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Faith in Vermont: On Summer Activities, Economic Development, and Overthinking

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Posted on March 24, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Because I have children who still live at home, and because the work I do does not (yet) contribute to our household expenses, the standard description for me is: “stay-at-home mom.”  

I find this description inaccurate at best. I may be a mother who often stays at home, but the truth is that I spend an awful lot of time trying to get my children out of the house.

As much as I love my children, I never cry on the first day of school. In fact, the happiest moment of my day is usually when the mudroom door closes behind my husband and three-quarters of my daughters at 7:45 every weekday morning, and I put our fourth daughter down for her morning nap. The house is quiet, and for one blissful hour I am free to do whatever I want – even if that just means folding laundry (as it often does.)

I cry on weekends. I cry on snow days. And as summer vacation approaches, I feel panic setting in.

Summer vacation is approaching.

This may sound heartless. It may seem that parenthood has been wasted on me: a selfishly silence-grubbing mother. And if good parenting means longing to spend every waking moment in the company of one’s children, then I agree with you.

But I have a feeling I’m not alone, and as evidence I submit this: Registration for summer activities began a month ago, and since then every conversation I’ve had with other parents has focused on the camps and classes in which we’re scrambling to enroll our children. Are Addison County parents singularly interested in enriching our children during the summer months? I think not; I think we want to get those kids out of the house.

I used to feel guilty about being so eager to outsource my children, but then I re-read Little House in the Big Woods to my daughters. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic memoir of her 1800s childhood in Wisconsin convinced me that the pressure we put on ourselves to enjoy spending copious amounts of time with our children is a uniquely modern phenomenon.

Ma and Pa Wilder were focused on one thing: food. They had to catch, kill, or grow everything they needed to survive, and their children either had to help or stay out of the way. Nobody was taking Laura and her sisters to the playground, or Music Together classes, or Disney cruises.

Whatever happened to that adult-centric world? I wonder. Whatever happened to children being seen and not heard, earning their keep by helping out on the farm or in the shop?

Then I turn the corner and wonder, But was that such a good way to grow up? Didn’t all those children enter adulthood starved for affection and unable to express themselves?

And what’s really so wrong with that? I ask myself, doubling back again. At least they could kill, pluck, and cook a chicken.

Overthinking one’s nostalgia for the Good Old Days can lead to precisely this kind of tail-chasing.

If you should set out walking due west from our back porch, you will pass our property marker, scramble up and down a wooded and rock-strewn ridge, cross Schoolhouse Hill Road, scale an old rock wall, and -- past a narrow strip of trees -- find yourself on the runway of the Middlebury State Airport. That there is an airport less than a mile from our house was a detail that was easy to forget when we were frantically trying to find a place to live in the company of our two-month-old baby.

It’s a detail that is still easy to forget, because the Middlebury Airport is not very busy. It can’t accommodate large commercial jets, and the last time I recall hearing the buzz of a small plane was well over a week ago. We heard louder noises every five minutes when we lived in Manhattan and Berkeley, California.

But this winter it was announced that the town of Middlebury is planning to expand the airport: to lengthen and widen the runway for safety reasons, with an eye towards attracting more business to the area.

Emails are being exchanged between concerned neighbors, informational meetings are being held. And I find myself caught in the same circular overthinking that I apply to my parenting.

The question of Vermont itself is a circular puzzle to me.

I start with nostalgia for the Vermont of old: rolling fields, dairy farms, unspoiled forests. Whether this Vermont ever really existed or whether it was an idyllic image used to promote tourism doesn’t matter: I don’t want anything here to change. In fact, I’d like more people to return to dairy farming, as soon as possible.

On the other hand, I know that it’s near impossible to make a living as a dairy farmer these days. Vermont is losing population because it’s too expensive to live here, and it’s too expensive to live here because there aren’t enough people. So the answer is obvious: develop, innovate, attract more businesses. Improve that airport.

But on the other other hand, how do you attract people to Vermont if Vermont – with its rolling fields, dairy farms, and unspoiled forests – no longer exists; if Vermont starts looking just like every other housing-developed, mini-malled, big-box-stored, suburban-based state?

If you don’t have an answer, at least tell me this:

What did you sign your children up for this summer?

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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