28 Mar Raising Kids on a Farm
I’ve always read to write what you know. So before I delve into writing about bees or birds or winemaking, perhaps I’ll start with parenting. Now that our children are 9, 11 and 12… I feel like I can at least talk about raising kids up until this point, even though at one time I was also obviously a kid myself but somehow that experience is the complete antithesis of what it’s like to be a parent today.
Raising kids on our farm isn’t as challenging as I had thought it might be. I feared scattered piles of rusty sharp tools everywhere; falling out of trees; getting run over by tractors; tumbling down olive terraces; getting stung by poisonous snakes; missing the big cities. In the grand scheme of things, now it seems that my anxiety lasted about as long as a blink of an eye. Our kids couldn’t be happier here.
Sometimes we have to give our children a good (metaphoric) kick in the butt to help out at home, but they do actually know their chores and they know they can’t receive any privileges (like their weekly time slot to play games on our phones) until they’ve completed their weekend chores. In the summer months, they have daily chores, and although after school breaks for summer, it takes a couple weeks to find their rhythm, they mostly go about accomplishing all their work quickly so they can jump in the pool or laze about with a book or head down to the village to meet up with friends.
They slice a sickle along tall grasses, sticky nettles and lush alfalfa to then toss in a basket to give to the roosters, chickens and rabbits; they use that same sickle to saw down harvested kale stalks for a munching snack for the rabbits; they push around wheelbarrows loaded with chopped olive, almond and pine lumber for our wood-burning stoves; they jump up and down on the broadfork to aerate densely packed soil in the gardens. I clearly underestimated their ability to properly handle tools.
They bang in the ever-loosening nails that hold together our beloved vintage Swedish white rocking chair — the one in which I gently rocked and tenderly nursed every single one of my little babies. This past winter, my oldest daughter claimed the rocking chair as her own — in the mornings before school, when she has to rush off and can’t read any longer, she plants her book in the rocking chair to then pick it up in the afternoons and quietly rock, warming herself next to the kitchen wood-burning stove. That beloved cast-iron stove blazes pretty much constantly daily throughout our winters here, toasting up our kitchen and keeping that homemade chicken broth gently bubbling. Popping in logs all day, it’s warm enough so that we don’t have to turn on the radiators, which are connected to a more elaborate heating system fired up from our industrial wood-burning oven in the basement. The kids are thrilled when the warmer weather begins (not just because summer is summer) because they no longer have to lug up those heaving bags of lumber for the kitchen and living room chimneys.
All this physical work — in the beginning, they complain, they moan and groan and say, but it’s so-and-so’s turn, I did it yesterday, I do more than they do, etc. As parents, we just hold our ground, calm and matter of fact, and remind them that they have no choice. The work has to be done. We’re a family. We all contribute. We all share the work. They give in. They do it, and they realize it wasn’t so bad after all. My 12-year-old son, Lukas, can haul up more wood than me now (maybe… haha), and he knows he has to sweep up the fallen bits, stack the wood neatly, and shake the bag clean out the window. No sloppy-joe business with the chores or daily habits because then it’s just me picking up after them, and they’ll never learn. We’ve almost come to the end of my calling to him to the front hall to pick up his strewn shoes and put them orderly on the shoe rack. I don’t yell. I don’t scream his name (for the 100,000th time). It’s almost like a sigh of a beckoning, and he comes quickly and without a word or even a look up, puts his shoes where they‘re supposed to be, and continues on with his business.
As far as my girls, they each haul up a bag of their own of chopped wood, and in the beginning, one after the other, they’d each drag their loaded bags up the old stone stairs and across the terra cotta tiled floor and down the two stone steps into the kitchen. As soon as they reach the kitchen, they conjure up those dreary, exaggerated looks of exhaustion and misery, which soon dissipates when we smile and thank them for their hard work. I think they’re secretly pretty darn impressed with their own strength and fortitude.
The children see how much work my husband and I do. It may not settle in, they may not comprehend fully, but they witness it, and sometimes it takes a book to really make the point. After recently reading the Little House on the Prairie series, my middle child, Tessa, told me over our lunch of freshly picked lettuces from the garden (Tessa eats salad with reckless abandon) about how many chores Laura and Mary had to do — just part of the natural cycle of life at that small homestead in the woods. In one instance, young Laura has to help to hand wash all the quilts and blankets, and she was even “glad to lug the loaded basket out to the clothesline in the sweet, chilly March weather.” Tessa was impressed. Handwash quilts? And she thinks she has it bad.
March will soon give way to April. The living room and kitchen fireplaces will be cleaned and have a rest until November. Over spring break, I’ll get my children out in the gardens. They’ll help weed and turn the soil and sprinkle little seeds in garden rows. We’ll up-end the soil around the baby fruit trees — carefully whacking at them with one of the hoes tucked away around our land. Last summer, a beautiful young Basque volunteer taught me that when finished with the hoe, to bury the metal bottom in damp soil to protect it from the rain and sun and to keep the metal firmly clenched to the wooden pole. She shared other tips and stories that she learned from her grandfather, all surely trickled down from generations before. Stories, oral tales that, as parents, we pass on to our children and perhaps they’ll keep the river flowing of knowledge, old-timer tips, and secrets of the farm. Expanding the circle of what we know, sharing with our children so they can pass it on to theirs.