On Friday we decided to transition our six year old son to homeschool. I couldn’t be more delighted for us all, but especially for him. Relieved, enlivened, he is so much more himself inside of this choice that was as much his own as it was ours. To be honest I’ve always wanted to homeschool, but I’ve never had reason enough to do it. The charter school Jules went to before the pandemic was a thriving hub of community and connection. It was 15 minutes from our house, free of charge, and we enjoyed having six hours every day to ourselves so that we could run our businesses. But that was before something almost invisible and yet deeply disruptive would come and change everything as we knew it.
Since becoming a mother, my life has been about knitting myself back together and finding some semblance of identity, purpose, meaningful work. Then it was about doing that work, and doing quite a lot of it, at quite a breakneck pace. My husband Isaac was often tired and “overwrought.” We squeezed in dates and had dinners with friends, birthday parties and events and conferences and trips to take. We set alarms and got up early and dressed and fed and drove our boy to school. It was all so much. We were exhausted, but life felt full and “normal.” Then in March of 2020 a pandemic took it all away, and in fact we were quite grateful for that relief. Eight months in, and the silver linings are still revealing themselves.
In the summer we bought a house in the woods about two hours north of where we live. We already live in the mountains of Ojai, but the pine forests and the winding blacktop towards them stole our heart and we fell in love with the snow and the scents and the unplugging, all those 6,400 feet above sea level. Our son in particular has fallen deeply for this particular house and all it entails. Before we went to see it in person, Julius had made a dream house out of cardboard (thanks to Jessica Kraus’ prompt @houseinhabit)), and while mine was a white adobe mansion on the Amalfi coast, his was a dark green A-Frame with a red door, a waterfall in the front yard, tall pine trees and “quiet.”
When we saw the A-frame on the mountain we knew it was something very special. We put in an offer and entered into what would become a very long, seventy five day escrow, with papers signed and re-signed, names misspelled and respelled, and a lot of nail biting and waiting around. We hoped it would be ours. In the end, with a wing and a prayer the bank agreed to loan us the money and we received the key the day before my thirty-fifth birthday. We drove up late and slept in the four poster bed before 16 foot windows and two skylights, speechless at the stars peeking through the quiet dense darkness above. It was the best birthday present anyone could ask for.
It’s been two months and two weeks since the key came into our ownership, and every Thursday we go to see her. We have a new routine – a four day work week, a three day weekend. I pack our clothes and whatever fresh food we have in a cooler on Thursday evening and we bundle Jules up in pajamas after dinner. He sleeps in the backseat while we drive on the freeway at night, listening to podcasts, catching up on the details of week, connecting to each other. It’s usually our first proper quiet time of the week, a time when we are excited and together and taking it easy.
We spend the day on Friday running errands, trips to the hardware store, to pick up paint, and flooring, and god knows what else. On the weekend, we work. I make rich stews for dinner and pancakes for breakfast and we eat every meal together at the long wooden table by the long clear windows and nothing else matters. We couldn’t care less about emails, or text messages (there’s no service anyway), or instagram or Pinterest. What matters is when we are having tea next and whether the guest bedroom has been painted. What matters is when we can curl up in front of the fire and watch the new episode of the Great British Baking Show on Friday. What matters is being together, and resting, and working on this beautiful, impossible, life-affirming project.
Our dream is that this house will be a gathering place, a place of respite, and reconnecting. In a time when all that we value and cherish has been up for review, the things that matter so easily remain behind. When life gave us a pandemic, we pivoted and knelt – thank you for the reminder that my family is what is most important, thank you for the reminder that our health is the utmost sacrament, thank you for the reminder that the things we were doing less of were in fact the things we wanted to do more of. Reading, being together, walks in nature, building a home, creating meaning, making, writing, living. We bought our first record player, and have filled the house with discovering from an antique store an hour from the house. Appliances arrive (“I’ve never bought an oven before”) and we have workers building walls and making spaces for each of our extended family members. It all feels very grown up. For once, I suppose, we are pouring our energy into this place, this home, this healing space, so that we all may remember more of who we are, who we want to be with, and how we want our lives to unfurl.
Julius’ homeschooling adventure feels like another special layer to this year. The four day work week, the three day weekend, the house, the connection. No matter how this year ends, I’m just so grateful we have turned water into wine, and that it tastes so much sweeter than I ever imagined.