Fire and Ice. Oil and Water. Black and White. Day and Night. Seth and Jonah.
My two older boys couldn’t be more opposite!
Seth is fair-skinned, red-headed, blue-eyed, and fearless to the point of recklessness. As a kid, before learning to swim, he jumped into the deep end of pools…twice. The first time, age three and a half, I pulled him out and he said, “I wanted to see what the deep part was like. I knew you’d pull me out before I ‘drownded’.” He repeated the experiment at age four and a half. That time, when I pulled his soggy bedraggled self from the chlorined deep, he announced, “It doesn’t look hard. I figured I’d work out how to swim when I got there!” (No, I didn’t strangle him, but it was tempting. The fact that he reached adulthood is an overwhelming testament to my iron-clad self-control!)
You know, when you’re at the park and you see a kid standing on top of the swing set? You immediately wonder where the mother is and why she permits such dangerous behavior. Well, let me tell you, I was standing under the swings ‘not-shouting’ at the tiny risk taking body above me! (If you shout, they will fall.)
He rode horses that were little more than broncs. He befriended snarling stray dogs. He climbed extension ladders, rotten trees, and the sides of houses. Once, I went to pick him up from my mom’s house. My parents were looking for him everywhere, and he (age six) was perched comfortably on the apex of their roof. He was the kind of kid that gives parents a strong faith in God and a lot of grey hair! His first complete sentence was, “I DO IT MYSELF!” (Yes, the capitals are meant to be shouting. No, I’m not exaggerating.)
Jonah, on the other hand, has dark hair, dark green eyes, golden brown skin, and a well-honed sense of self-preservation. As a child, he was frightened of, well…everything: crowds, noise, bugs, heights, water, highway overpasses, doctors, snakes, horses… I once sat through an entire child’s play with my hands over his ears, because, the noise freaked him out (age three). I think my favorite example is the pair of pajamas that traumatized him. They were covered in pictures of bugs. Jonah’s first sentence (I kid you not!) was, “But, I need haaaaaaayuuuulp!”
True Story: Jonah used to panic when anyone was hurt. He would gesture wildly, while repeatedly saying, “Ohmigosh, are you okay? Are you okay? Ohmigosh, are you okay?” Several times, I snapped at him, as blood dripped, the injured party wailed, and he flipped his lid. I think, I might have once even looked over his brother’s gory head wound and asked, “Does he look okay to you? Get my bag!” After years of being snapped at (in the moment), then apologized to and teased about the daft question (afterwards), Jonah finally learned!
When I had my accident, I was lying on the ground with my arm hanging limply and at an unnatural angle. I found myself trying to decide whether it would be more painful to throw-up or pass out. Suddenly, I heard Jonah speaking with forced calm. In slow metered speech he said, “I’m not asking if you’re okay. But, what can I do to help? Umm..should I get Daddy your bag?” I felt my breath rush out in a slightly hysterical giggle, just before I decided putting my arm back in place was a more logical option than passing out or throwing up.
Lessons: Teenage boys can learn new tricks, and putting a broken arm back in socket is significantly unpleasant. (Passing out would have totally been the best option!)
Now that he’s an adult, Jonah has faced and successfully fought his fears. He’s still (thankfully) much more cautious than his brother, but he’s terrific in a crisis. When we had an injured horse going berserk, I could trust Jonah to follow my lead and keep everyone safe rather than charging in and taking a hoof to the head.
There is, however, one
annoying irritating confusing charming remnant of his childhood fears. He’s overprotective of those he loves. No, seriously. He is overprotective to the point of making the other kids want to strangle him and toss the body in the stock tank. (That’s Texan for pond.)
There’s a five-year gap between Jonah and Sam, so he’s always considered himself the ‘adult’ brother. It took him years to stop telling Grace she was too young to use a kitchen knife. (She can peel, pare, and puree like a master chef!) He still follows Sam around offering unsolicited risk-benefit analyses at infuriatingly frequent intervals. The fact that he’s reached adulthood is a testament to my other kids’ patience (and lack of means and opportunity)!
Amy, over at A Farmish Kind of Life, recently shared a terrific post! It was titled: The Most Important Homesteading Skill Is… (I’ve inserted the links, so you can check her out. She has a dry quirky sense of humor to go with her great information!) The point of her post is that the most important skill when homesteading is the ability to punt. I loved this post, because, I think we get caught up in the teachable/learn-able skills used in ‘back to basics’ living. It’s easy to forget there are certain traits that make one want and be willing to adapt to a life held together with duct tape, WD40, and baling wire.
When my boys were young, I would’ve expected Seth to take to farm life more easily than Jonah. I mean, it’s hard to live on a farm when bugs and snakes send you scurrying in search of a panic room. However, Seth chooses to live in a city, and his only livestock is a rather obese cat. I don’t criticize that at all. If this life isn’t for you, that’s okay!
However, Jonah has grown and changed so much since moving to the farm. He’s an amazing balance of caution and courage! I think part of being successful in this lifestyle is a willingness to bite off more than you know you can chew, but not enough to choke you. Jonah has learned to think through a task, then ‘give it a shot’. I think that’s one of the most important qualities a homesteader can have.
We try to find balance. We focus on learning new skills, and we always take on a little more than we know we can handle. Since moving to the farm, we’ve improved our wood working, animal husbandry, computers/blogging, fence repair, and many other teachable/learn-able skills. However, learning these things wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t willing to take on challenges. It also wouldn’t be possible if we took on so much, that we drowned in new tasks and information. Becoming overwhelmed sets off a chain reaction of frustration and failure. It’s this frustration, not spiders, that send many wanna-be farmhands back to the land of the Midnight Taco Bell!
When we bought our farm, it came with something unexpected: a pool. We certainly weren’t looking for a home with a pool. I mean pools aren’t really standard farming equipment. We enjoy the pool and are glad to have it, but we had no idea how to care for it. So, we continued using the pool service the previous owner had hired. However, as serial DIYers, writing that monthly check rankled. It irritated me constantly that our money was going to pay someone to do a job for us. Especially a job that wasn’t really necessary. So, this year, we decided to layoff the pool guy and DIY that too.
Never having had a pool, we started at ground zero. I bought a book and contacted a local pool store. Over the last couple of months, we’ve cobbled together not only a working knowledge of basic pool maintenance, but also some repair skills. Liam has, one problem at a time, worked out how to service the pool, repair clogged lines, repair leaking pump pipes, clean the sand filter, replace the underwater light, and remove sheep-ish and dead-mousey contamination! I am glad we waited to take on the pool until this year, because, doing it earlier would have been overwhelming!
When we moved to the farm we repaired fencing, expanded coops, did some minor remodeling, learned to care for sheep, set up rabbit areas, built an egg and lamb business, built raised beds, improved garden soil, and a million other farmy things. We juggled that list, while I was sidelined for eighteen months and along with our high-stress/long-commute day jobs! This life we love could easily have become an unbearable burden. There was a steady stream of situations during the last couple of years, when as Amy warns, things went sideways and we had to embrace the homesteader’s art of punting!
We made it through this wonderful, fascinating, frustrating, not-quite-overwhelming time by focusing on ‘WHAT HAS TO BE DONE NEXT’. Only, when our feet were solidly under us and we felt grounded, did we add another facet to our gem of a life. This happens to be the summer we added a sparkly blue pool! (I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to keep ‘the pool guy’s money’ in my savings account and to tick off one more skill gained!)
I would never have considered pool maintenance a homestead skill, but for us it is! The pool is here. To let it fall apart would not only be a waste, it would diminish the value of our property. So, we did the research, bought the supplies, and took the plunge. I enjoy the pool so much more, now that it doesn’t cost us a monthly fee! Also, perhaps it’s part of my weird homesteader’s view, but now that we care for the pool I feel like it belongs to us. Before, it felt like we were borrowing it from the pool guy.
All four of my kids are very different. Their strengths and weaknesses sometimes compliment and sometimes clash. However the three ‘kids’ who live on our farm want this life and are passionate about it. So, they turn their skills toward that ideal and they amaze me! I watch them learning from each other and becoming well-rounded adults. Jonah’s caution and courage temper Grace’s brave ‘dive in and get’r done’ personality. Sam’s tendency to go through life cracking eggs with a sledge-hammer is reined in by his sister’s patience and ability to finesse things into place. Sam’s enjoyment of jobs calling for brute force, encourages Jonah to cast off his tentative habits and pound something when it’s called for. Seriously, I think that kid could drive t-posts into concrete!
So, what makes a good homesteader? Independence. Creativity. Passion. Willingness to continually learn, adapt, and face challenges. All of this is part of a love for DOING IT OURSELVES! Oh, and being content in the knowledge that we’re a little crazy! (Okay, maybe a lot crazy!) It takes all these things to make a happy and successful homesteader…and, Amy is right! Homesteaders seriously have to know how to punt!
What do you think makes a great farmer or homesteader? When was the last time you had to punt on your place? Do your kids sometimes make you question the science of genetics?!? Leave me a comment, if you have the time. I love talking to others, who are ‘my kind of crazy’!
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