As it turns out, Nick and I make pretty lousy extremists. It’s disappointing, I think, at least to the now FIVE different reality TV producers who have inquired into the details of our radical, off-grid lives. We are crazy, I think, but somehow we don’t sound very crazy. We are into revolution – wayy into revolution — but our revolution somehow doesn’t satisfy anyone’s lust for violence.
We came out to live in this bit of wilderness, beneath the shadow of the Rockies, mostly because we wanted to live whole and healthy lives. For me, that means a full-time, full-passion pursuit of contemplative spirituality. Which isn’t very photogenic, you guys. Mostly that is just a simple life. For my husband it means being able to use his creative gifts to directly meet his family’s needs. Which actually is very photogenic. But also pretty much a simple life.
The road to health is a winding one, especially in a world that is so categorically unhealthy. We find ourselves making choices we didn’t expect to make. We find ourselves making a lot of compromises.
We ran out of money this year. Completely, all the way out of money, like “leap and the net didn’t appear!” So…that was what it was. Nick went away and did some jobs, which ranged from doing things he likes in thrilling and fun situations to doing things he doesn’t like in uncomfortable situations. We had a deficit in the money department, and we had to fix that. That’s reality.
This year we also ran out of something else. Even more important than money, possibly, this year our family ran out of faith in humanity. Fresh out of trust. Fresh out of healthy relationships. All spent. Bank empty.
I don’t know that I can explain this with any clarity, having no impartiality in this territory, but we travelled through what felt like a thicket of betrayals and personal loss. Mostly not very grand, not very shocking. Being laughed at or shrugged off by people I wanted to trust. Being accused of crime in the grocery store parking lot. Feeling unsupported. Feeling rejected. Feeling deeply, permanently alone.
There may be a pair of extraverts out there who can drop into a new place and just build community like snapping their fingers. But Nick and I are not those people. The obstacles to relationship and community in this place, which include our distance from town, our way-left social politics, our interfaith marriage, and our emotionally sensitive, anti-social kids, proved just too great for us to immediately overcome.
Simply put, we became gradually less and less able to trust. Anyone. And this wasn’t going to be fixed by my tall trees, or even by my sweet hummingbird. It wasn’t going to be fixed by spending another hour alone. I did regret missing yet another month of my summer in the woods, especially since our yurt life gets more and more comfortable as Nick checks projects off his list. But the need was pressing. I took the kids and myself to a place where we could get the thing that we were short of. I went to spend a month with my sister, and my sister’s kids, in the West coast city where I went to high school.
This was a month in a place where I could experience being valued and appreciated, without having to stand representative for my politics or field comments on my short hair. This was a month in a place where I would not experience accidental hate speech the way you do when you hold in your heart characteristics that folks around you love to hate. I needed to fill up on trust and connectedness. My reserves had simply slipped too low.
It took my kids a little while to adjust to a culture of trust. But they did. Stella’s power is a beautiful thing when she’s happy. And Milo was thrilled to be one of the crowd among his cousins, culturally uniform with his Harry Potter obsession, verbal skills and emotional sensitivity. I didn’t know this would happen. I didn’t predict it. But when we were in an emotionally connected and encouraging space – when we felt like an “us,” part of a greater “us” — my wild kids calmed down.
It is true that I moved to the woods in hopes of giving my kids freedom from a culture of over scheduling and over achievement and competition. But I didn’t move to the woods to give any of us a sentence of loneliness. The last thing our broken world needs is more mistrust. And it appears, at least so far, that Nick and I simply do not have the social connectedness needed to get our kids out of solitude and into community.
Thus. Off to school they go.
Do I like the school? Is it a good school? Honestly, this is no longer the issue. I did pull Milo back a year. He is turning seven this weekend, in the first grade. He is ahead of the game as far as skills go – and I suppose we do risk boredom – but I found it worth it to give him a better shot at handling things emotionally. Stella is in Kindergarten and yes, she does cry, but only at the end of the day when she has to leave. I’d say the only one in our family who is sorry about this change is baby Sadie, who doesn’t understand why she isn’t in Stella’s class, since she is surely Stella’s shadow.
I suppose it doesn’t make us great for reality TV — all this thoughtfulness and willingness to compromise. But I hope it will give us resources to live healthy and live whole, which may be the strongest attack we can serve in our counterculture revolution.