It was never my intention to be a single mom farming alone─in fact, I rarely think about my situation that way. Beginning farmer? sure. Female farmer? absolutely. Single white woman farming with 2 kids in tow? Not so much. It was recently pointed out to me on facebook, though, when another page shared Runamuk’s post with this remark: “Think being a single mom prevents one from starting a farm? Think again. This mom shows how it’s done in Maine!” I was startled by their assessment and it’s been nagging at me ever since, so naturally I have to tell a story about it.
Kids Bring Farming to Another Level
Farming is hard under even the best of circumstances, but having kids on the farm brings it to another level. Kids have to have routines, they need to be cared for and fed, educated and molded into responsible citizens with good values and moral principles. I’m happy for the moms out there who have family and friends to help them along their child-rearing journey. I believe that a child should have a village in his or her life; a diverse array of people to learn from and draw a wide-range of experiences from. Unfortunately, I have never had that kind of support in my own child-rearing journey.
When my boys were very young, I was especially isolated and I struggled with it in a big way. I’ve had to learn to juggle my passion for farming with my motherly responsibilities. In fact, trying to farm and be a mom at the same time has been as big a challenge as securing property for Runamuk’s forever-farm was. Bigger, actually─because if I had never developed strategies to make it work for both my children and I, then I wouldn’t have been able to grow Runamuk to the point that I could convince the FSA to help me invest in this property.
I’m that mom…
First, let me explain to you who my children are…
You know those sweet little ones who are polite, clean, good-natured and well-behaved, toddling along behind their mother as they go through the grocery store? Yeah─those aren’t my kids. My kids are the ones who burst into the store already arguing with each other; they’re the ones who race up and down the aisles, bump little old ladies, or stop to scream at the cheese (yes. This really happens…regularly...). I’m that mom, too frazzled to bother taming her hair, who never really seems to have control of her kids.
I don’t really want to control my kids though. That’s not who I am, and that’s not how I parent. I believe that children are individuals just like you or I; they have their own needs, feelings and desires that should be respected. And, they have their own challenges in life too, just like you or I.
The Role Autism Has Played at Runamuk
My eldest son, William, is Autistic. He was diagnosed on the spectrum by the time he was 3: “High-Functioning Autistic”. He’s smart as a whip─reading by the time he was 3─and can remember facts and events like it’s nobody’s business.
William is also a visual thinker, and a bit of a ham. He often reenacts skits from various cartoons, comic strips, books, or movies that he’s seen or read. Check out the first few seconds of these 2 clips to see where screaming at the cheese in the dairy aisle comes from…
William is able to communicate fairly well, but struggles to understand social cues. He gets overwhelmed in social settings, and has such keen hearing that he’s very sensitive to loud or noisy situations. He has some extremely rigid thinking that impedes his daily life. And mine…
It’s hard to say if it’s the Scottish lineage of my ex-husband’s side, or if it’s just William’s nature to be quick to anger, but that’s traditionally been how he copes with his disability. He gets so angry when someone says or does something that doesn’t match up with what he expects or wants it to be, that sometimes he lashes out at the people around him─either verbally or physically.
He also struggles with impulse control, so teaching him that it’s not right to hit, use hurtful language, or reenact inappropriate skits, has been exceedingly challenging.
As a young mother I had an extremely difficult time dealing with society’s judgemental nature. Among the professionals who were supposed to be helping me walk my disabled son through various treatments and therapy programs, I felt judged incompetent because I could not control my son. By the teachers leading the preschool program, I felt inadequate because my son could not sit in circle time without hitting the child next to him. And I especially felt judged by other moms we tried to connect with; rarely were we invited back for a second visit.
It’s hard to say if it was William’s behavior, or my own reclusive nature that got in the way back then. I was insecure, highly sensitive, and overwhelmed. I tried, but I could not control my young son. I could not make him do what they wanted; William only does what he wants.
After BraeTek came along it became extremely difficult to take William on outings by myself─even a trip to the grocery store was an ordeal. I remember one time I had BraeTek in his infant-carrier, strapped atop the grocery cart and I left him there while I chased William 2 aisles away! Mercifully my baby was still there when I returned, heart in my throat, 4yo William tucked under my arm kicking and screaming.
Ups & Downs
As he’s grown older, and especially since my divorce, William and I have had some serious ups and downs in our relationship. He resented me for the divorce. My living situation in the years leading up to the purchase of Runamuk’s farm was rough on the kids. It’s gotten much better since we’ve finally found home, but even now it seems to come and go in waves. Some days William is a happy prankster, re-telling Garfield comic strips. Other days he can be so aggressive, and so difficult for me to remain calm in the face of his raging fury, that I am reduced to sobbing in the bathroom at the end of the day.
That’s why he only stays with me 2 nights each week.
Mother of the Year I am not.
My ex-husband is an excellent father though, and it is a consolation for me to know that William has grown in all areas with his father as his primary care-giver. Meanwhile, BraeTek is at Runamuk 4 nights a week, and seems to be doing well with me as his primary care-giver. Following our divorce, my ex and I have learned to co-parent with the best interests of our children at heart, and I’m grateful for the amiable relationship we now share.
Still, I can’t help but harbor some guilt for the mistakes I’ve made in raising my boys. I can’t help feeling some level of guilt for the fact that I couldn’t give up my farm-dream to put their needs first. And I can’t help feeling guilty that I get overwhelmed by my own son.
Strategies & Attitudes
The boys are 16 and 12 now; looking back on it I can see how I adapted different strategies and attitudes with my children that allowed me to cater to their needs and the needs of Runamuk at the same time.
Eventually I learned to ignore other people’s judgemental attitudes. William looks like a normal 16 year old boy; they don’t realize that he has some serious issues to contend with, and so I forgive them their harsh judgements.
When we are in a store or social situation, I’ve learned to focus solely on William so that I can thwart those impulses of his. And for special events, my ex and I have learned to team up to coax William through.
I’ve learned to plan my week around William’s visit. I don’t work off the farm on those days so that I can supervise William, and I stay within earshot of the house when he is at Runamuk. On days when William’s mood is more volatile, I’ve learned to be flexible enough to drop whatever I’m doing in order to work him through it.
Keeping a good routine with the kids has been imperative, I’ve found, and so I stop farm-work by 4 to cook dinner and spend time as a family.
And I’ve learned to use screen-time to my advantage. They’ll work through a number of chores for the promise of 2 or 3 hours on the internet. And when they get out of line, the screens are the first thing to go.
World’s Okayest Mom
Motherhood is probably the biggest challenge of my life, and as such it is also the biggest source of insecurity in my life. That’s why I was so taken aback by that facebook post: “This mom shows how it’s done!”
Obviously they don’t know me, lol.
If any of the cashiers from the Madison Hannaford supermarket are reading this, I’m sure they’re chortling with laughter right now. They’ve seen my kids (and me) at our worst─unwitting bystanders to this show I call “My Life”.
I’m really not the mom to show anyone how it’s done. Laughingly, I refer to myself as the “World’s Okayest Mom”─not the worst by far, but certainly not the World’s Greatest Mom.
I never gave up though. I’ve given my kids everything I could─emotionally, physically and financially─even while trying to build this crazy farm-dream of mine. I may not always get motherhood right, but I’m always giving it the best I have.
Older now, and more confident in myself, I’ve found a new level of freedom in not caring what anyone thinks of me─or my son. This freedom has allowed me to create a life all my own. It allows me to be wholely and completely myself─quirky, weird and passionate, life-loving me─and there is no one I am more myself with than my children.
You know the mom in the grocery store who is talking and laughing─maybe just a little too boisterously─with her children as they shop? The mom who uses different voices when reading a storybook aloud, who actually gets in the sled with the kids, makes a mud pie, a blanket-fort, or takes up a swash-buckling stick-fight with her son? You know those moms who make ordinary days magic, and holidays extraordinary?
I’m that mom.
Go forth and farm, ladies!
I’m damned proud of how far I’ve come with my children, and the mother that I am. It hasn’t been an easy road, but if it hadn’t been for the experiences I had as a young mother, I surely would not be the person I am today. And yes, I’m proud that I’ve managed to build up this farm even while coping with the struggles of motherhood.
I hope that my story does inspire other women to follow their hearts and lead their own farming-journeys─even with their kids in tow. I hope they look at me and say, “My kids are way better behaved than Sam’s; if she can do it, so can I!” Go forth and farm ladies; the world needs us!
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