Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-AF

Our Hobby Farm Adventure

Some seasons of life just pile.

Do you know what I mean?

Like all in one week you stumble across a real estate listing for a hobby farm, you consider taking in a medically fragile infant, you go visit your daughters’ first mom with them and you watch your house go up for sale.

Honestly, I feel a little raw and exposed and vulnerable at the moment, but I’ve learned that’s often the way life goes and it is these seasons where growth happens.

We lean on Him more when we realize the lack of control we operated under all along.

My husband and I have dreamed for years of someday owning a hobby farm.  As our family grew, so did our desire for more space and more opportunities to explore and create.

Our daughters have taken up the cause of this dream passionately and have invested much time and energy advocating, dreaming and planning for this one-day-to-be farm of ours.

Recently my daughter decided she was going to take a look at local real estate listings as she wanted to see how much it really costs to be a grown up and own a home.  This is all part of her recently developing interest and determination to plan, save and understand what her future may look like. (*proud mom moments)

My husband was guiding her through this process and when the list of properties popped up, one of the first ones on the list was…a hobby farm.

Of course, she immediately clicked on the link and as my husband hovered over her shoulder he tried to keep the astonishment from his voice.

Less than 10 minutes from our current home, still technically inside our small town’s limits, almost 10 acres of rolling hills, bush and scrubby pastures…

What was there not to love?

When he showed me the listing later that evening after the children had been tucked into their beds,

I let him know that there was plenty not to love!

Scrolling through the pictures literally made me sick to my stomach.

The property was gorgeous, there was no doubt…

but the house was outdated and cluttered with the excess of a life well lived.

Curled up on my couch in our beautiful, spacious, clean and modern style home I wanted nothing to do with this dilapidated home boasting 70’s style wallpaper and floral linoleum.

I realized just how attached I had become to this beautiful home God had gifted to us just two years prior.

I felt so safe here.

So loved and protected.

It had been our safe haven through a rocky two years, and I was not ready for that to end.

When it was given to us I had felt like it was an affirmation from God that we were seen and that He would provide for all our needs.

This farm felt like a kick in the gut.

Sure, I had dreamed of this kind of opportunity…but as we all know dreams are very different than real life.

I felt like I had just finally caught my breath.

Thankfully, my husband’s vision is much clearer than my own and over the next few days and weeks he nudged and cajoled me towards the dream.

Through his eyes I started to see it…that this really might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

My heart recoiled from the idea of more change and discomfort, but also strained toward the adventure I knew could be ours.

I could stay in my safe little bubble, or I could say yes to adventure and endless opportunities to create and explore.

At only 28 years old, was I really going to hunker down and say this is it?

I agreed to go check it out and we made it a date night, leaving the kids with a babysitter.

The house still gave me the same sinking feeling…but it also erased the doubts I had about there being enough space for us all.

When we got outside and began walking the property, the shades on my limited vision dropped away.

In the magical evening hours, sun sinking low in the sky, the farm lay around us in gentle hills, tall birches and sprawling grasses.  I imagined my children running the lengths of the farmyard and chickens pecking at the dirt outside the small shed.

We ducked through the doors of the old barn and gazed around at broken down horse stalls in the dim light.  The air was thick and musty, carrying me back to my own childhood days on a farm in Wellington County.

We hiked up the barn hill and turned in circles in the empty hayloft, a barn swing soaring in my mind’s eye.

There were falling down little sheds all over the place, hidden piles of wood and tin and opportunity waiting for eager small hands.

By the time we left…I think I knew.

It kept me awake for hours each night for the next week.

I’d wake up in the stillness and lay wide eyed, anxiety laying heavy on my chest as I tried to imagine leaving our home.

This wasn’t the plan!

I imagine He smiled, reaching down to stroke my brow tenderly as He gently, slowly eased the fears away.

Trust me; my plans are always good.

I grasped for something solid in it all.

If you believe what you say you do, you do not need to believe the lie that without this safe, beautiful, comfortable home you will not be happy.

What if the greatest adventure of your lives is staring you in the face and you are too afraid to seize the day?

A few weeks later, after hours and hours of agonizing, dreaming, praying, youtubing and researching…it is officially ours!

To give wings to my faltering faith, our home sold in less than a week with multiple offers coming in.

While at a conference during the week of our home going up for sale, a speaker introduced this acrostic for the word FAITH.

Fantastic

Adventures

In

Trusting

Him.

I smiled as my husband squeezed my hand.

It is sort of cheesy, but it keeps playing around the corners of my mind as we sign papers, take our kids to see their new home and dream up future plans.

Fantastic adventures in trusting Him.

I think God loves to show us pieces of Himself.

I think He must delight in our confusion and amazement at each new revelation of just how omniscient and good He is.

I think He must patiently wait for us as we stand quaking in terror at the tip of each new ledge, awaiting the moment when we finally take the leap and realize He has caught us!

And there, in those moments, when we have been filled with fear, overwhelmed with grief, crushed by anger and sadness or paralyzed with confusion…when those big arms catch us and shore us up…it is then that we learn to trust Him.

It is then that we see just how big he is and how His largeness fills all the voids and covers the distance between our dreams and reality.

It is then that we embrace our not enough for His more than enough.

It is then that we can start to believe that these stories we live are not ours, but His.  One grand, sweeping tale where He plays the main role while our parts come into perspective as merely sidelines to the main plot.

I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.

~AF