“I’m not finished yet.”
My 9 year old pleads with me for more time to finish a drawing but we have to go. We have one car and we have to drop off his big sis early at her job and then head to trapeze class for the rest of them.]
I give him a sympathetic look and tell him, “You can finish that later or bring your notebook and when there is a spare moment, you can work on it.”
With a big family, compromised have to be made and sometimes projects are stalled or have to be put on the back burner.
To the outsider, our life looks unfinished, incomplete and chaotic.
But finished lines are overrated. They can be a momentary high before having to make the descent back to the starting line of yet another race.
This is the definition of parenting – accepting work in progress as the status quo.
Well, yes, it seems chaotic on the outside because we are often seen driving and dropping off kids at activities, birthday parties, workshops, etc. Actually, we have been moving slower since moving here and especially since we decided to opt out of school. But we also have FIVE active children so I have accepted that life won’t slow down much more until they leave the nest. I assure you that there is an underlying rhythm to the busy-ness of our life that makes it completely relaxed as part of what I call “Big Family Parenting.”
And about the unfinished and incomplete aspects. I really don’t think “there” exists. A so-called finished line. Even death isn’t the end depending on what you believe. It really has to do with perception.
We had the option to continue to rent and delay moving into the house. This option was recommended by a lot of people. People without five children who were finished with renting other people’s homes and who craved a space to call their own, a space they were ok building around themselves. But it would be their space.
Yes, there are rest stops and pause buttons to hit. But then we move on.
Up until the moment we decided to sell our house in Toronto, we were playing Tetris with the bedrooms as the kids grew up. The “Master” bedroom was too big for just the two of us so we blew out the closet and moved the three oldest daughters who all had growth spurts into that room. We were and still are adapting our life to what we need and as we grow inside and outside.
(Throwback picture to 2015 when I decided to have our first days of our school year on top of a hill…)
This is our very first time building anything and especially building in the jungle of Costa Rica. We knew that finishing for the sake of finishing could mean making decisions that actually don’t fit our family.
Before we moved into our off grid home, a close friend who had moved out of our old city and had just spent her first year on her new piece of land, gave me the greatest advice:
Don’t do anything with the land or the house. Don’t even paint. Try to live without furniture. Don’t plant. Don’t do anything. Live, watch, and be. It will take a full year to really feel what you need and how your family fits with the place.
This has been the best way to really embody a slow living and slow learning movement.
We took her advice and mixed a little travel in there (a mama and dada need to all their kids together sometimes). It has made so much sense and helped my children adjust to life here and for the land to adjust to us. I have sat on my land and watched it recover and heal from the building process. I have heard it say, “Thank you for your patience but please wait a little longer.“
We have watched the subtle seasons change and flowers bloom where we didn’t expect and watched the bees and butterflies return. We have witnessed where the rain – oh so much rain – has carved and collected and pooled where we would have planted a garden.
Even as I sit and look out on the land, it isn’t finished. It gives me comfort to see the new life growing from where our tree fell in January or to see our snake fruit trees thriving finally.
We painted before moving in and regretted it. We had to make a quick decision while we were in Toronto because there was a dry spell and I didn’t have time to test the paint in different angles and watch the light mix with the colour as my friend had advised because light changes throughout the day and the year.
I have loved watching the changing light living mostly outdoors. While we love the paint colour and how the light reflects off of it when you enter the house, I am not in love with the same colour on the outside of the house. The bright side is that it has made us start thinking about a family mural project.
We have lived with mattresses in the bedrooms and hammocks in the living rooms. We bought two black outdoor lounge chairs as soon as Chris and I realized it was hard to enjoy our morning coffee in a hammock with two big dogs wrestling under us. Our most recent purchase has been two bright yellow bucket chairs that are comfy and most of all, pretty. I especially love the shadows they make.
Our family movements have also changed as the kids have grown – physically, emotionally, and spiritually after the move. We slowly learned how we like to cook together and eat together. We thought we wanted a picnic table with benches for dining. We realized we like to have back support to lean on. There is something about feeling supported while you eat. And we have found we need a bigger table than we originally imagined. Like I said, the kids have grown and the bigger the kids, the bigger the friends too.
We have our preferred seating when we hang out: some like hammocks, some like the bucket chairs, some like the reclining lounge chairs. But now that we have a small sofa/futon for guests in the den where the kids like to cuddle, we want a sectional on the main floor to really sit beside each other.
Our kitchen needs have changed now that our kitchen is outside.
We prefer less gadgets and appliances. My 11 year old is researching how to build an effective solar oven to take advantage of the hot sunny days. Don’t get me wrong – a fridge and a washer and dryer are still on my wish lists but a trip to Toronto to see my child who couldn’t come here has always been worth more to me this past year.
In this slow way of noticing and being aware of our needs, the kids have been involved from the beginning in building this house. Chris and I created our last home together and made most of the decisions for furniture and decor and functionality. When we initially hired our designer, Hai Phung Tran, we told her we wanted the kids to have a real say in how this house was designed. She was more than willing to include them and included their input in the designs which is why we have a spiral slide and hobbit door between rooms. (Thanks Hai!)
I like to think in terms of scale and completion – there are the larger works of art in progress where I may keep adding or editing. I have made peace with these unfinished works while I focus on smaller completions:
Did I read my child a story today?
Did I tell this child how grateful I am for their patience?
Did I spend some time hugging and laughing today?
Did I make a mistake and admit it and try to mend it?
Did I do my best – whatever my best was for today?
Did I stop and rest and take a breath before taking another step in this unfinished life?
What can you finish today? What can you leave unfinished and be content?