I got an email asking me "How do you get so much done with young children? Can you give me some tips?"
Ok, the answer is that your knowledge of me comes from the blog, where when I say "I canned 9 quarts of peach jam and put up 200 ears of corn yesterday" sounds smooth, blithe and relaxing. And even if I tell you otherwise, people mostly think I'm joking.
In fact, the process of putting up 200 ears of corn and making 9 quarts of peach jam looks nothing like it sounds like when I take out the boring parts, like the 200 times I said, "Stop touching that!" while we were picking the corn and the kids wanted to play with the tractor attachments. Or the part where my husband did a very fast, very disgusting diaper-related crisis triage with a handful of corn husks. Trust me, it is better this way.
For those of you without children, or with children now grown who have forgotten the pleasures, I offer you a chance to model doing homestead work in my life. First, strap a 10lb bag of flour to each leg, to approximate working with a toddler attached to each side. Do not bathe for a while, until you feel rather icky. Eat all meals standing up. Then, add a troupe of untrained monkeys who have been swimming in mud to the mix. Carry one around while he yells "up, up, up!" Invite neighboring Huns to sack your living room and kitchen. Put a CD of Yoko Ono screaming horribly on at full volume in the background. Now sing "Do You Know the Muffin Man" 178 times. No, you are not allowed to scream. You must smile and answer questions about why John and Paul stopped writing songs together and why we only play with our penises in private calmly, while still cutting up peaches.
I just don't usually *tell* you about this stuff. So when people ask me "how do I do it?" The only possible answer is - I don't. My life doesn't look like what you are thinking. That is, the reason I put up that food was because yesterday, I blew off the book, 50 unanswered emails and 3 foot weeds in my garden to do food preservation. Today, I'm blowing off the still uncanned raspberry sauce, the weeds, and the book to write this post, and then homeschool the kids. Every time I am doing something, I'm letting something else lapse, usually something that probably shouldn't. Right at the moment, I'm praying that the couple who are renovating our garage into a goat barn won't have to pee at all, so that they don't see my bathroom. The house has been sacked. I have no idea what we are eating for lunch - we have tomatoes, eggplant and beer. I don't think good Mommies feed their children beer for lunch, so I guess we'll be having eggplant ;-).
The reason I can do what I do is that I have a committed (probably ready to be committed) husband who can do much of his work from home, because I'm always more than willing to neglect the housework, and because I work from home. But mostly, because I'm comfortable with chaos - I could look at this day and see only the mess, the failures, the mediocre parenting, the fact that they didn't learn about evaporation the way we'd planned.
Instead, I look at it and think "I got four loads of dishes done. I put up corn for the winter. We talked about how corn is different than other grains. The kids spent a lot of time picking. We took a long family walk. We ate homemade tomato and mozzarella sandwiches and 3 out of four kids wanted seconds. They helped time the canning of the peach jam. The boys picked chard for dinner. The boys got to go play with a neighbor's kids and Eric and I finished clearing the crap out of the garage. I answered two emails. I babysat the neighbor's son. We picked up 300lbs of organic grains and transferred them into buckets. We sang two songs that weren't "Do you know the muffin man" ;-). I read most of _The Logic of Sufficiency_. I set pumpkin leather to dehydrate. Eric played banjo with friends. I got the kitchens made presentable. I made rice pudding. I watered the container plants. I went to bed happy."
The thing is, that is a good day by my lights. If I look at what I didn't do, at the mess, the chaos, the exhaustion, the failures, it doesn't look so hot. So I try not to look, and hope to do better today.
So if I have one bit of advice for parents of young children it is this - do the best you can, trust yourself, and be pleased with what you do. Embrace the chaos. And for G-d's sake, don't hold me up as a model!