Homeschooling Teen

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Pursuing Dreams (With the Help of a Volkswagen, a U-haul, and Some Hay Bales)

by McKennaugh

I happened upon a bunch of old papers from quite a few years ago. There were scribbled pictures of “Herbie cars” (Volkswagen beetles) drawn by my little brothers and I with “Texas or Bust” flags attached to them. Tucked in with the Herbie pictures was something I had written about how we wanted to move to Texas and start a farm with goats and chickens and all. We wanted to be homesteaders. I can’t actually remember when or why Texas came into our dreams, but it did, and, for quite a while, it stayed. I think it may have had something to do with the fact Austin is homeschool and organic friendly. Anyway, we were boxing stuff up, getting ready, painting, and searching for property. We wanted to move. But we didn’t. We never quite got to the part where we actually listed our house, packed stuff into storage and took off into the unknown.

After we gave up on moving for a time, a tiny bit of the “homesteader” part came true when I got goats for my eleventh birthday. They were named Swirl, Cream Puff, and Horizon. Shortly after that, we got a couple of Indian Runner ducklings and collected a handful of chickens from a local organic farm. The farm wanted to get rid of those certain chickens because they kept on leaping the fence. Mom and Dad weren’t worried because our chickens were to be completely free range—no fence at all. We’d just lock them up in the coop at night. It turns out that free range chickens are a real pain. They stand on the porch and leave behind reminders of their presence and they congregate under the picnic table waiting for somebody to leave the food unguarded. At least we had as many eggs as we could eat!

But we had a few problems. Horizon the goat bucked and attacked my brothers and I. She left my parents alone, I’m not sure why; perhaps the goats felt that our mom and dad were bigger and thus more intimidating. So my very pregnant mother was left caring for Horizon and the rest of the “Goat Girls” while my dad was at work, since I couldn’t get near them without risk of injury. The tiny barn that my Dad had built into a hillside during the fall gave us all a big surprise in the spring. That hill happened to be where all those little run-off streams trickle down. We went to do the morning chores one day only to find chickens that were practically floating away and ducks that were loving every minute of the sloppy mess. After that, we spent most of our time bailing smelly water out of the barn until the summer months came. I couldn’t stand cleaning out hay covered with you-know-what from the chickens and ducks and I dreaded lugging 5-gallon buckets (those are really heavy to an eleven-year-old) down our giant hill so that the animals could have something to drink. Because of the danger the goats were to my siblings and I, we sold them back to their original owner. The chickens, old before we got them, started dropping dead. My dad accidently forgot to close the coop one evening and something had our ducky, Pip, for a midnight snack.

Eventually our mini “farm” dwindled to nothing. We had no animals anymore. When they left, the messy coops and water buckets were in the past, too, and I can’t say I missed them. One stage in our life had happened and closed.

But we still hung onto the moving thing. We wanted to move to a place that wasn’t on a hill covered with trees with no room for a garden or improvement and my dad wanted a home business. Time passes. Lots of time. I’m seventeen now, not eleven. By this time, my dad has worked in the automotive field for 25 years. We still hold onto moving dreams, although Texas is now out of the question. We want to live someplace with trees. When you grow up in Pennsylvania you just can’t live without trees. The scraggly bush and palm things don’t count. Real trees are tall and green and shady. Real trees make forests…they don’t spring up overnight in desert oases after a long-awaited rain.

Anyway, this spring my parents decided that they were going to put our house on the market and go on a cross-country trip with us to see where our family should settle down. We rented a storage shed. A big one. I thought, Wow, maybe my parents are serious. Then, with the help of U-hauls, we moved most of our stuff to that storage shed. Yep, they’re serious, I decided. One morning, my brothers and I awoke to a Volkswagen Van (complete with the pop-top and seats that folded down into a bed) parked in our driveway. Mom was beeping the horn. We blinked. Then we screamed and shouted and ran out the door in our jammies.

There was even a huge trailer that attached to the back of the van. Now Mom could pack to her heart’s content. California, here we come!!

We painted some of the walls in the house again. We packed. Today there are bins and boxes all over the yard that we’re squeezing into the back of the Pathfinder to take down to the storage shed. I’m driving a carload of stuff to our local Salvation Army store.

Tonight my dad will come home from work and, for the first time in ten years, he won’t have to worry about going back to that place on Monday. He has quit his job so that we can all move and go on that trip. Together.

Now we’re hopefully going to jump in that Volkswagen soon, pursue some highways, some dirt roads, some dreams. Perhaps we’ll settle down, build that timber frame and straw bale house we’ve always wanted. We’ll grow a garden and be more self-sustainable. My brother, Brennan, wants to get some livestock. Maybe we will build dreams out of straw and clay and family and laughter. Some people scoff at our plans; that’s fine. Yes, we could fail. But, if we take the jump, we can’t ever say that we didn’t try. My parents won’t have to say, “We wish we had taken that trip before the kids were grown up and gone.” They won’t have to say, “We wish we had tried to build that house.”

Because it’s not always whether or not you succeed that matters, it’s whether or not you tried. —McKennaugh

McKennaugh Kelley (mckennaugh@inbox.com) is seventeen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.

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