There’s so much going on at the farm right now that I don’t know where to start! Our chicken processing and farmer’s markets are winding down, just as we ramp up for baby goats and lambs in a few weeks. Cheese production is at full-tilt. I volunteer a few spare hours every week on several committees. Our daughters are fully engaged in school, sports, and plays. And finally, we’re building an addition to our cheese plant, whose mounting debt and ballooning costs are stressful enough to wake me in the middle of the night. But I feel that is all a good story for another day.
There’s enough going on that it’s easy to get stressed and not focus on the positive. But it’s November, time to focus my energies on being thankful. This year, I feel it will take Herculean effort to not stress! I may just need to start a new tradition, a “Thanksgiving Resolution.”
It’s true, the addition to our cheese plant has been stressful and the few final stages (electric and heat) are going to cost 20-30% more than we budgeted a year ago due to tariffs and hurricanes. It’s like being close to finishing a marathon, but the final stretch is suddenly up a steep hill. If I force myself to see the positive, I’m thankful that we started our building over a year ago and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m thankful that we applied for state and federal funding that made the whole project possible. And I’m thankful that once complete, it will have been worth the effort…right?
I’m also surprisingly stressed about my oldest daughter, Harper, who is a senior in high school this year. She’s a bright young lady with a sharp wit and wide-ranging interests. She’s a great kid with a world of opportunities in front of her. As a senior, she gets more mail than anyone I know: dozens of letters, cards, and full-color expensive brochures from colleges all over the US fill our mailbox every day. You can tell she likes the attention but is still super casual about it, letting the mail pile up until we scream that the dining room table is unusable. She clearly likes the idea of going to college. The effort and focus required of her to get in to college? Not so much.
But I get it. It’s so hard to know what “is the right decision.” Each school seems to offer something unique and exciting—how do you choose? Plus, it’s so hard to know whether something will be worth all the effort. College is so expensive, and we’ve all heard stories of students graduating with debilitating debt. Our farm is in deep debt now, and that stress is the last thing I would want for her. Certainly, college isn’t for everyone.
I’m also stressed about whether she can get into a good school. She’s bright, yes, but when I consider her competition, I know it will be tough. Our small, rural schools do the best they can with the resources they have; I’m thankful our schools are as good as they are! But I know there are tens of thousands of kids coming from well-heeled (and well-funded) private and public school districts all over the country that have had exposure and opportunities unheard of in our area of Upstate New York. They will be her competition for college and beyond.
But if I focus my energies on being positive and on helping my daughter research her options, I can see a great deal of light at the end of this tunnel. The first bit of good news was when New York made public college free for all residents. It’s a real game-changer, especially for poor farming families that otherwise consider college out of reach. The even bigger realization was that many private colleges are “needs-blind”, meaning that if your student is accepted, the institution will figure out whatever it takes financially for them to attend—up to and including full tuition, room, and board. In fact, many private colleges boast lower student debt than their public counterparts. It’s another game-changer.
Finally, I’m learning that, although my daughter is from a small rural school, spending her days helping on the farm and at farmer’s markets, she is truly unique in an enormous pool of applicants. Has she gone to expensive summer camps to hone her sailing skills? No. Has she spent 17 years practicing violin five days a week? No. Has she travelled to foreign lands as a volunteer to distribute food and blankets? No, definitely not—and I’m genuinely sad that I couldn’t give her those opportunities. But she has helped birth and care for hundreds of baby animals, fed and comforted moms, operated heavy machinery (unsupervised), talked with literally thousands of strangers about her family farm, and developed a new business line that added significant revenue to our bottom line. And she still found time to be a voracious reader, a prolific artist, and a genuinely interesting person.
So, this is my Thanksgiving Resolution: I’m officially giving myself permission to stop stressing about Harper’s future and to be thankful for the wonderful person that she is*.
November is the perfect time to take stock of our lives and give thanks for all that we have. It’s easy to lose focus when times are stressful; I’m living proof of that. But when I do take stock, when I take that step back and consider it all, I’m grateful. I hope you are able to do the same, too!
*As a mom, I expect the first part of my resolution to last only so long. Ha!