3

Story so far…

 We’ve done five weeks of WWOOFing, nearly seven weeks away from the house and totted up over 400 miles so far so we’ve been chatting about how we’re finding it. I think we’ve all hit a wall here and there, had moments of loving it and moments of wanting to click our fingers and make it stop. We’ve all learnt loads and made an excellent start to achieving some of our list of aims and objectives for the adventure.

We have had a pretty diverse mix of host in just the first three – slept in a tent, in Willow and in a cottage. We’ve had time living communally, time left to our own devices and times spent mixing the two. Work has been varied, expectations have been different and we have met the biggest mix of people from the most amazing variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Unexpected advantages have been Ady and I enjoying working together so much, I miss the kids being off doing their own thing so much but I don’t remember the last time Ady and I had so much child-free time together, even if we are technically working. Not having as much time with the children as usual for me has been tough, in our previous life we were together most days, all day, often doing our own thing around the house or garden it’s true but always with time cuddled up together watching half an hour of TV, reading a book, chatting about something or finding out answers to their questions together. I’ve missed that and they tell me they have too, I’m keen to find time to make sure that has been a temporary blip rather than a long term casualty of the year. We are definitely on the way to a fitter and healthier lifestyle – again this past two weeks have been a slight blip but even so we are eating and drinking far less and spending far more time outside, being active. I think regular swims and walks more than made up for the less physical work anyway.

We’ve learnt lots about nature – we’ve seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, otter, deer and various other wildlife, spent time with dogs, pigs, chickens, sheep, ponies, goats as farm animals and learnt about feeding and keeping them. We’ve sampled local delights including eggs and sausages from places we’ve stayed, local wine, cider, beer, cheese, ice cream, butter and so on. We’ve experienced an extreme off grid lifestyle, done tent dwelling in heavy frosts, lived in the van without hook up, seen some beautiful sights, some stunning scenery and above all met some amazing, inspirational and interesting people.

It’s been a fabulous start to our adventure, everything we hoped for and more really. We’re starting to anticipate what might be potential issues and discuss how we will deal with them as and when they might arise, getting a real flavour of what our year might bring at the same time learning that unexpected twists and turns to our careful planning are around every corner, along with new opportunities and unforeseen offers. We need to be flexible, subject to change and ready to roll with whatever comes along. These are great lessons to learn, a fab code for living and teaching all four of us so much about ourselves, each other and all the other people we meet.

Dragon:
I was expecting to only stay on farms, I was expecting to stick to our planned hosts rather than get invited to stay with people we only just met. I thought living in Willow would have been harder than it is. I’m not missing electricity as much as I thought I would, not missing a real bed, I probably sleep better in Willow than my bed at home. I’m having lots of fun, I feel healthier and think I sleep better. Before we left I thought I’d miss our house so much but I don’t miss it at all. I am missing friends who live near us – Toby, Archie, Eliot, Jack, Maisie & Lorna and Granny & Grandad. I am missing friends who are far away but can’t wait to see them while we’re travelling. I love the fact that before we go to each host I am never sure what they will be like or what that part of the country will be like and so every time it is new and exciting, not like at home when all our days out were to places we had been before.

Star:
I was expecting us to have to work or we wouldn’t get fed and there to be lots of rules and do as we were told even if we didn’t know how to but it hasn’t been like that at all. I really miss the chickens, ducks and our house but I am loving the freedom to run around, play in woods, going for adventures with dogs, goats. I like living in Willow because I like the fact everything is all here like our beds and the sofa. I like spending more time with Mummy and Daddy.

Ady:
So far I am finding the adventure far easier than I thought I would. Living in the van, travelling in the van and the work were all things I was worrying about but so far they have all gone really smoothly and far easier than I expected. The variety of people we are meeting, the generosity of people we meet is overwhelming and I never realised people could be so kind. I struggle with moving on from place to place, I get really at home and find it hard to say goodbye and move on. I like the work, being physical and outdoors.

7

New normals

I remember sitting up at 4am with a newborn Dragon, over ten years ago now. I’d been in a proper full time career type job before I had him. I was a Manager and people did what I asked, when I asked them. I wore grown up clothes to work and talked to people in joined up conversations rather than that motherese way of talking we have when addressing babies. I’d never even really held a baby before Dragon, certainly never changed a nappy or been in sole charge of one so I was grabbing all the information I could from books, from parenting magazines, from the ante-natal classes we’d been to and from the other mothers each week at baby clinic with babies a bit older than mine. In my head I had this idea that there would be a sudden magic change at a certain magic date when everything would return to ‘normal’. When sleep would happen in one whole block at night again, when food could be eaten without a child jiggled on my lap, when tea could be drunk while still hot. I clung to this idea of ‘getting back to normal’ for a few weeks, pestering anyone who had already had a child about what age they slept through, didn’t cry for no apparent reason and allowed you to resume your life as a person in your own right. I realised, during one of those 4am moments, sat gazing down at him in his cot, stroking his cheek and listening to the tinkly Winne the Pooh song his mobile played that things had already become normal. The New Normal. What needed to change was me and my attitude towards life, not life itself.

It was a powerful moment and one which made me shake up and change some of my approaches to parenthood and life in general I guess. I let go of a lot of the parenting manual and magazine mentalities and dictats. I learnt to trust my own instincts and ideas, to listen to my son rather than the world around us and by the time I had Star two years later I was almost an old hand in adjusting my view and our life to suit what was happening in it rather than trying to make it fit my view. It’s a skill that I think all four of us have in varying degrees, Dragon, Star and I perhaps slightly more so than Ady but he’s learning and whilst his adaptation may be slower with a little more hiccups and clinging to old routines than ours it is one of the things he has said he hopes to get out of this year.

We knew when we started planning this year that there would be the things we could anticipate in advance would be testing and challenging and then there would be things that cropped up along the way and just tested our ability to cope with curve balls and living in the moment. Lots of people voiced concerns about how we would cope living in such a confined space. We’re a week in now and this is probably the most intense period of living in the van we will have to deal with as we are cooking, eating, sleeping and full-time living in the van. When we are with WWOOF hosts we will probably only actually return to the van to sleep. So far we’re doing fine, the dynamic has shifted and all four of us are equal partners in making things work. So far we have all made each other laugh, given comfort, shown compassion and empathy for each other. We’e also all shouted, been grumpy, felt fed up or hankered after home, got cross with one, two or all three of the others and been tested, challenged and learnt stuff.

Yesterday Star told me stuff I didn’t know about squirrels, Ady told Dragon more stuff he didn’t know about squirrels, we all learnt about spirit levels thanks to a random question and an answer provided by google, we all walked slightly further carrying heavier stuff than we’d have chosen, Star and I had a fascinating conversation about plastic surgery and body image, we all watched a film together and shared a dinner that none of us would have chosen as a favourite but all enjoyed nonetheless. We’re getting used to moving things around the various spaces in the van depending on whether it is being a kitchen, a lounge, a  bedroom or a vehicle. Currently I am sat in the van writing this, Ady is doing the washing up, Dragon and Star are out playing in the sunshine in the field next to the campsite, so there is more than a shred of our ‘old normal’ still very much in evidence too.

I don’t know what next week will hold- our first WWOOF hosts where we are due to sleep in a tent, what next month willl hold, as we ask Willow to get us another 100 miles or so along the route and I’ve no idea what next year will hold when our adventure is complete and we have to decide what happens next. But I know that living in this moment seems to be suiting us all pretty well and as Ady has just come back from the washing up room, I can hear the kids laughter calling me and the sun is shining I’m off to share the next moment and probably the one after that with the rest of the Wanderers.

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