Friday, February 02, 2007

When Values Collide

The other day was beautifully sunny and almost warm (if you didn't stand in the shade too long). The kids wanted to go to the park with some friends. However, their friends couldn't make it unless we drove (some had parents who were busy, others don't have a car and didn't want to bike). My kids didn't mind biking, but really wanted their friends there and didn't really want to hang out at the park without them. Thus begins yet another dilemma where the values of sustainability and meeting my kids needs and desires collide. There are many such times: when my son wants that new cool Lego set, or there's a great exhibit at the science museum a hundred miles away, a toy that can only be found in The Big Box Store That Shall Not be Named, or a desire for red licorice, a food containing almost nothing but artificially colored high fructose corn syrup.

Recently, on a discussion list, a parent-to-be was detailing their plans for living sustainably on a farm with their (future) kids, raising dairy goats and creating wooden toys that their children would delight in playing with. I was swept with a feeling of nostalgia because I remember clearly our own dreams and how neatly they played out in the imagination and planning, yet how incredibly complex they are to implement in reality. One of the great gifts that children bring to your life is the knowledge that most of what you thought was absolute is, in fact, malleable.

When we were pregnant with our first child, we lived on four acres of beautiful land in Washington state. In my mind, the kids would romp around our acreage and play with natural toys and make tree forts while I blissfully smiled over them while weeding in my organic garden or writing. Except that when the kids came along, we discovered that they had different plans for us.

Our kids are extremely gregarious. They're extremely active. They wanted to be part of groups and do activities. Where we were living was very isolated. To get to any other homeschoolers we had to drive 10 - 25 miles. The roads weren't safe for bicycling with kids and no one cycled there. I started being the mom driving the car all day, and my sustainable dream went up in smoke. I had barely any time to garden. The last year we lived there, I had put 20,000 miles on my car just driving 40 or 50 miles most days to take the kids places. Sure, we could've held the kids hostage on the organic farm, but that's not the unschooling lifestyle we had chosen, it's about helping our kids explore the world and explore their passions. So we picked up and moved. We now live right in a city, something I thought I would not be doing (I'm a born and bred country girl), but we can walk and bike everywhere. The kids are busier than ever, visiting their unschooling friends, being active in all the things they love to do. We managed to find a house with a semi-forested lot next door that was undeveloped, so we have a small bit of our dream, but we can't have the horses and goats I envisioned.

The bottom line is that for us, all of our dreams and passions in our family are important, not just those of the adults. That means finding balance between the kids needs and our values, between the kids activities and time for things we want to do, between busy time and quiet time, nutritious foods and red licorice. And yes, I drove the van to the park that day, but then bicycled to work myself that evening. It's all about the balance.


Wendy said...

Our family is in a similar quandry - driving 10 to 20 miles three to five times per week for homeschooling activities. We live in a suburban area not more than three miles from our town center, but it's been a challenge to find other homeschoolers in our area interested in the same things we're interested in doing. We gave up trying for a while and just traveled to where the action was, but in the interest of decreasing our footprint, we'll be revisiting trying to establish a homeschooling support community in our own town and investing in bicycles ourselves :).

Anonymous said...

The reasons you listed are definitely the reason I'll live in the city again. I don't want to have to drive miles and miles to get my child to activities and friends. I think there is a lot one can do in the city to live sustainably.