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How the Family Farm Stole My Sense of Self—For the Better

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It was about four years later that we did finally marry, in a four-minute ceremony by a justice of the peace in a snowstorm. Matthew 19:6 was nowhere to be found. Instead, we wrote our own vows, where we promised to encourage each other’s creativity and nurture each other’s spirit.

And here I was, 13 years later, watching a couple of copulating geese on a Sunday morning as we worked to schlep a few hundred pounds of meat, a couple boxes of yarn, a crate of wool blankets, and a case of soaps, salves and lip balms to a farmers’ market.

The bitter truth was that taking a minute to think there in the barnyard was the first moment I’d had all week to feel creatively encouraged by my husband. He was accomplishing this by wisely choosing not to ask why his wife was standing gape-jawed in a pile of dung watching fornicating fowl when there was so much work to get done.

When we got married, our promises were about creating our life vision together. We were cleaving a path in the mountains. We were choosing to live by our hands and our bodies and our spirits. We were choosing to forego the trappings of the mainstream culture. We were choosing to be unhurried, uncomplicated, free.

But my marriage has not been about any of these things this past week. Each day that Bob has gone to the farm, my life has been about phone calls and appointments: scheduling the vet; meeting with the accountant; researching vision therapy for Ula; calling insurance companies; filling out forms for doctor’s visits; faxing medical records; reviewing Bob’s latest blood tests; making sure he had the right meals and snacks to maintain proper blood sugar levels; monitoring the kid’s meals; sitting down with Ula to do her home therapy exercises; trying to think of fun things to do so she would forget she was wearing her eye patch.

I didn’t write. I didn’t work in the garden. I didn’t create a thing. I did the invisible work of the marriage and felt not one bit of the glow and euphoria that follows the completion of a creative endeavor. I was the goose on the nest, and I fully understood why she would grab that gander by the neck, and then bite his ass.

Bob doesn’t strut and brag like Foie Gras. But, like the gander, he has mated with me for life, and he, too, pays a price. Foie Gras doesn’t play in the stream or run after Pop Pop with the feed bucket when his goose is on her nest. He stays near and guards her fiercely. Bob, too, has his share of duties. He has to sort through the junk in the basement, wash the dishes, clean up behind the girls and me, and take the recycling to the dump. He has taken not only my flesh as his own, but my parents’ as well.

His life is not his own. It belongs to me, to my children, to my parents, to our family farm.

My ego hums a merry tune when I am able to carve a few hours to cater to my individual creative drive. But my happiness comes from being part of the whole.

I may have avoided having Matthew 19:6 read at my wedding, but the observation still holds, whether I like it or not. When we choose marriage, when we choose family, we surrender a degree of individuality. And we don’t just surrender that individuality to our spouse.

It is a greater capitulation. I see it as I stand in the barnyard, gazing back at the house filled with my parents and my children, at the neighbor’s car as it pulls in the driveway. I see it as I take in the lambs as they suckle their mothers, the pigs as they root around in the pasture, the chickens as they forage for bugs, the dogs that bump my legs, eager for attention.

It is not only the husband and wife who are one flesh; it is our entire extended family, and the ecosystem and community that supports us. When we wrote our own vow, to encourage each other’s creativity and nurture each other’s spirit, we keenly understood the role of mutually supported independence in our creative growth. We had yet to discover that the second part of the vow, nourishing each other’s spirit, would demand surrendering some of that same independence.

My ego hums a merry tune when I am able to carve a few hours to cater to my individual creative drive. But my happiness comes from being part of the whole. And maintaining the whole means phone calls and doctor’s appointments and trips to the dentist and blood tests and medical records and eye patches and schedule coordination.

That’s just part of my job as the goose. Of course, it also entitles me to periodically seize my gander around the neck and bite his ass…

Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of and Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York.

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