I met my husband Mike when we were both 18 and just starting our adult lives. He grew up riding horses, cattle ranching, and building barns with his family. All of this was a very different childhood experience from the one I had, where the closest I came to a country lifestyle was the pasture I drove by every day at the end of the road I lived on. I remember seeing smaller towns or houses in the middle of fields on road trips and wondering who in the world lived out there.
When I first started dating Mike, his family lived on a property the exit before Fernley, in what felt like the middle of nowhere at the time (Fernley didn’t have a Walmart back then). This is when I learned who lived out “there.” While I did enjoy working on projects with his family, it was still with a lot of surprise that I found myself suggesting to Mike one night pre-kids that we move out to Fallon. Anyone who knows me would not have expected this, I am not a traditionally outdoorsy person. I’m girly, I love reading and watching TV, and I hate bugs and dirt. None of these factors points toward “spends lots of time outside.”
One of the first things I fell in love with about Mike was his self-assured and confident nature. There wasn’t much that ruffled him, made him doubt his decisions, or affected his mood. He knows what he is capable of and has a great foundation of self-reliance, a lot of which was built by accomplishing projects with his family for as long as he can remember. Mike grew up building fences, houses, and barns. He was never left out of a project, even as a 2-year-old, when he talks about being given the task of carrying nails to his parents and grandparents while they built a fence. Mike and I spent a spring break in college building a coral for the cows, instead of on a beach. Romantic, right? And while I would have loved to have done the latter, I really appreciate the sense of accomplishment I feel every time I see something I helped build.
I also value how the ranch chores give us a way to directly model responsibility for our children, and often include them in the responsibility. The cows have to be fed, no matter what, every day — twice a day. They don’t care if it’s too cold in the winter morning or too hot in the summer afternoons, or if we aren’t feeling well. The fields have to be irrigated, the weeds in the irrigation ditches have to be burned, the fence has to be repaired. More often than not, the kids are outside helping us feed and seeing us complete chores and projects. We give the kids little jobs to help them be involved and engaged. Our kids quickly learned that no amount of whining changes the fact that all of the above HAS to get done, no matter what.
Being on a ranch has given my children the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature in a very different way then we get to do in Reno. I know we could always go to a campsite or drive through a national park, but there is something very unique about being outside for a long period of time without some activity meant to entertain the kids. They get to wander away from the immediate vicinity of the adults and freely explore their environments on their own terms since the property is surrounded by fields. There is no planned agenda and we have no time limit, but we do have to complete our task or project. If my kids want to play while we do these things, they go sit in the dirt somewhere and make a game up. If they are tired, they go sit in the dirt somewhere and rest. If they are hungry, they grab a snack from the car and sit in some dirt and eat. (I have learned there is lots of dirt involved in country life).
We recently moved out of Fallon and back to the Reno area, and while we still go back and forth a couple times a week, I can appreciate how different is it to try to recreate similar experiences in the city. Mike and I have had discussions about what we want to do to continue to nurture the qualities we feel living in a country setting help bring out in our children. We plan to involve our children in any home projects we can. They love having the responsibility of smaller jobs. And when the kids get bored, we don’t plan on just sending them back in to watch TV. I know I will be tempted to because it’s so much easier to do that than listen to the whining, but that’s one of the big differences we have noticed between being in the middle of a field or in a smaller back yard while working on a family project.
It’s been a very different experience being a part of a family so different from mine, and I love seeing the pros and cons not only to a different way of life, but also to the one I am familiar with. I am really grateful for our family’s opportunity to now balance both the city and country aspects of growing up, and I look forward to getting to make my kids pick rocks out of a field all afternoon and complain about it (true story). I do not, however, miss the numerous spiders that make their way into my house when I have a haystack outside my door. I would love to know the different lifestyles you have learned to fold into your joint family in the comments below!