This article was originally published by Yes! Magazine.
Shortly after her second birthday, we noticed that Ula (now three) was developing a wandering eye. She had difficulty seeing the pictures in her books, and flatly refused to eat with a fork. We took her to a developmental optometrist, and spent an hour in an examination. She needed glasses.Ula disagreed. The first pair, made extra-durable to survive a child’s play, had various pieces snapped off of them in less than a week. The second pair was thrown off during a hike up a dirt road. We went back and found they’d been crushed by a passing car. Subsequent pairs were snapped in half, had the ear pieces broken off, or the lenses removed. Ula then took to hiding her glasses. We found them in the perennial beds, in potted plants, tucked in my underwear drawer, dangling from a screw underneath a picnic table. Since we try not to be wasteful consumers, I’m too embarrassed to divulge the number of glasses we’ve lost or destroyed in a single year. Our optometrist has grown annoyed with us. He pronounced Ula the most non-compliant patient he’s had in a very long career working with children (We always knew she was destined to be exceptional).
I am often asked how I plan to keep my children on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t.
It isn’t as though Ula doesn’t need the glasses. With them, she can find food with her fork, enjoy detailed illustrations, put together puzzles, and investigate garden bugs. We have spent countless hours attempting to get her to wear them, trying everything from coercion to bribery. It doesn’t matter. I am convinced Ula came into our family with the singular purpose of teaching us the meaning of free will.
That lesson has gone a long way. Because our lifestyle is deeply variant from the mainstream, I am often asked about how it will affect my children as they enter adulthood, how I plan to keep them on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t. If I can’t make my kid wear her glasses, even when I know they are good for her, how the heck can I expect to control her choices in adulthood?
I received a beautiful letter from a veteran Radical Homemaker recently that really drives this point home. Marie (not her real name) and her husband both chose to forgo conventional careers, raising their daughters with no electrical appliances except a fridge, washing machine, lights and a radio. They’ve managed to raise their family on an almost non-existent income, making ends meet through part-time freelance work, skilled crafts, and music. Both daughters were homeschooled, and completed college through distance learning programs. Now ready to forge her own path in life, the eldest, Angelica (also not her real name) is armed with a boatload of resources. She is an accomplished musician, dancer, and craftsperson, and positively rich in her ability to live on very little. Then girl meets boy. And, much to her mother’s despair, discussions about big incomes, mortgages, and flat screen televisions ensue. The relationship progressed, and the young couple decided to move in together. Angelica began questioning the value of her unique lifestyle, and the young man urged her to “get a real job.”
The Birthday Balloon
Somewhere in our consumer culture, we have confused material items with expressions of love: Shannon Hayes on taking back birthdays.
Fully aware that similar struggles might lie in my own children’s future, I hung on every word in Marie’s correspondence. I shared her angst in wondering what her daughter would do. One would think, from our level of concern, that Angelica was shooting heroine or breaking into houses. How funny, as Radical Homemaking parents, that the fears we hold for our children are that they should opt for the straight and narrow! But it is a genuine worry. We try to raise our children with the skills to require little from the Earth, to honor their hearts, relationships, and personal creativity. We hope that they will be able to move forward with freedom from our consumer culture, equipped with the resources to enjoy a lifestyle that honors social justice, family, community and the planet.
But as Ula has taught me, there is little we can do if our kids refuse our guidance, even if we think it is for the best. We must know in our hearts that we have lived our ideals, that we have demonstrated it is possible to live in a way that is true to our souls. The rest is up to them.
That seems to be working in Marie’s case. Just before moving in with her boyfriend, Angelica spent two weeks wrestling with his “get a real job” suggestion. Then she dumped him.
Now, if only I could get Ula to wear her glasses …
Shannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.