Meet Erin, who left behind the suburban shuffle to plant roots for her family and became a foster family along the way, raising chickens and children and learning a whole new way of life that many of us dream about. You can see more of Erin’s life in images on Instagram @thecedarchestfarm.
Tell us who you are, what you do, and a little background info about yourself.
Hi friends! I'm Erin, and you can generally find me home with my four kids on our fledgling homestead with my kitchen table (or couch, or bed...) covered in some manner of crafting. I love to knit, bake sourdough bread, garden, quilt, and am currently learning how to sew clothes for my family. We moved onto our little farm two summers ago, and I've never felt more myself as I have these two years of planning orchards and planting perennials and watching my children run barefoot after our 25 chickens.
We moved to our small town in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains as newlyweds to work in campus ministry at the local college. I imagined it would be a short-term thing, dreaming of adventures around the globe and generally not knowing what I wanted out of the future that lay before us. When we became pregnant just 8 months into our marriage, the maternal urge to plant roots for my new daughter took over and the dream of a homestead started to grow. Another baby later and I was that person writing letters to town council asking for policy change regarding backyard chickens. Then a "backyard" felt too small and, wouldn't it be fun to get bees too? Maybe pigs one day? Sheep?!?! And, well... here we are!
But the move to the farm didn't cure all my longings. At the time of our suburban exodus, we were approaching two years into the struggle of secondary infertility. The longing for another baby was all-consuming and, as grateful as I was for the dream we fulfilled when we bought our land, I also knew that the empty bedrooms in our new home were meant to be filled. One day, a friend began to open up to me about their journey as a foster family and it was like my pain had a new end goal. If we couldn't have any more children of our own, we would be a home for kids in our community who needed one.
Sometimes I have a hard time opening up about our experience in becoming a foster family. I think so much of that has to do with misconceptions-- people think it's too hard (it is VERY hard), that they couldn't do it because they'd get too attached (we DO get attached), that we are some sort of superheroes saving kids (we are not). I don't ever want to perpetuate a narrative that these people are to be pitied, or that we in privileged places are the rescuers. But I desperately wish that more folks would see that they, as ordinary humans with a deep capacity to love, can step into a hard place for the sake of community wholeness, and they can leverage their resources for children who need it. THAT is why I chose to be a foster parent. And so I am learning to use my voice to advocate for the kids in my home AND for the process that seeks to restore their family.
It's been 15 months since our first foster son joined us. And then it was a seven-month-old boy, and then a ten-week-old one. As the first two left for the custody of loving and healthy family members, we learned to celebrate saying goodbye when a child's best interest comes first. In the case of our current foster baby, we are learning empathy for a broken family that may never be restored. We are only weeks away from court decisions that will affect the rest of his life.
And for those of you who are good at math, wondering how this all shakes out to four children... to our shock and delight, amidst the application process for foster care, we became pregnant unexpectedly with our third daughter!
What’s a typical day in the life for you? (so, just a run through of your typical working day.)
I would love to say I'm the kind of mom who wakes before her kids and awaits their arousal with hot coffee and a book in the solitude of a still-sleeping house. Instead, I'm peeling myself out of bed as I hear the babies giggling through the baby monitor, calling out each other's names as they peek over crib rails. But it was worth it for those last rows knit on that sweater at midnight, or the Downton Abbey rerun I could not shut off even though my eyes were fading. I shuffle to the kitchen to start the kettle and pack lunches, put away dishes, and make my way outside to feed the animals while the kids eat breakfast.
Once the two big girls are off to school, the babies "help" me with household chores and we take breaks for my foster son's therapy exercises. I change one thousand diapers. Sometime after they settle down for morning nap, I finally hop in the shower and I let my hair air-dry as I sneak in a few quilt seams or knitting rows before I have to wake them to drive to preschool. In the battle of physical appearance vs mom's hobbies, self-care for me takes the form of handwork every time. Which is why I love my P&S dresses because I can feel beautiful and put together with minimal effort, while still feeling comfortable enough to live my actual life, you know? I even wore them through my whole pregnancy! Anyway, I digress...
After preschool pickup, we make our way home to scarf down lunch before the arrival of the physical therapist, or the feeding therapist, or the caseworker coming for home-visits. When our foster son was tiny, we had some manner of appointment several times weekly. As he's grown and made great developmental strides, we're able to maintain his growth through home exercises and thankfully the extra medical visits have waned. We'll wrap up our appointments and I'll start dinner as the babies take their second nap. I'll chip away at whatever home projects we have going (presently, I'm remodeling our kitchen by myself) and watch the clock eagerly waiting for my husband to come home, and then we eat together as a family.
Then it's baths, books, and bedtime. I'll start the sourdough for tomorrow, or spend the last moments of daylight in the garden. I try to finish cleanup before I'll let myself fall onto the couch with that sweater project in-hand, but sometimes (often) my creative drive overtakes adultish self-discipline. I don't mind. I'd rather our home be a little scrappy but full of happy people than meticulously clean but starved for self-care. That's really the crux of it for me... this season of mothering young children requires me to give a lot. And in the case of foster mothering, to give a lot in unconventional ways. But I'm able to do it with joy most days because I'm not willing to let my individual self die in the process. I've learned to prioritize the things that will fill me up, so that I can be the mom they need, a kind partner to my spouse, and an overall happy person.