avatarKristine Harper

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The child of my dreams

The story of an uncultivated journey. Part 1

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

We lived in the city when he was small. He went to a completely ordinary city kindergarten and hated every minute of it. “The children’s prison”, he called it — even though it was actually an excellent kindergarten with sweet educators and children.

Every single morning it was a struggle to get him going. Getting him to wear boots and warm overalls in the winter made it even worse. He said: I cannot move! I cannot feel anything! And he screamed. I felt like the worst mother in the world when I left him in the kindergarten, while he was being held back crying by one of the educators, who always assured me later in the day that it had stopped (the crying, that is) as soon as I was gone, and that he had had a really good day. But one cannot tame wild nature. Or you can, but it destroys it slowly. And he understood that intuitively. And so, he fought back. Vigorously. To save himself. Or, to sustain himself.

We realized we had to do something. Our daily life was unbearable because we had a constant bad conscience when he was in kindergarten, and every night we were fretting about the morning struggle. We were told that he was challenging us. That it was a power struggle that he was trying to win. That we should stand firm and not let him decide. Not let him win. That he would get used to it with time. But I knew it was not true. I knew that for him it was all about self-preservation. That he fought for the right to his way of being in the world. The right to develop and be who he is. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t adjust to anything, just not to this.

So we did something.

We started looking at farmhouses in the southern part of Denmark; entertaining the idea that perhaps if every weekend we would leave the city and go to the countryside to get recharged things would change. Moving out of the city entirely seemed like too big a step for us at the time. What about schools? What about the neat coffee shops we had at every corner, and at which we thoroughly enjoyed working on our laptops? What about our friends? What about our beautiful, bright apartment in the city centre? And, of course, what about our jobs? There seemed to be too many obstacles. But every morning as the struggle began: getting our youngest out of the door, into the cargo bike and delivered at kindergarten, and hereafter, with a growing lump in the throat, bike to work or to a café to write, solely thinking about how soon we could be back at the kindergarten to pick him up, the dream of a tranquil countryside existence grew stronger. We convinced each other that the weekend country house could be the solution, so we spent weekend after weekend driving around looking at houses. But every time we sat in the car on the way back to the city, we were quiet. We both felt that it wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t the solution.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

And then, one Sunday after looking at a house with a big barn and a beautiful garden for the second time, sitting quietly in the car driving back, contemplating silently on solutions and scenarios, I said something that changed our direction entirely. I said: we will never do this, right? My husband looked at me: no, he said.

And that was that.

Our weekend country house dream ended right there in the car on a Danish grey October Sunday.

I think part of why we just suddenly knew that the weekend country house wasn’t the right step for us was the realization that it wasn’t a big enough step. Well, in terms of financial obligations it was a huge step, but not existentially. And the last thing we needed at that point was more expenses and less freedom. It would have been the most conventional thing to do though, and the most cultivated too. Leading a cultivated life tends to involve slowly expanding one’s material possessions and as a part hereof expanding one’s premises.

We contemplated a different strategy too: moving to the countryside and setting up a life there. But we were warned by numerous friends: you must make sure you pick the right area with likeminded people, otherwise you will come running back, they said.

It felt right, so we stayed put (for a while).

We are at my parents’ cottage by the North Sea. We are sitting outside barbecuing. The weather is nice, and the evening is light and vast; birds singing, a scent of lilacs in the air. He has been quiet for a long time. Has just been sitting there eating without saying a word, which has puzzled me quite a bit. I am thinking that maybe he is tired. He has been cycling and playing all day.

He looks at my mother a lot, I notice. Examines her face and listens to what she says.

Who are you, Grandma? he suddenly asks. My mother turns to him with a bewildered look on her face. That kind of question is not comme il faut. She is obviously uncomfortable, but he maintains her gaze. He is 4 years old. My mother says something like; that is a strange question. He doesn’t think so, I can feel. It’s obviously something he’s been thinking about all evening. Maybe even for several days. Maybe he thinks she seems like more than one person, that she behaves differently with different people. I apologize on his behalf — but when he looks at me, I could have bitten off my own tongue. Why can one not ask such a thing?

There are many things you do not say or ask about when you are a cultivated person. Many ways you don’t behave. It can be hard to figure out what is inappropriate when one has not yet been cultivated, tamed, restrained. But the shame that follows stepping outside the line is felt, even before one understands the codes of conduct.

We travelled to Southeast Asia for some months. Took time off from work. Needed to be together as a family for a while. And we needed to think. If the weekend country house wasn’t the solution, then what was?

After returning to Copenhagen after our months in Asia, something started to grow within us. It seemed like the undefinable need to change something had gotten some kind of direction.

The kindergarten was still viewed as a prison by our youngest, and our oldest son was attending a very traditional school, which I felt lacked teachings on sustainability, life philosophy, and nature. I didn’t see any free, spontaneous relationships with nature being built there nor any focus on spontaneity. On the contrary.

Photo by Geio Tischler on Unsplash

Our decision to sell our home in Copenhagen and more or less all of our belongings, and to move to the other side of the world might seem a bit extreme. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what we did.

Less than a year after our return from Southeast Asia we were sitting on a plane on our way back with only four suitcases checked in. This time the purpose wasn’t a time limited leave from our city life and work, but a permanent alteration of our lifestyle. We had quit our jobs and said goodbye to “the children’s prison” and our oldest son’s lovely school. It was kind of a free fall.

I remember the feeling of sitting in the taxi on our way to the airport. We were all quiet, just looking out the windows at our city passing by holding each other’s hands tightly. I looked at the boys, 4 and 10 years old at the time. My youngest son holding his enormous teddy bear that he insisted on carrying with him and my oldest son wearing his cap and a brave look on his face. Pioneers, I thought. And the look of them gave me the courage to stop mentally grabbing for things to hold on to and just let go and allow for the fall to happen.

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