I confess to keeping secrets from you, my loyal readers and dedicated followers. This past year at Runamuk has been filled with some big changes for both farm and farmer. I’ve faced down some serious mom-issues, restructured my financial situation, and fallen in love with the man of my dreams. I took a long hiatus from writing, giving that energy to the farm and to my family. Waiting to see how events would play out before I dared validate them, I’ve kept my cards close to my chest. Now, as we slip deeper into the Dark Days of the Year, I am ready to write once more. I’m ready to continue for you the story of my journey as a female farmer in the western mountains of Maine.
This part of the story is about the farmer who is also a mom. These are fairly personal issues and therefore harder to share publicly. Yet, I feel strongly that these are the issues steering the course of a farm─any farm─and things like this need to be acknowledged. Family is at the heart of farming. Ask any farmer why they are willing to work so hard for so little pay, and I’m willing to bet that he or she will tell you they do it for the lifestyle it provides their family. They do it for love. With that in mind, I confess that I’ve faced down some pretty challenging mom-issues this year.
William at 17
Early this past spring, my son William stopped coming to the farm for his regular weekly visits. Now 17, he had long since decided that he no longer needed a mom, he loathed going back and forth between two homes, and he preferred to reside full-time at his father’s. Finally my ex and I capitulated, and I was forced to accept that my baby was grown up and no longer needs his mom.
World’s Okayest Mom
I have long since accepted the title of “World’s Okayest Mom”. No where near the worst mom, but a far cry from the best. I used to think it was me─my own maternal failing. It took another mother to recognize the cards and point out to me that I’d been dealt a particularly challenging hand.
I have 2 sons, William and BraeTek, born 4 years apart. At the age of 3, William was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now 17, William has been reevaluated and labeled level 2-autistic─meaning he needs support to be able to function within normal society.
“Can you tell?”
Someone asked me recently if you could tell by looking at William if he was different, and I said yes. He is a handsome young man now. Tall and slender─like my father was─with the same dark hair. But it’s his mannerisms that set him apart instantly.
On a good day, William can be charming and engaging. He loves to tell stories and be the center of attention. He’s very dramatic, and will wait for just the right opportunity to play out some prank he’s been scheming. William loves to read and research, has an obsession with old comics like Garfield, TinTin, and Foxtrot. Quick-witted and smart, with a memory like an elephant. I love those days.
On a bad day, William can be surly, or grumpy, withdrawing from the world to the sanctity of his bedroom. He has a fairly rigid perception of the world (The World According to William) combined with a significant lack of tolerance and some impulse control issues. Thanks to his everlasting memory, he holds a grudge like no one’s business, and will sometimes fixate on an event or particular conversation from the past. On a really bad day, that combination can cause him to self-combust. He might even work himself into an angry tizzy in which he is a danger to himself, and to those around him.
I admit that I have been a target for William’s wrath for years now, and his resentment toward me seemed to grow with every passing birthday. He resents the bees. He resents the farm. BraeTek is 13 now, and William still resents me for having a second child lol. He resents the divorce. Change is hard for him, and going back and forth between two homes upsets him. Most of the time he is even offended by my unconditional love (but maybe that’s more a teenager thing than an autism thing?).
I could write a full-length book about what it was like raising William and trying to raise a farm at the same time lol. Maybe some day I will…
Suffice it to say that William’s behavior escalated to the point where my ex and I could no longer deny his right to choose where and how he will live. Shortly after his 17th birthday William stopped coming to the farm every week. I was left blaming myself, questioning my priorities and my maternal capabilities.
I wonder─do all mothers and fathers feel that same sense of self-doubt when their children leave the nest? If you have any experiences or sage words of wisdom to share, please feel free to drop a comment below─or shoot me an email if it is too personal for you to share here.
William having fledged the nest was a rough adjustment, for sure. This big old house was a lot quieter with only BraeTek and I in it. Eventually, I worked through my feelings of inadequacy, putting into perspective the challenges that I had faced in raising my children. Though it still pains me, I accept that William is just more comfortable at his father’s. I can pick myself up and carry on, knowing that I have always done the best I could to do right by my children, while still being true to myself and my own dreams.
In the wake of that acceptance, I began to see a new opportunity to focus my maternal energy on my younger son, BraeTek.
Tradeschool for BraeTek
It was a long series of events, actually, that led me to induct my son into “Runamuk’s Tradeschool for Recalcitrant Teens”. BraeTek had been struggling at school for the last couple of years. He was having trouble keeping up in class, had fallen behind in math pretty significantly, and his handwriting was atrocious. He was depressed and lacked confidence, but played it off as indifference.
He railed against what he perceived as injustices against himself or his friends amid the junior-high society, and I was being called into school frequently for one incident or another. In the face of these struggles and the stress of having an autistic brother at home, BraeTek had become resentful─withdrawing into internet media just as so many kids today are inclined to do.
Then he started bragging about being lazy…. My son!
I was aghast. Lazy is the ultimate dirty word in my book. While I feel taking the occasional lazy-day is completely acceptable and sometimes necessary to recharge, lazy as a way of life makes me cringe violently.
Maybe it is the active farmer inside me, or the naturalist closer tied to the land than to society, that cringes when she looks around to see so many people, young and old, lost to the cell-phone void. I see tomorrow’s generation of up and coming bright minds─seemingly with no clue of how to actually do anything. Young people with no motivation or work ethic to accomplish much in life─largely because they are completely and utterly addicted to their screens: tablets, computers, cell-phones, and video game boxes.
Then the covid pandemic set in, and kids everywhere were suddenly home fulltime. Though BraeTek had a few chores, there was so now much time in the day that he was spending hours upon hours in front of a screen─either his phone, a computer, or the TV. That just wasn’t acceptable to this mom.
A Valuable Opportunity
I decided this was a valuable opportunity to instill a sense of work ethic in my son. I offered him $25 a week, or $5 a day, to work for Runamuk Monday through Friday. Still in it’s infancy here in New Portland, the farm cannot afford to hire outside help. It can, however, afford $25 a week for an unskilled, underage apprentice.
BraeTek has always been something of an entrepreneur─motivated by money. At 9 years old, he was selling lemonade at the Madison Farmers’ Market. By 11 he had added homemade dog treats to his stand. Now he leapt at the chance to earn his own money by working for the farm.
Over the course of the summer, I began to see how I might create an education for my son right here on the farm. I had homeschooled my kids before─William til he was 12, and BraeTek til he was 7. There was no reason I couldn’t pick that back up. I’d always enjoyed learning with the kids, exposing them to new things, and sharing my days with them. By the time school started up again this fall, my mind was made up. BraeTek would not be going back to public school.
Acclimating to Working Life
It was a little rough at first, as BraeTek acclimated to working life. He had a new routine, higher expectations, and increased responsibility. The money was great─$25 a week is a lot when you’re 13─but he learned pretty quickly that he would actually have to work for it and that mom has some pretty high standards. Runamuk is growing and gaining financially, but $25 a week adds up to $100 a month, and that is still a lot of money at this stage. As a farmer, I have to be able to justify that expense even if it is my son.
I’m excited, though, to have this opportunity with BraeTek. He needs to be able to work at his own pace, maybe with a little extra support, and a lot more physical activity. I can give that to him right here on the farm. What’s more, looking around at the masses of humanity zombified by their screens, effectively rendered useless to society, I can’t help feeling fairly passionately that learning to work, and developing a strong work ethic is going to be a huge asset for him.
Steered by “Mom”
I know that parenting is never easy, and perhaps letting go is the hardest part of the job. William fledging the nest was certainly a tough adjustment for this mom. Of course I will still see him from time to time, but he’s beyond needing me at this point. BraeTek on the other hand, will need me for at least a few more years, and I have big plans for him. It will be interesting to see the impact this young man will have on the farm─and how much of an impact the farm will have on him.
In truth, Runamuk has always been steered by “Mom”─by the choices this farmer has made as a mom. Afterall, it was for my children that I ever started growing food in the first place. It was our family’s low-income situation that drove me to make my own, to DIY. Learning to bake and cook from scratch allowed me to stretch our grocery budget so that we could eat better. Now that we have settled in New Portland and the farm is really growing, I can’t wait to see how my children will steer Runamuk through the next phase of it’s journey.
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