I’ve been re-reading some of the early posts on this blog, way back a different life ago. Back when we lived in a house and were caught up in the frantic preparation for this year, facing uncertainty about how it would go, trying to second guess the tough bits. I was looking at the post where I invited questions and was smiling to read our responses to Ali’s rather excellent question about what we thought we’d find hard. It’s reallyb interesting now living it and seeing what is and isn’t actually hard – so far.
All four of us have had the odd moment, hour or sometimes even day when it’s been tough, we’ve talked about some of our ‘bads’ on individual posts. Sometimes it’s simply being tired, not well or simply under the weather, sometimes it is friction between two or more of us – we’re close as a foursome and as individuals but living with anyone is tough, living in a confined space with little or no time apart brings a fair bit of pressure. I’m really pleased to be able to say hand on heart that so far this is all panning out as well, or even better than we expected. Many of the issues we anticipated have not proved to be problems at all, constant communication and giving everyone an equal voice and paying heed to each others moans and gripes is definitely the key to staying sane and happy (in life, not just WWOOFing in a campervan!), getting stuff off our chests keeps a healthy atmosphere between the four of us – Star and I are particularly good at this!
But I want this to be an honest account of the tough times, the rough alongside the smooth, the downsides of the whole adventure – even if as a good friend of mine would tell you I am prone to turn those downsides into a fun slide and get everyone to put their hands in the air and yell to go faster! His words to me of ‘I hope you have a fantastic year, and even if you don’t I know you will!’ ring in my ears at least once a week as I shovel pig poo and find a silver lining somewhere.
So, what are we finding tough then? Saying goodbye to hosts is always a hard day, we’ve not left anywhere yet that we haven’t parted with hugs, true warm wishes and invitations to come back any time. Everyone we have met has been lovely – interesting, friendly, welcomming, kind to us and accepting of the children, enthusiastic about both our year long adventure and our plans for the future, happy to share their homes and their skills with us. Each time we drive away we feel slightly mad – this year has a lot of goodbyes in it. Coupled with those goodbyes is the uncertainty of heading towards the next host – a whole new group of people to meet, a new location, new house rules and things to learn. I said in an earlier post how much I was looking forward to meeting new people, learning about them and making friends but I sort of forgot in my excitement about learning more about them and their stories how they would be equally curious about us and ours. I also forget that we are doing something fairly big and interesting too and as such people want to hear our story. In the last two months I have reeled off my life CV about 50 times – my career history, how Ady and I met, why we decided to Home Educate, how that works, where we’re from, why we’re doing this, what we want to get out of it. To my own ears it’s an old story, particularly when there are so many questions I want to be asking myself. In the same way as Home Education is not a quick one sentence explanation neither is what we are doing this year so I find myself talking a lot when I was expecting to be doing a lot more listening.
Another aspect of this lifestyle is feeling ‘on show’ a lot. We are always guests, always in someone else’s home, eating at someone else’s table. Everyone has been very hospitable and made us feel totally at home but I am still conscious of keeping up appearances; children’s table manners, hoping we are not asking to use the washing machine too often, that we don’t use too much ketchup, or milk, that we make a good impression, work hard enough, don’t ask too many stupid questions. It’s the first week or two of a brand new job every single week, it’s meeting your boyfriends parents for the first time at every mealtime, it’s not being able to sit in your pants and pick your nose while eating peanut butter out of the jar infront of crap TV. Fortunately Ady is someone you can take anywhere and by virtue of his cheery disposition, friendly manner and willingness to do all the washing up and run the hoover round he wins people over fairly quickly. Dragon and Star are charming, nice kids who I am proud of and have also been a credit to themselves everywhere we’ve been and I manage to trail along in their wake with a bit of cleavage appeal where necessary to mop up anyone who has not already been impressed with us!
We are definitely missing friends, ‘our people’, those we know well enough to have in jokes with, shared history and all of those initial fact finding conversations already over and out of the way. Dragon and Star are missing playmates other than each other . We’re missing downtime, lazy days sitting around, baths that last for two hours and you keep topping up with more hot water, a choice of clothes wider than a stacking crate of five outfits each.
What we’re not missing is a way longer list mind you. Not missing work – work colleagues most definitely, although we’re both still in touch with work mates. ‘Monday morning’ is a thing of the past, work now has a point; animals need feeding, grass needs mowing, sausages need making to sell at market, cows need milking, veg needs planting all so the world keeps turning. Working outside is wonderful; we all look more healthy and are back in touch with the season changing, the day starting and ending, the sun rising and setting, the weather changing rather than telling the time by what is on TV. I’m not missing ‘stuff’, sure Willow is small and it can be hard shuffling the space around each day to create a sofa, a bed, a kitchen but we have everything we need and no one is suffering. I don’t miss bills – seeing the far smaller income we have each month sit in our bank account rather than all go straight back out again the day after it comes in on gas, electric, sky tv, phone bills, council tax, water rates, car insurance, house insurance, broadband internet is very heartening. It makes me question just who and what we were working for really.
I don’t miss the constrictions of our previous life, the ‘I’d lke to but I can’t’ ness of what we had before, always barriers to what we’d rather be doing, always reasons why we couldn’t do what we really wanted. If this experience has taught us anything it is that anything is possible, it will be okay, we can do what we want and what makes us happy and it will work out, there are sacrifices and compromises and sometimes they are bigger and scarier than we would like them to be but if they are not worth it you can change your mind and look again at what is worth it. I think we have generally had a positive attitude towards life anyway but this adventure is proving to us that stripping everything away and starting again, working up from the very basics to decide just what you do want and need in life is a really useful exercise because it’s all too easy to view things as essential only to discover when you don’t have them anymore you didn’t need them after all.