Almost Fearless

Homesteaders Turn Suburban

When my husband and I were married at the ripe old age of 23, we had big plans. We knew exactly what we wanted and we immediately started taking steps to achieve our goal. It wasn’t a 3 bedroom 2 bath cul-de-sac home, it wasn’t a minivan and soccer practices, it wasn’t even major financial security.

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It was freedom.

We wanted to live on our own terms, not shackled to a 9-5 job, or dependent on others for our basic necessities. We wanted to grow, harvest, store, and save our way to self-sufficiency. In our dreams, the future was idyllic. A working homestead, pastures and barns, animals, gardens, off grid and self-sufficient. Growing and making the things we needed or just doing without, dependent only on ourselves.

We looked around and saw our friends and colleagues having children and moving on to new stages of their lives, chasing what they’d been told was the American Dream, following the rules and climbing that imaginary ladder, and while we outwardly congratulated them, we shook our heads and clucked our tongues and looked at each other knowingly.

We felt like we knew the secret.

We were so confident in our decision to remain childless and live as close to off the grid as we could, we began investigating the possibility of me having a tubal ligation. I spoke with several doctors about the procedure and every one of them advised against it. I was 25.

Over the next several years, we made progress on our dream. We started by moving to the country, planting a garden, and buying some baby chicks at the flea market. We were so new, so uneducated, such neophytes, that our chickens were 5 months old before we realized that 4 of 5 of them were roosters. But we tried and we learned and we read. We studied rural and traditional skills books like, like The Foxfire Books, like we were being tested on them, learning to make things merely with our own two hands.

In 2010, we bought property in a remote community on top of a mountain an hour north of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The southern Appalachians held the promise of the freedom we had been searching for. The ancient stone sang to my soul and the wind through the hickories whispered of home and place and history. I fell in love with Tennessee.

We doubled down on our commitment to our homestead, and got to work.

By the end of the first year, we had a flock of multicolored chickens running free on our property and more eggs than we could ever eat by ourselves. We had a small herd of dairy goats to milk, huge water storage tanks that our shallow, muddy well struggled to fill,and we had an earth-bermed cabin complete with a pantry that doubled as a cellar. e were feeling good.

I went to town, a 45-minute drive down winding mountain roads, once every 10 days to buy food and run errands. In the winter, when the roads were icy and our dirt road impassable, it wasn’t unusual for us to not see another person for as long as two weeks.

But just after my 33rd birthday, the biological imperative of children hit me hard and all my long held beliefs about children and family drifted away in a hormone-fueled fog. Just like that, I wanted a baby. My husband, skeptical at first, agreed and I was soon pregnant.

We dreamed of a little mountain boy, running through the woods, splashing in the creek behind our house, bringing home pockets full of treasures in his mud-stained pants: smiling, dirty and exhausted. But after a mess of events and  only three years on the mountain, we had to move. Start over.  The economy was on the comeback trail, but not yet healed from the recession, and we moved several times before we were able to settle down again.

Before we knew it our son was 2 and we were trying for second baby. We still wanted our simple lifestyle — living in the country, raising our own food — so we bought a house with a pasture and barn, and started over.

Only this time, something had changed. The fire had dimmed. Not only were we much older, but we had a toddler and then a newborn, and our focus was on them. Our animals became more of a burden than an opportunity, and my garden went to weeds. Doing the farm chores became something we dreaded and the 35 minute drive to town became an almost daily occurrence as I tried to get my kids to playdates and various other activities.

The baby might have eaten a couple sticks of chalk but they kept him happy and entertained for a solid 45 minutes while I made dinner so I'm going to go ahead and count this one as a success! • • #dearest_viewfinder #siblinghoodlove #thegallerycollective #moc_054 #ourweekendstories #candidchildhood #runwildmychild #letthemexplore #let_there_be_delight #count_itjoy #theheartcaptured #thesweetlifeunscripted #kidsforreal #mymagicalmoments#momswithcameras #wildandbravelittles #littlepiecesofchildhood #childhoodunplugged#scenesnotscreens #childrenseemagic #pixel_kids #dearphotographer #documentyourdays #ourweekendstories #theartofchildhood#memoirsofmotherhood #thesugarjar #thehonestlens#theeverydayportrait#mh_challenge226#ig_motherhood

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It was exhausting and no one thrived. Not my kids, not me, not our animals. I became withdrawn, interacting with other moms mainly through social media, trying and failing to start moms groups and playgroups in the closest town, becoming more and more isolated. As our kids got older it became more and more important to us that they have regular playmates — genuine friends — not just other kids we’d randomly see at the library or the park every once in awhile.

So, now, just after my 40th birthday, my family of four is planning another move. We are buying a house in the suburbs. Close to the library and the grocery store and parks and friends for our boys. Close to traffic and people. Neighbors. This will be the first time in ten years that we will have neighbors whose homes we can see from our windows. The first time we’ve had sidewalks for our kids to ride their bikes on, the first time we’ve had a neighborhood pool, or a neighborhood at all. But it’s not a failure. I didn’t give up on my dream. The dream just changed.

We realized that living the dream of our 25 year old selves at 40 was not only not what we wanted, but not what we needed for our family to truly thrive:  Time to spend with one another instead of on farm chores, to not constantly bear the burden of responsibility for a host of animals, to not face the added financial expense of rural life, to have neighbors with kids so our boys could play, sidewalks so they could ride bikes, libraries and parks close enough to visit on a whim.

Like our family, our dream had evolved, become something not just for us, but for our kids.  I even have a minivan now.

And I freaking love it.

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Kristi Pahr

Kristi is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction and a habit of swearing and laughing inappropriately. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

6 comments

  • Thank you so much for writing this piece! There is so much value in what you taught in these several hundred words. I think, too often, that even when people get shaken out of the stupor of pursuing the American Dream, our impulse is to go as far the other direction as we possibly can. I know I jokingly threatened my wife with moving to a cabin in the woods for several years before I realized that wasn’t ACTUALLY what I wanted. It’s all about moderation and intentional pursuit of what’s truly meaningful to us, and being strong enough to know that what that is can change appearances over time. Great article. Thank you for this!

  • Such truth. My family of four moved into a new neighborhood a few months ago. We’d resisted it for years, no character, too dense, no history… Now I wouldn’t trade it- open space, tons of neighbor kids to play with, a new energy efficient home where nothing’s breaking or in need of renovation, friendly neighbors, a short walk to work, wide sidewalks… Between two kids and two careers, time is our scarcest resource. Homesteading is romantic sounding, but I don’t want to spend my little free time tending crops or animals. We split a CSA share with neighbors, support some young local farmers, and can share a glass of wine with them while we divy up the veggies each week.

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