Two or three children and a mother and a father living together in a neat, tidy house. A school bus in the morning for the children and the parents’ commutes start the day, which hopefully finishes off in a good family dinner. Textbooks, bicycles, and maybe a piano are much in evidence, as are the parents’ personal hobbies.
Nothing could be farther (except the family dinner) from my family’s way of life. Four children, a stay at home mother and a father with his home office moved to a small family farm one summer afternoon to start an alternative way of living.
And we never looked back.
As the oldest of those four original children, (three more arrived on the farm, much to everyone’s delight) it was a mix of storybook ideals and eye-opening reality. My siblings and I had acres of farmland as our playground, ranging from cultivated fields to draining swamps. Homeschooling gave us the opportunity to learn how to work effectively and quickly. We were only held back by our motivation (or lack of) to get our work done. We had the freedom to spend hours in our hobbies — sewing, reading, tinkering with motors or whatever caught our fancy.
Sometimes, our pets and livestock died, killed by wild animals or accident. At nine years old, I got myself lost for three hours in a forest. I did walk my way out at the end. A brother took a ten foot fall out of a tree, catching himself by sheer luck on the last branch. And yes, sometimes, we took crazy risks with all the glee of childhood oblivion.
The crowd of other children make sure that we always had a playmate, confidante, or partner in crime. We alternately pulled each other into trouble, out of trouble, covered up our more outrageous exploits (never very well), and tattled away to our patient mother.
Our father worked from home in a smaller house on our farm. Government requirements made us connect the two buildings together for him to work at home. As a result, our home looked rather patched together and shabby.
Because my mother taught us all at home, we did not have as many outside social events. None of us played an organized sport until high school. We didn’t play in the school band, take school trips, or have a chance to do many of the usual activities that children generally do. A lot of our events and friends came from our church and general homeschool community. Until a child reached high school, they didn’t do much else with another social group.
We ate what we raised on the farm. Though we never wanted for anything, sometimes the food could be very boring. When the squash plants are producing like mad, but eight year old you hates squash…well, you didn’t have another option.
And yes, it was a lot of plain, hard work. Everyone did farm and house chores. The farm livestock always needed feeding and care. The gardens always needed weeding. And the babies and smaller siblings always needed to be taken care of, many times by their older siblings.
Some people look at my and my siblings’ story and wonder what my parents were thinking. Some look at what they consider ‘wasted opportunities’ that my siblings and I never got. And some flat out think my family was and is crazy.
Perhaps we are. We all cheerfully admit it, particularly when the work seems harder than usual, or as older siblings start to leave the home and go out into the world.
But for every activity, summer camp, sleepover, or other event we did not get a chance to do, we have a memory of something alternative. Finding a swimming hole deep in the woods. Hiking with your siblings all alone in a state park. Biking for miles with the only guideline of being home for dinner. Meeting the local scrap yard owner. Being fed treats by kindly older people on sunny front porches.
And much more.
Many times, alternative living and lifestyles are only dreamed up or maybe wistfully talked about by a single person to her friends, or a couple who likes adventure. The dream fades away and people fall into the same molds as they have always done.
An alternative life is not for everyone. But for those who take the leap, it’s a whole new way to make memories, have experiences, and create bonds that can and never will be broken.