Wednesday, December 28, 2011


On the outside, it was a fairly idyllic childhood.
Seventeen acres in the middle of the woods, our three bedroom double wide trailer plopped on a manmade knoll on the hill.  A large garden, swings and a playhouse my dad built himself, trees to climb on, forests to explore, a million white cloth diapers swinging in the wind.  There were six of us by then, all girls.  I remember being outside a lot in the summer; reading on my bed in the winter as wind and snow swirled around us(it being upstate New York, after all).  Idyllic?  To everyone who didn't live there, sure.

But paradise, by its very nature, doesn't really exist.

The truth is, I have no intention of talking much about my childhood on this blog.  We were borderline patriarchal, I suppose.  Lots of kids.  Homeschooled.  My mom subscribed to all the "right" magazines, they flirted with family integrated church, we didn't have a whole lot of socialization in my younger years.  They had a lot of friends in ATI, though my parents never bought into all that Gothard said.  Looking back I can see some of the influences--they thought all rock music, even Christian rock, was satanic for a while, though they gave that up at some point.   They were influenced by a lot of people, a lot of good friends, who, looking back, were terribly, terribly afraid of the outside world.

(By the way, I also have no intention of judging my parents, especially my mother.  I love being a mother and a wife, but I have no idea if I would still be a good mother if I had six children eleven years old and under, being a stay-at-home-mom in a cramped trailer in the middle of nowhere with very little money and a husband who worked long hours.  I suspect the stress would get to me, and my children would not remember me as a very happy person or as a decent mother. Fortunately, this is not a scenario I see happening.)

But I bring this all up today because, looking back, I see how terribly influenced my parents were by the magazines they read, the friends they had, the choices those friends make.  And the root cause of all of those choices was fear.  Fear of the big, bad world outside. Fear of corrupting influences. Fear of public school, of pantyhose on little girls instead of thick white tights, fear of the slippery slope that Christian rock or age-segregated Sunday School might bring.  Who knows what your children might be taught by dedicated Sunday School teachers, or worse, what the public schooled children--who are not as innocent as your kids, most assuredly--might whisper to them?  The best way to avoid this is to have family Sunday school, where the parents and all their kids, regardless of age, learn together.  Or better yet, just skip Sunday School altogether, after all, it's never mentioned in the Bible.  As fear took a deeper hold, the movement towards homechurching started...just stay home! Dad is the priest of the home; he can teach his wife and children all about God.  Who needs church? Who needs ministers?  Who needs the corrupting influences those worldly(meaning: anyone who is not like us) Christians in church bring?  Stay home! Stay safe!

I saw so many families get strangled by fear.  Keeping their children by their side all the time. Rarely leaving home. Associating only with those who believed exactly the same way.  Afraid of...afraid of everything. 

But Christianity has never, ever been about safety.
And they skipped over 1 John 4 completely, where the apostle teaches that Christians have nothing to fear from the world.  That "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
They missed that.  Instead, fear crept in.  Wrapped its long tentacles around their lives, choking them, while all the time they thought they were living the only Godly lifestyle.  Meanwhile, their kids saw it for what it was, and walked away.

Because they were afraid of...of what?
Of the outside world. Of the unknown. Of not being able to control their children's every action, thought, choice.  Of the fear that their children might, possibly, make a wrong choice.  And instead of teaching their children about making good decisions and giving them many opportunities to practice, they never let their children make choices at all. 

Fear is a destroyer.  It destroys lives and families.
We are not called to be safe.  We do not need to be afraid of the world out there.  Parts of it are scary, yes, and bad things happen.  I know this; I'm not naive.  But I make the choice, every day, to step out of my house, my son by my side, and face the good and the bad and the ugly.

We need to teach our children right and wrong, good choices and bad choices, and then step back, hard as it is, and let them fly.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homesteading Movement

I stumbled across this blog the other day while looking for something Broken Flowers Of the Catholic Homesteading Movement

It took me a few minutes to realize why some of it sounded so familiar, and then realized that the homestead was less than an hour away from where I grew up.  It's highly likely that somewhere I heard about it, especially the billboard they speak of.  For those unfamiliar with the homesteading movement, the idea was basically to live as close to Little House On the Prairie as possible.  We knew families who sold everything and bought as much land as they could with the proceeds, and lived in campers/barns/tents/makeshift buildings as they constructed a house debt free from the timber on the land.  They usually had animals, large gardens, fruit trees eventually, and lived off the grid.  My dad still subscribes to "Backwoods Home Magazine," which is one the bibles of this movement, though it advocates living off the grid for secular reasons.  The families we knew who fell into this craziness lifestyle usually were doing it for religiously based reasons: they believed the Bible instructed fathers to be the head of the household, raising their children(and if you are working a 9-5 job five days a week, it was reasoned, Mommy was the head of the household most of the time, and that just wouldn't do) and having a family run business or agricultural lifestyle, so that Dad could be in charge All The Time. Mom was in charge of (a) obeying Dad, (b) canning/sewing/gardening/cooking on whatever she had to cook with/not spending any money etc.  As much as possible was to be homegrown and homemade.  Children were invariably homeschooled, such as school was, and the harshness of the lifestyle often left these families struggling to survive, relying on the children to work as hard as the parents, and education often suffered.  Money was too tight to buy new textbooks or curriculum, and there was a lot of emphasis on practical skills.  The families we knew often homechurched, as well, and the kids were not involved in any extracurricular activities.  It was a very secluded, claustrophobic, family-only lifestyle.

I only wish I was exagerrating.

We are adults now.  I am not in touch with many of the people I knew, but sometimes through the grapevine I hear stories.  Stories of adult children of this movement who found that their limited education was difficult to overcome out in the real world.  Stories of anxiety disorders.  Stories of women--strong, capable women--trying to discover who they really are.  Stories of adults who may be able to cook over an open fire, build a house of trees they cut themselves, raise chickens and raise many little children, but who struggle with daily life and social skills.
It's not a pretty picture.

I find I want to talk about this movement.  Though my family lived in the middle of nowhere for several years, cramming a lot of children into a trailer, homeschooling and subsisting from paycheck to paycheck with only one vehicle, my parents never bought into the homesteading movement.  They were frugal and tried to be a self-sustaining as possible, but we were not sheltered, overworked, and education was a top priority.  It is still very different from how I am raising my children, but I was never once told that women couldn't pursue higher education or work, and my parents have never expected any of us to have large families(though my mother would never turn down grandchildren).  But I knew families for whom this wasn't true, and for those children of fifteen years ago, I want to examine this over the next couple weeks.