned that balancing the push and the pull of a full-force career alongside my home life doesn’t work with our lifestyle. As you know, the work with children is relentless no matter what else you have going on. What you probably also know is that the farm demands what it demands on its own schedule. We can take on a little less (not moving meat birds around once a day, every day for several weeks each summer) but a lot of it is standard, basic upkeep stuff.
But money is money. And farms these days are not known for bringing in mountains of the stuff. And financial security is a basic need, I’m told.
Further, there are things I enjoy that I don’t seem to be able to let go of. Perhaps if I had married in my teens or early twenties, I would have built a life around my family or my farm or my children and been satisfied with that. But I didn’t. I was a good start into my thirties when I settled down, had educated myself into a good career, traveled the world and I knew some things. I had seen some things. I couldn’t unsee them. I couldn’t unknow them. And I’m afraid, I can’t unwant some of them.
I realize it appears noble and envious to give it all up for a life on a quiet farm, at home with my apron and children and working alongside my loving husband growing organic vegetables for a living for half the year. Many have told me so. I believe them. But I know something else that they don’t see on first glance. The isolation and time spent questioning and doubting. The inability to go anywhere at a moment’s notice or stay away for more than half a day. The never-ending battle to get the dirt out from between my toes and from behind my ears. The total and completely unpredictable income from farming.
I don’t let any of that on when I’m basking in the compliments about how brave I am, how smart, how grounded for choosing to stay home and work on my farm over a fancy job with a respectable income. I have always felt the world cheering for me (most anyway) – wanting it to work out for me. Maybe that would mean they could keep their own dreams alive to leave the rat race one day.
It has taken months to even admit that my returning to work may be the only possibility for us. Though when I first uttered it out loud, the news quickly reported a mass lay-off with the department I had last worked for. Scientists to boot. Environment related jobs. Perfect. Now there would be 776 people looking for positions. If I wanted to return in my area (which is the most sensible place to start looking), times were tough at the moment. Everyone scared. This made me scared.
Once I picked myself up and dusted the fear off I made a few calls and sent out a few emails. I had a brain wave. It didn’t have to be all or nothing. I could ask for what I needed. I could be honest about what I could offer. Nothing long term. Flexibility required. I could take a pay cut if needed. Maybe no travel? Give up the benefits and work for myself. I could try for something part time. Perhaps from home so I could meet my little one when she gets off the school bus from her first year at school. More reasonably I'd want to be sure to be back in time for dinner or to fetch her from after-school care. And I have been around enough to know that even in the face of lay-offs, the work still goes on and workers are needed.
Within literally hours I received a bone. My husband laughed when I told him and said: ‘be careful what you wish for!’ A potential year-long assignment. Same type of work, the details yet to be worked out. I did not say yes or no. There are long lists of pros and cons needed before we make any decisions. Having a body permanently home allows for a lot of sanity around here. If not me, would it have to be my husband? Would the income earned be lost on his end? We have a lot of animals requiring care, vehicle maintenance to stay on top off, the usual daily grind, the snow blowing, hay cutting, all that just won’t pick up and walk away. Sending me away will not necessarily bring us the peace we are looking for.
The grass does seem quite a bit greener on the other side from where I sit today. What would we do with the ‘extra’ money? We could pay off our vehicles in the driveway. Finish this big house we wanted to build with proper carpenters (and not just stay-at-home-handy-mom). We could go on a trip! Yay! A real family vacation that we haven’t really been able to do yet. Like one that is longer than 3 days. My children have not met their cousins who live on the west coast. I have been away for a whole week vacation twice in the past 5 years and both times have been with my mother and one kid, not my husband. This is not acceptable!
We have been tied to our home mostly because our Saturday Farmers’ Market disrupts any chance of getting away. Then there is the fact that we only heat with wood in winter. Our dogs get anxious and can’t be left for too long. The cows cause trouble when we leave. And because there isn’t enough money.
The more I mull over it though the more it is not really about money, is it? Even with money, we couldn’t get away. There is that saying that we can’t have it all. And a farmer, well, you make choices and live with them, that is for sure. You have to appreciate the great gift that is your farm and the life it lends you. Until we’re ready to sell off the cows and quit going to markets, we’ve got a lot of commitments to live by around here.
I don’t believe a great influx of cash is going to solve all of our problems. I don’t think a week away with my family is going to make that much difference to our happiness. We are the kind of family that steals its moments whenever and wherever we can. I don’t think that getting up to commute in the dark to the city in all weather is going to make my life ‘easier’ in any way. Take a brick out of the tower and the rest can crumble. I don’t get to keep all of that money without losing a whole lot on the other side.
But the particular brand of feminism I subscribe to is the one where we get to celebrate the choices we have. And something got a whole lot lighter when the makings of a job offer came my way this week. If I decide to stay home, it will once again be something I choose to do.
I am blessed with choices. Rich, rich, rich.
And I have a whole lot of thinking to do.