Faith in Vermont: Decisions, Decisions
Our family moved last week.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that our family has been moving for the past year.
It all began with a dream: What if we lived with a little less house, on a little more land? What if we grew and raised more of what we eat?
After six months of searching, we found a little less house on a little more land. It was a mere six miles from our current house – six miles closer to town. The price was right. And the house was a mess. Although it wasn’t an old house – the first section was built in 1995 – it had undergone two tacked-on additions, had a wet basement, needed a new boiler, and appeared to be mid-way through a haphazard renovation: walls were half-painted, windows were without trim, most rooms lacked light fixtures, and (as I repeatedly pointed out to my husband) none of the bathrooms included towel rods.
“Mommy, I don’t want to live here,” my eldest daughter whispered to me as we walked through the house.
“Don’t worry, honey,” I whispered back. “I don’t either.”
“Well,” my husband beamed as we concluded the tour, “this could be an exciting adventure!”
Later, when my husband and I sat down together to discuss the house, he pulled out the list of criteria we’d written down when we began our property search. “A perfect house” was not on the list.
“Are the land and location what we want?” he asked.
“Then we can fix the house.”
We decided to put in an offer. Our offer was accepted. Then we had to tell our daughters that we were moving from the only home most of them could remember, into a house that most of them had hated.
Our two oldest daughters actually fell to the ground in tears.
“You’re killing me!” wailed the six-year-old.
“You said we wouldn’t have to live there!” shouted the seven-year-old, looking at me accusingly.
We tried explaining the factors that had gone into our decision. Our bottom line, on that day and many days to follow, became: We are your parents, we made this decision based on what we believe will be our family’s long-term best interest, and you need to trust us.
That was only the first of many decisions; next, we had to renovate the house.
Although this is the sixth house that my husband and I have inhabited during our marriage, it was our first foray into major home renovations; in the past, we’d either rented houses or bought places that were “good enough.” Suddenly, I had to choose paint colors, wood stains, cabinets and countertops, light fixtures, and, of course, towel rods. Because we’d closed on our house in late September and would leave in early January for five months of sabbatical in California, I had to make most of these decisions all at once and quickly.
Some people find these home improvement decisions exciting and fun. I do not. While I acknowledge the blessing of even having a home to renovate, let alone being able to renovate it the way you’d like, this plethora of petty choices felt, to quote author John Gregory Dunne, “like being nibbled to death by ducks.”
Yet I am here on the other side to testify that it was all worth it. We returned from sabbatical to find our house transformed from a dark, disjointed hodge-podge into a light and airy sanctuary. My husband was right to have faith in this house. Those thousand little decisions came together into a home that feels made for our family. (Our bank account will probably recover eventually, too.)
And our daughters? Well, last weekend, after we’d eaten dinner overlooking the back field, toasted s’mores in the fire pit we built, and they had taken their nightly self-proclaimed “twilight walk” around our property with the dog, my eldest daughter turned to me and said, “I could sit out here and look at the stars and fireflies forever; I am so glad that we moved here.”
Which goes to show that it pays sometimes to make decisions over the strident objections of our children. It takes courage, to weigh what we think is best over our fears of scarring or alienating the kids. My husband and I spent a year reassuring ourselves that we could see more clearly down the road than our daughters; happily, we were right.
It also takes courage to let our children make their own decisions when appropriate. Several months ago, I wrote in this column about our family’s homeschooling adventure during our sabbatical, and how we’d offered to continue homeschooling our children when we returned to Vermont. Multiple people have asked me, since our return, what we decided to do about school.
We decided to leave the decision in the hands of our daughters. While still in California, my husband and I sat our two oldest daughters down and told them that we saw certain benefits to homeschooling, but we stressed that the decision was theirs to make. We encouraged them to wait until they returned home, saw their friends, and visited their school before making a final decision.
Our approach to this big decision was met with some skepticism from others: “Isn’t that a lot to put on a child?” and, “Can children at that age really know what’s best for themselves?”
Our reasoning was simple: First, we have a perfectly lovely local public school, so it was really a choice between two good options. And second, I could see no value in homeschooling a child who was there under protest.
By mid-June, our daughters handed down their decisions: Our eldest daughter had loved homeschooling, but she missed her friends and teachers and wanted to return to public school in the fall. Her younger sister decided to continue homeschool during the coming year.
I was shocked and pleased at the logic of these decisions. In my opinion, both of my daughters chose exactly what was best for them at this stage in their lives, and they did so independently of each other and of us.
Decisions are difficult, because they require selecting one thing to the exclusion of another. It has been a year of decisions for our family. More decisions will come, but for now we are deciding to rest in gratitude.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She moved to Vermont in 2011, where her work currently involves caring for four young daughters and one anxiety-prone labradoodle, attempting to garden in heavy clay — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.