Interview: Rebecca Stetson Werner

Our interviewee this week has contributed essays for 3 Grounded issues. We’ve really grown to love the soul and truth in Rebecca’s writing. When time came for us to hand the editorial reigns to someone for the forthcoming Winter 2014 issue, we knew Rebecca was the perfect person for the job. We’re excited to share our interview with her.

Where do you live and how many kids do you have?
Jonathan and I and our three children, ages 8, 10, and 13, live on the outskirts of Portland, Maine. We live in a 230 year old home on property that was once a family homestead, built by a ship captain for his young family. We have been working together to bring some of the property’s gardens and existing trees and plants and soil back to life, recreating a small, now surrounded by city life, homestead. At the same time we are slowly updating and modernizing the house and its structure and systems, blending the new in with the home’s history. As much as possible, we try to live here as gently, environmentally minded, and connected to this place and its history as well as to each other.

What do you spend your days doing?
Our three children are now all in full day school. My days vary depending on the time of year. My husband is a teacher, and in the summer, we get to spend our days together. The summers always feel so brief. We tend our gardens and bees and chickens. And have adventures away together, exploring the region we live in with both the ocean and the mountains and lakes nearby. Finding the balance between being home doing the work of our homesteading ventures and unstructured family centered time together is a struggle at times. As the kids get older, so too is the balance between being home and having our just us family time and giving the children time to be with friends and follow their own emerging interests.

When the rest of my family is at school, I find myself doing things I never would have imagined doing years ago. Such as building a chicken coop by myself. Tending bees. Hauling, splitting, and stacking cords of wood. Doing the things we do here on our property in a city environment, with sirens blaring by on the street while I extract honey nearby. It is an odd and quirky mix that we love. Sometimes I have to clean myself up as best I can and run out the door to pick up my children from school or to watch one of their sports games, laughing to myself about the smells of smoke from my bee smoker, chicken manure, or something I was cooking likely wafting off me on the playground.

Today, as I write this, I am finally at my computer after a rude awakening at 5:00 AM when one of the chicks we raised finally became mature enough to begin crowing. And would not be distracted or stopped from doing so when we ran down there to hush her, now him, so as not to awaken or frustrate our neighbors. So I have spent the morning trying to find Jane, now Tommy, a home at a farm, and until I do, he is below me in the basement in a dog crate. In our newly insulated basement, intended to insulate against the cold but now being tested for soundproofing in addition to drafts. Every once in a while he crows. And I jump out of my chair. I keep forgetting he is there.

These creatures, and our growing children, and our work. Yes, they can make for strange combinations at times. But they are all things we love and think are important. And learning to fit these pieces that are important to us around each other seems a meaningful pursuit to us. So we laugh a lot and make lots of mistakes and try to do it differently next time.

What do you like most about your family?
That we are kind of a work in progress and that our life is full of contradictions. Defining ourselves a bit differently while weaving in shared interests with those we spend our days with and even within our family of five. I spend my days writing and tending animals, our children, and our food while my husband works at the cutting edge of the digital world as it relates to educating children. Our kids are typical modern kids, who play on sports teams and use some technology and compare their own lives to the lives of their friends. At the same time, they love to be at home, they help us grow and raise our food, they want to be in the woods and kayak on lakes just as much as they want to have friends over and build a pillow fort and play on the lacrosse field. Our oldest son posted a picture of the Ball jars of our first honey crop on Instagram followed by a picture of himself playing lacrosse. Our youngest son just had a Stone Soup playdate where he and a friend ran around our mostly frost bitten and dead vegetable garden and collected what they could find and threw it in a pot on the fire pit. The soup was completely inedible, as they had washed nothing first and had gathered three of our spiciest peppers. And then they asked if I would take a picture on my iPhone of the spicy faces they were making so they could send it to his friend’s mom.

I think learning to blend all of these things is a challenge for this generation of parents and their children. And in some ways the gift of this generation. I love when I see my children enjoying our quiet life here. I so enjoy that my quiet introspective daughter can often be found sitting in a hammock on the river bank reading and writing. But I also love it when she gets a basket during a basketball game and sees and hears her good friends cheer for her because they know her and how much it means to her. And I love that we are constantly readjusting to each other, to the season, to the desires and needs of each of us here, especially as our children are growing older. It feels a very rich life.

What parts of parenting come naturally to you and what parts are a struggle?
Enjoying them, listening to them, being present with them comes very easily to me. And therefore, perhaps, watching them and celebrating them moving outward is the struggle. It is something I think about, and challenge myself, and work on a great deal. What came naturally before when they were very small, keeping them safe and forming meaningful relationships with them is still the goal, but how you do this as they get older, and what that actually means in terms of what they need and the moving target of safety and relationships is tricky. And I am constantly feeling the landscape shift under our feet on this one.

What do you need as a parent?
Support from and connection with my husband and with a few kind and thoughtful parent friends. And to feel that the choices I make as a parent are my best efforts and attempts at what will help our kids grow, be safe and loved, and live fully. And also for this growth and living ourselves, as parents.

How does where you live affect your parenting?
Maine is a place we never thought we would end up when we got married. And now we cannot imagine living anywhere else. It is an incredibly vast and diverse state, and my parents’ families are from here. We visit and enjoy many of the same places and activities that I did as a child. And Jonathan, who is From Away, has jumped right in and has made this place his home, and his fresh eyes, doing these things as firsts himself along with our children, makes me love our home even more. And our property, after many many moves due to graduate school and work and changed plans, it has formed us, given us a sense of purpose, and we have built ourselves around this place, this home, as well.

What are you especially conscious of as a parent?
Protecting our children’s childhood. Challenging the expectations of their world in terms of how we spend our time, what we consume, what the goal is for them as they mature and how they should get there, and what messages we are sending our children through our own actions. We try to be very thoughtful as a family of five, with the schedules and demands of five individuals who all have different interests and requirements and opportunities. We sign our children up for fewer of the activities and opportunities that pass by them as possibilities, attempting to allow them to really immerse themselves in the things they have chosen. And we try to protect their time, to play, unstructured and without a real identifiable goal, to be bored, and to have an opportunity to see what can unfold in those moments. We don’t always do this very well, and we know this about ourselves. Sometimes we find ourselves running too much from place to place, feeling stressed and disconnected from each other, and something or someone begins to fall apart, and we try to stop and realign ourselves.

What nurtures and inspires you as a person?
Besides my family, alone time, time to read and write, as well as time spent working on our property, noodling on my thoughts. It’s a noisy place in our home, and in my head as well, and I benefit a great deal from some time to be busy with my hands and work through something in my head.

What is your favorite time of day?
I have two favorite times. The first is the time when we all return home after being away for the day, Jonathan at work and the kids at school. When everyone arrives home, as long as we are all quickly snacked, I feel us all exhale, and settle back into being together. I would not want to be anywhere else.

My second favorite time of day, perhaps ironically, is those first moments after everyone has left for work and school, and after I have done whatever cleaning and errands and other activities that I need to do to keep us chugging along with as little chaos as possible, when I sit down at my desk. And open the laptop. Or the book that I am reading for research. And I get to jump back into my thoughts from the previous day when I was thinking something through, trying to learn more about something. And I love that much of how I spend my time when I am not with my family informs and makes me feel more ready to jump back into the stew with them when they all arrive home.

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
To keep on tending this family and the life we have created together, finding the balance between that and the work each of us loves to do. And jumping into the unexpected twists and turns that this will bring with as much openness as I can muster.

Check out Rebecca’s previous contributions:

Rummaging in Their Minds

What We Leave

Unstable Air