FAMILY & PARENTING

I Spent A Week Alone Working On A Farm And It Taught Me So Much About What Happiness Means

by Stephanie Kaloi

One of my favorite things to pretend with my husband and son is “One day when we’re farmers.” We all have a kind of hazy, romantic idea about what it actually means to be farmers, mostly because none of us ever have been one.

Naturally, when we’re pretending, we all imagine our own ideal of whatever farmer life might be like, and oftentimes, that ideal doesn’t include any of the messy details.

When my friend Melissa told me she and her family were going out of town for a week and they were looking for someone to watch their farm, I jumped at the chance.  A whole week to play farmer? Yes, please! Melissa has a real farm, with tractors and land and a horse and a pony and dogs and ducks and goats.

It’s l-e-g-i-t. She also offers classes and workshops for women and anyone who is female-identified. It’s kind of a magical place.

Though I had no practical experience in farming, over the years I have become quite excellent at camping, especially camping in places that don’t have bathrooms nearby (the thought alone used to horrify me). Melissa taught me everything I needed to know in about an hour, which at the time made me feel like I must be a pro. Of course, once I actually got down to the farming bit, I realized I hadn’t paid enough attention in that hour, mostly because I was more focused on Instagramming the aforementioned horses and goats and dogs. Let’s just say … Melissa got a lot of text messages that first day or two.

I was also excited to stay at her farm for a week because I just honestly love hanging out by myself. I knew my husband and son would come out, and I, in fact, wanted them to come out and stay with me the whole time, but I also knew that they wouldn’t actually do that and that I would have pockets of time all by myself when I could just hang out with … me. Having the physical, mental, and emotional space to recharge by myself is essential to my own version of happiness.

At the time, I knew I needed some alone time, but I didn’t have a clear idea why. It was just a feeling.

What's funny about alone time is that you never really know what's going to happen.

What's funny about alone time is that you never really know what's going to happen.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

And what’s funny about being responsible for a whole lot of animals is that they tend to mirror whatever you’re feeling right back at you. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

I’ve had chronic pain around my right ovary for nearly four years now. The pain is taxing, but it’s not debilitating. Sometimes it’s not there at all. When it first started, I knew that I wanted to find a doctor who would really pay attention to me and hear me when I described what I was experiencing. I have read so many articles about how women’s pain is overlooked and mismanaged and how it’s not taken seriously.

So I did: I found an amazing doctor. She did every test, sent me for scans. I had a colonoscopy, even, just to rule anything in the colon out. And then we moved, and I bounced from doctor to doctor for two years, trying to find a fit. It didn’t work out.

We eventually moved back, and I went back to my original doctor. She was surprised the pain was still there, and was even more surprised that no one I had seen had really pursued it. Chronic pain is real. She sent me to an OB/GYN to get checked out, recommending a doctor she knew and loved. I went, had my exam and ultrasound, and expected to hear what I had always heard: “Hmm, we just don’t see anything. Keep us posted on changes!”

Except for this time, I heard something totally new: “It looks like you have a 1.8 cm endometrioma on your right ovary.”

Oh. Hmm.

I knew enough to know this wasn't something scary like cancer.

I knew enough to know this wasn't something scary like cancer.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

I also knew enough to know that this could be related to fertility.

It’s funny to be a woman and to be in your mid-30s and to all of a sudden be told that you’re not in control anymore. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if you ever were.

My husband and I have a 10-year-old son, and we love being his parents. While I always thought I would have more kids, my husband didn’t. He got a vasectomy, and we’ve wrestled with the idea of bringing more kids into our home off and on for nearly 13 years. Two years ago we actually conceived using donor sperm, but I lost the pregnancy early, halfway through Avengers: Infinity War. I didn’t want to try again — it’s expensive and, honestly, I was scared that miscarriage would happen again.

The afternoon I found out about the endometrioma, I immediately put on my coat, let out Melissa’s dogs, and headed to the barn. The animals seemed surprised to see me, or at least the horse did. The goats were thrilled, because if anyone comes to the barn, they suspect it must be time for dinner. The horse, though, seemed like she was feeding off whatever I was serving, in any manner of speaking.

The first time I cried, I was standing over a bowl of horse mash. I had been thinking about the pungent smell, and then thinking about how weird smells are when you’re pregnant, and then thinking about how this probably meant I definitely wouldn’t be pregnant again, and then that was it.

I cried those kinds of tears that you let stay on your face instead of wiping them away, the kind that feel good to get out, but that don’t involve ugly sobs and heaves. Just that steady flow.

The dog shook me out of it.

The dog shook me out of it.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

She made me remember that I had a purpose and a goal and that both of those things were in service to other beings who were all sharing the physical, and now emotional, space with me. She was bounding up and down the piles of hay, probably looking for the bones she kept stashing up there every time I told her not to.

She ran by, almost knocking me down, and it was enough to remind me of what had to happen next. By this time, the horse was standing on the other side of the gate, staring at me. She meant business. I brought out her bowl, let her out of the run, moved on to the goats. Moved on to the ducks. Gave everyone water. Filled hay bags. Fed the cat.

After everyone was taken care of, I asked the horse to come back behind the gate so she could be put away and I could go inside, where I fully intended to have a glass (or three) of wine and sad-cry on the phone with my best friend. But the horse didn’t. She’s a really sweet horse, really gentle and so compliant, and up to this point, I hadn’t had any problems with her. Instead, she stood near me, eating hay directly out of the pile of bales, and then she swished by me, kind of brushing me with her mane.

So I told her “thank you” and cried again.

There's a funny thing about being a woman in your mid-30s.

There's a funny thing about being a woman in your mid-30s.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

Babies and kids and fertility are just, like, the biggest topics ever. If you have already had a kid or two, you’re wondering if you should have more. If you haven’t had any, you’re wondering if it’s a mistake. If you’re in a relationship and wanting kids, you’re trying to bring it up. I don’t know; it’s everywhere, all the time.

Up to the moment I got this phone call and started thinking about the possible implications, I was kind of OK with knowing I wouldn’t have more children. Now I realize that’s because I still believed the possibility existed, so it was fine; it was OK. It could happen.

Also, lest I sound too melodramatic, I also know that one *possible* endometrioma does not a diagnosis of infertility make. But I also know that I wasn’t thinking that at the moment. I wasn’t really thinking of anything, really. I walked outside, took a photo of the dog with the name that I would give a child, took a photo of the sky, and cried some more.

I went back inside. I started to think.

The concept of 'happiness' is a big one.

The concept of 'happiness' is a big one.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

Kids learn it early and easily, it seems. Most small children can clearly communicate if they’re happy, mad, or sad, and it seems straightforward enough. Happy is when the corners of your mouth turn upward, right? Sad is when they don’t.

As we get older, life starts layering on new ideas of what happiness might mean. Maybe you’ll be happy if you buy that shirt that everyone else in homeroom has. Maybe if that boy likes you back, you’ll be happy. Maybe if you grow up and marry Leonardo DiCaprio, you’ll be happy. Maybe?

Something that this season of life is teaching me is that happiness isn’t static, and it’s certainly not black and white. There isn’t a universal definition that applies to everyone and everything. I mean, the goats are happy when they get a bowl of corn. They’re positively thrilled.

And it would be easy to write this off as a simpler kind of happy, or something less real than what I feel, as a big human with all my complex needs, but the truth of the matter is that the happiness the goats feel when they get their corn and the happiness I feel when my kid smiles at me are the same thing.

I learned that more than anything, happiness is a personal journey.

I learned that more than anything, happiness is a personal journey.
Stephanie Kaloi/LittleThings

My week on the farm taught me that happiness is a long game. It isn’t something you can make yourself feel if you really don’t want to, but it also isn’t out of your grasp. I think it can be practiced.

Because I know that day in, day out, I would describe most of my time as time I spend being happy. I, like so many of us, have experienced trauma and heartbreak and loss and fear and pain, but my day-to-day life is filled to the brim with love and trust and friendship and, yes, happiness. Happy is a state that isn’t hard for me to access. But what I think happy and happiness feel like and what you think they feel like are different, and that’s fine. That’s OK.

If I never grow another human in my body, I know that I’m still going to have happy days ahead of me. I know that even this day has been happier than not. But this week gave me the opportunity to ask myself to define what happiness is for me, and to experience it with other beings who wouldn’t insert their own ideas into mine, or at least wouldn’t and couldn’t do so out loud.

And for that, I am grateful.