It should have been impossible. Or at the very least, a ridiculous gong-show.
But it was the best time of our lives…
This summer I took my 4 kids WWOOFING — working on farms for our food and board. We worked 6 different farms for a total of 18 days instead of staying locked down in the city.
How did we do it?
“With gristle and grit and a whole lot of wit”…and a sprinkle of Mary Poppins magic.
Screen-free. Long days. Rain, bugs, aching bodies and endless chores. 150 metres from the camper to the nearest outhouse….with a 3 year old!
I want to share the tips and tricks I used to fuel our epic marathon work-bee adventure with joy!
We’ll explore the sweet spot of this [work+play] phenomenon.
For little people and us too!
As for the all important WHY we did it…
I’ve written that up as a separate post: Not Locked Down on the Inside.
It’s a deep and hearty read, very relevant to these covid times, and if that’s where your mood is, just jump on over to that story first and bookmark this one for later.
But if a practical guide to keeping kids busy or on task is right up your alley, then read on!
Nolan was almost 4 when we set out on our farming adventure, and he was for sure my biggest question mark.
How the heck would I keep the little hooligan from (a) whining and pestering me (b) making me useless (c) hurting himself or (d) ruining the whole trip?
One thing I know about kids: they need “a story to live into.”
New lands to conquer!
Context determines purpose; or as my Waldorf mentor used to say, “setting determines story.”
It is not only adults who perish for lack of vision. Kids need to feel like they are a part of something bigger, making a difference.
WWOOFING brought us all back to life in a really BIG way!
I’ve always been good at leading with joy, sweeping the kids up in my wake. I call it the ‘mama duck’ effect; as I waddle forth, flapping my wings with wild and authentic enthusiasm, they cannot help but follow 🙂
Parenthood is leadership and kids grow by osmosis as they swim in what we ARE.
So it turns out misbehaviour wasn’t a problem.
The little guy’s synapses were exploding in all good ways as he found his identity nicely refreshed. He was a robust little farm boy in a big, new world now!
I find that behaviours tend to flare up when kids outgrow their old selves. It may seem like boredom and acting out, but it’s often just the atrophy and stagnation of a life that isn’t keeping step with their evolving capacities!
While we’re still trying to interact with the old them, they’re in a tension, a sort of identity crisis, and they start bubbling and brewing all sorts of ugliness.
Their emerging wholeness needs context: a place to stretch out, experiment, and rub up against life!
I know because I am the exact same way.
If I don’t get to grow and explore and experiment I get really grumpy!
I have this little philosophy called “Less and Not Yet” which is all about crushing entitlement. It’s about keeping the threshold of kids’ expectations nice and low by purposefully slowing down the pace and amount of big thrills in their early years.
I couldn’t help but feel the fruit of that low bar on a trip like this. Cocooned together, all 5 squeezed into one little bedroom or cabin or camper van, absolutely loving it because we’ve never camped out in an RV before!
In keeping with this motto and staying true to my ‘ramshackle’ way, I only packed a few simple “things to do.”
These few things saw Nolan through 2000 kilometres of travel AND kept him occupied between the rows while we worked.
Luckily I had underestimated just how captivating the glory of farm life would be!
The novelty of tractors and animals, the lure of the wild, and most wonderful of all: the thrill of real work.
Yup, I underestimated all four of my children’s capacity to really, really WORK. Don’t we tend to do that — sell them short of their potential when it comes to hard and/or dangerous things?
If you know me, you know — I’m all about deep, wide, glorious, spacious, unadulterated, free Play.
I refer to Play as the “sovereign category,” and more often than not I capitalize it.
Because it’s just that holy.
But after this trip I felt like “Work was the new Play!” It was a revelation!
We tend to think there’s pretend work, which is just play, and then actual work, which is boring.
But what if both work and play are meant to feel fulfilling and satisfying…..our whole lives long?!
Boy was I delirious with joy up to my elbows in mud, knowing that we were making a vital difference.
It was all glowing accomplishment; row upon row of triumph!
Both thumbs turned green and you better believe black dirt is my immunity-booster of choice!
Yup, I was geeking out on the glory of work in a big way!
Sometimes the victory was as simple as teaching Nolan NOT to step on the crops.
But I’d like to share one really great example of how this pretend/actual work + play thing can go…
One of our first real tasks was to harvest rhubarb.
Cut the ends off, pile it up, wash it, then slice it into small chunks.
The big kids mastered their paring knives quickly and, of course, Nolan threw a fit about wanting one too.
This is where Mary Poppins chimes in!
I made a little ‘playworker’ suggestion:
“Your job is to pile up the leaves up into big salads.” I didn’t say “how about” or “let’s pretend.” I let the suggestion carry a weighty sense of importance and real contribution.
And boy did he run with it! The rhubarb nibs became croutons and soon dozens of piles of leafy tops were towering on every stump and pail.
It was fruitful labour. Something that actually needed to be done. And something he could conquer with his whole heart.
It became one of my greatest joys to see this little fella work with all his might.
Other days there were important daisies to pick. Ingredients to gather, like clover and dandelions. Or weeds to pull at the far edge, where it wouldn’t matter if he confused the shades of green.
And electric fences to navigate! Those were great teachers.
What a way to grow in body awareness and motor skills 🙂
Wonderful potions and soups were made with flowers and sawdust as we borrowed a few extra dishes from the farm.
Big weeding missions meant hours and hours in the middle of a field, often with either blazing sun or drizzling rain, and lots of mosquitoes.
So I’d bring lots and lots of slow-to-eat-snacks like pistachios.
Water, umbrella, blanket, colouring book, and a surprise thing or two for tinkering with:
Sometimes the big kids took turns being with Nolan.
Which was a nice break from the weeding!
Friends were made and glorious meals and adventures were had!
There was face painting, climbing walls, ball pits, river swims, trampolines, bon-fires, soccer games, foosball…
It turned out to be a pretty fun summer after all.
Here’s a 3 minute video of our incredible time on the farms. I hope you’ll be inspired!