Back Home Again

It’s been four years since I left the stay-at-home-parent and full-time-homesteader life to go back to school and pursue a graduate degree in English. In those four years, I’ve gained a degree and a dream job. In those four years we’ve also lost family members, jobs, friends, and possessions, and, I think the most gut-wrenching of all, time. Pursuing a dream isn’t easy. It’s even less so when you hope to hold onto other dreams along with it. We live in a world that favors multi-tasking but diminishes multiplicity–each of us are so often defined to ourselves and others as one thing, even if that one thing switches situationally. We are always one thing first over the others in any context, and when we try to carry-in the remaining pieces and parts of ourselves, it complicates everything. I, for the last four years, have felt myself first split into exhausting buckets: mother, wife, graduate student, boss, teacher, friend, mentor, former chef, (former?) homesteader, former stay-at-home-parent. . .

When I became a stranger to myself, I tried to pour the buckets all back together again. I am always a mother-wife-graduate student-boss-teacher-friend-mentor-former chef-wannabe wishful homesteader-former stay-at-home-parent. I am all of these things at once, in every situation, in every relationship; and that makes everything harder, even while it feels more authentic and therefore easier to maintain. Everything feels like a priority when we mash all of our identities together. Everything feels urgent, important, and pressing. I once described myself as a spinner in a board game, constantly moving between endless turns played between all of my identities, forcing one hand to cook a meal, while the other responded to an email, while one eye read homework, and the other tended a sick child.

One year ago today I was on Spring Break and finishing up my thesis, convinced I was close to the finish line and that soon life would be so much easier once I shoved graduate school off my proverbial board game. I was very wrong. My thesis would drag-on into July (and I’ve subsequently not written much since, which is why I’m re-starting my blog). Also, one year ago today, my husband was still reeling from the sudden and tragic loss of a parent, grieving deeply. My husband’s grief was best described as a journey. Like any process, it’s recursive. One doesn’t neatly move through those 5 stages in a linear fashion and then “graduate” to acceptance. Grief and writing a thesis seem to be totally different things, and yet the underlying process to both was, put simply, a mess.

Sometimes our messes interfered with one another. In this mess, a few days before my birthday, mother’s day, and my graduation ceremony, my husband lost his job. I think it was the grief that did it, and a very non-understanding boss. We were to the imagined finish line; I was about to win the present board game and wave “buh-bye” to one whole bucket of identity, making life simpler, easier, “back to normal,” and it all slipped through our fingers all at once.

Normal. Once upon a time I had relished tending our large garden, our flock of chickens, and our children. I wrote regularly and with great joy on a blog that detailed our lives, punctuated by recipes for from-scratch goodies. Eventually we worked-up to selling our homestead products at a local farmer’s market and nationally-recognized farm store and restaurant. And then we stopped. I opted to return to school, imagining myself earning an income that could alleviate some of the stress and strain on our household. It was a good plan, and despite all of the hardship along the way, I still believe it was the right decision.

But, like so many right decisions, it wasn’t easy. We’ve been through a lot–more that I’m sure I’ll touch-on here in time–but we’ve also gained so very much. My husband is pursuing his dream right now, inspired by my pursuit of mine these past years and ignited in passion by his grief. He’s pushing himself to his limits to own and operate his own makerspace, igniting a movement of making and community-building in our little corner of the world. I’m so proud of him. I’m invested in my job. As the Assistant Director of the writing center at a local public university, every day I get to go in to work is a day I get to connect with people and make a difference. We’re both happy, invested, working-parents, with two active, amazing children, and, as I’m sure most parents can relate, life has been . . . hectic. . . that doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word to use here, but I’m coming up short on synonyms so we’ll go with it.

Which leads me to here. Why am I here, on a blog–again–writing if I’m so busy? Well, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic. My university has canceled all face-to-face classes, so the writing center is fully online. My children’s schools have canceled all face-to-face classes, as well, so they’re home attending fully-online school. It’s like I woke-up one day and everything had re-set to four years ago, except I still get to have a job I love and get paid to do it. I want to recognize our extreme privilege right now in that. So many people right now are losing jobs and income-sources as a result of the pandemic. It isn’t something to be seen as a good thing. It isn’t a blessing. Or a gift of time. It’s awful and is killing people. And even while I recognize my privileged position, I’m still scared.

But, the pandemic did help create the conditions, like a re-set button on a video game, under which I now find time to be quiet for the first time in many years. I’m back home again, in more ways than one. In this homecoming, my fingers are itching to be in the garden, to bake the bread, to cook delicious homemade meals; to reclaim a little piece of myself I’ve missed since I left her four years ago. And even while I hope to return to face-to-face classes, I’m not certain life will ever be exactly as it was before the pandemic ever again. Something in the world is shifting. This shift is why we started homesteading 11 years ago.

So I’m here, writing again, sharing what I’m cooking or doing around the homestead again, not because I feel like an expert, but because I believe in the power of making things and doing things together. We can’t be together, exactly, in this present moment. So I’m here. Maybe you’ll make things along with me. Maybe you’ll make other things and tell me about them. The point is, that by writing, sharing, making, and doing in this space, we can create connection, something I think we all could use a little more of right now.

I’m going to be adding some old posts and recipes from my original blog here as time goes on. I’ll also be adding new posts and recipes. It’s a new-old journey and I’m still me but also different. That’s life. Our family has grown. I hope you’ll join me in the wonder of it all.

Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, teacher, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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