The Same Season Never Comes Back

“Mom? Dad? Come get me!” Rhett calls from his bedroom. 

I reluctantly open his door, easing myself into his room (and this conversation). “Hey buddy, Dad went to the field already. He had to leave really early.” 

He falls back onto his pillow and yells out, “He forgot to take me with him!”

Rich’s work can be busy or slow, but if I’m honest it feels like there are more busy seasons than slow. Life on a farm is dictated by the seasons. Spring means planting, summer brings haying and harvest, in the fall there is more planting, followed by snowy, cold winters full of feeding cows, and calving. Slow, downtime is scattered throughout the year. During harvest, the kids go to bed before he’s home, and wake up after he is gone. 

“Dad said he’ll pick you up in the combine after you’ve gotten dressed and finished breakfast,” I say, rubbing his back. 

Even though he’s almost too big now, I carry him from his room and set him down at the kitchen table. I pour his favorite cereal (Rice Krispies) into a bowl and make sure to give him the blue spoon I know he likes, in an effort to avoid a meltdown.

After breakfast, Allie wanders out of the living room and back into the kitchen, bringing me the remote. She wants to watch her favorite show, Pinkalicious. I sigh as I oblige. Somehow this has become our daily routine … one I’m not sure is the best. But, in this season of harvest and solo parenting, I find myself pushing the “easy” button more than I should. 

I start the water in the sink to wash the dishes from breakfast, watching bubbles form under the stream of hot water. One meal down, two more to go (including one meal that I will have to load in the pickup and deliver to the field). Then another bedtime by myself. I glance back at the calendar on the wall as I slip on my rubber gloves. It’s only the beginning of August; harvest has just begun. I sigh, feeling exhausted about the looming day ahead. I know this is the life I signed up for when I married a farmer, but sometimes the reality of long days and endless work is lonelier than I ever imagined. 

As I rinse off the last bowl and place it in the drying rack I hear, “Mom, mom, mommy!” I turn around to face the living room, “Yes?” I snap, irritated already by their constant demands. Immediately I regret my tone. I know it’s not the kids’ fault I feel so overwhelmed and alone. But how can two small people need so much? I stare down the hallway to the front door and wonder what it would be like to be able to leave without taking a kid or two with me or making childcare arrangements.

I envy Rich for walking out the front door before breakfast, unknowing to the kids’ schedule, but confident they will be taken care of. His day isn’t full of snacks requests, “play with me” demands or never-ending laundry. Although I know Rich’s days are anything but easy, when I’m feeling down, I imagine that his life is easier (and quieter) than mine. 

As I finish up the dishes I remember something an acquaintance said a couple of nights ago. The kids and I were waiting on the side of the gravel road to ride with Rich in the swather. As we were standing there in the 90-degree sun, a neighboring farm wife pulled up and got out of her pickup. She walked over to me, holding out two ring pops. 

“I’m sure this is just what your kids need.” She laughed. “I know the long days of harvest are hard for mom too.” 

I smiled and added them to the cooler I brought. “Thank you. The kids get all excited about riding with dad, but then get bored shortly after.” We both laughed as we watched the kids climbing the ladder into the swather.

“My kids did the same when they were that age. But it goes so fast, they will be grown up and gone before you know it.” She said as she held her hand up above her eyes to shield them from the sun. 

I looked over at her, the bright sun nearly blocking out her face. “I want to complain to Rich about how long my days are, but then I feel guilty—it’s not like he’s out on vacation. He didn’t get home until 2:30 this morning, after spending nearly 24 hours straight in the swather.” 

She nodded and touched my arm. “Oh, I know it. Sometimes it’s better to not say anything. You’ll get through.” 

“Dad’s here!” Rhett calls from the living room, bringing me back to the present. I hear the low rumble of the combine pulling up in front of our house. Glancing out the front window, I watch Rich climb down the ladder and make his way toward the house. “Grab your boots and hat!” I say. The front door opens and he kneels down in front of Rhett, who is sitting on the floor pulling on his well worn John Deere boots. As Rich starts helping Rhett with his boots he looks up at me as I pass him his cooler, “Thanks for lunch.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you around 5 for dinner.” I say as I hand Rhett his own cooler. 

“For me?” Rhett beams up at me as he takes the small cooler from my hand. He points to the writing on the side and says, “Does that say Rhett Bronc?” I smile, as he is still unable to pronounce our last name. 

“No, it was Papa’s lunch box, remember Grammy gave it to you?” I say as I put his baseball cap on his head. 

Allie and I spend the rest of the day at home, while Rhett spends the afternoon with the harvest crew in the field. When I think back to last summer, Rhett could only stay a couple hours in the field before he went stir crazy in the combine and Rich was ready for him to come home. I keep an eye on the clock, trying to make sure I get dinner to the field on time. Around 4 o’clock, I (somewhat reluctantly) head for the kitchen. By this time of day, all the cool air from the night before has left the house, coupled with the heat of the oven, I find myself sweating—wishing we had air conditioning.

“It’s almost time to go! We need to get the food out to the crew. Get your boots on, Allie!” I call out to her. She runs down the hall and grabs her pink boots. “I go see Rhett!” she yells. 

Back home, with the meal delivered to the field, the kids and I start our bedtime routine, and I miss Rich to shoulder half of the work. I hear the tiny patter of small feet on the floor and see Allie tiptoeing naked down the hall in front of me. She looks back at me with a half-smile and keeps running. I can’t help but smile. I imagine in her mind when she is tiptoeing, she thinks I cannot see her naked bottom. Even at this moment when I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely, I’m reminded of their littleness, and how much they have changed since last year’s harvest. Just like my neighbor said, “It goes so fast.” I feel an unexpected pit in my stomach, thinking one day the kids won’t be underfoot while I’m making dinner for the crew. There won’t be little shoes cluttering the doorway, or little bottoms running down the hall. Likely sooner than later, Rhett will be driving a combine or a tractor and will spend all day in the field.

After baths as I’m settling Rhett into bed, he starts to cry, “I miss Daddy.” I remind him that he spent half of the day with him, and he can probably spend the day with him again tomorrow. But I know he really misses him at bedtime. At this moment I’m reminded that this season isn’t just hard on me; it’s hard on them too.

Harvest will come again next summer, but I’ll never get this same season with them back. Even when the days feel really hard, as I give final hugs and kisses at bedtime, I’m grateful for the chance to do that each day.

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You’re My Best Friend

“Mommy lay with me,” Allie says as she looks at me with her big brown eyes. She pats the pillow on her Queen bed and reminds me, “This your spot.” Most nights I still can’t believe she sleeps in this big bed. As toddlers seem to do though, she takes up a lot of space, something I am uncomfortably aware of whenever we share the bed.

I sigh and walk back toward her. I’ve been counting down the minutes until bedtime all afternoon—longing to not be needed, my mind begging for quiet. As I sit down on the down comforter atop her mattress she says, “Tickle me.” I give in and tell her, “Roll onto your tummy so I can tickle your back.” As she rolls over, her dark hair falls in front of her eyes. She brushes her hair back with both hands and says, “Mom, you’re best friend.”

“I’m your best friend?” I ask. I’ve never heard her talk about friends before. Especially a best friend.

“Mom best friend,” she says matter-of-factly.

As I start to tickle her back, I think back over the last two-and-a-half years with her. I could count on less than one hand the number of times I left her that first year. She never took a bottle, making it nearly impossible for me to leave her with anyone. One night when I returned from book club, a rare outing without Allie in tow, she was still awake. Crying and hungry. Rich had tried his best, but she preferred me to everyone, including him. At times it felt like we were stitched together, and when we separated, we both could feel the seam ripping. While I loved that she loved me so much, at times I felt smothered.

Now here in her big bed, the crib long gone, I glance at the stack of books we read earlier. Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two lies at the top of the pile. Allie had sat “reading” her own book, Elbow Grease, as I read about the tea party Nancy had with her best friend. Most nights she sits and reads her own book while I read another book out loud. I sometimes wonder if she is even listening, or if I’m reading to myself. As her dark lashes begin to flutter, her eyes growing heavy with sleep, I start to slow the rhythm of my hand, my touch becoming lighter. Just like in the book, Allie has decided I am her best friend—she is listening when I read.

I slowly pull my hand from her back and tiptoe away from her bed. As I close the door, I start thinking about how our relationship will change over the coming years. When will she stop calling me her best friend? When will it not be okay for her to consider me her best friend?

I’ve read enough parenting articles and books (sometimes just the headlines, if I’m honest), about how your kids shouldn’t be your best friend. We need to be their parents and not their friends. Honestly, it’s not something I have thought much about since Rhett and Allie are still under the age of five.

Part of me feels sad thinking about her growing up. My own history tells me that at some point our interactions might consist of eye rolls more than “tickle me” and snuggles in bed. I know the day will come when she doesn’t think of me as her best friend anymore, and the thought of me being her best friend will mortify her.

As I sit down at my desk, I remember a recent interaction I saw of a friend with her tween daughter. Her daughter sat on her lap while the adults talked in a meeting, and she quietly stroked her daughter’s hair. Her daughter was snuggled into her chest, her long legs dangling nearly to the floor. I imagine that many years before, she had snuggled into her mom in the same way. Her needs different, but somewhat the same. It reminded me that Allie will grow up, but there will still be times when my touch is wanted and, perhaps, needed.

Soon enough, Allie will go to school and make best friends who are her own age. Slowly she won’t cling to me as tightly—the loops of our knitting will become bigger, but I hope they always stay entangled. Seeing my friend with her older daughter gave me something to hope for. A reminder that just because Allie will grow up, doesn’t mean our relationship will diminish.

Hours after I have gone to bed, I hear the bedroom door open and tiny feet stop beside the bed. “Mommy, come lay with me.” I swoop her up and we walk back to her room. We snuggle into her bed, and almost immediately she is asleep once again. I lay awake in the dark, her tiny toes digging into my back. Her breath rises and falls, sleep coming easily for her—snuggled next to her best friend. My breaths begin to match hers, soaking in this moment, not knowing how long it will last.

 

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Remember This.”

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Some Days I Feel Like a Terrible Mother, But He Loves Me Anyway

I start putting a load of laundry in the washing machine when I hear the kids begin to argue in another room, no doubt over one of the many tractors that line the halls. “No, you need a time out! You go to your room!” my son yells. As soon as I hear it, a familiar sense of shame builds up in my stomach. I walk down the hall and calmly say, “Please don’t talk to your sister that way.”

Why wouldn’t he? He had obviously heard those very words before in this house.

 

To read the rest of my story, click over to my latest on Her View From Home.

 

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His Favorite Part of School

Last fall I dropped you off for the first day of school. By the end of summer, you asked every day, “Does school start tomorrow?” I would say ‘no’ as we counted down the weeks, then days.

We walked into school the first morning, your little hand clutched in mine. You walked behind me, peeking out from behind my legs. Who was this shy boy? I bent down, gave you a hug and said, “I’ll be back at lunch to pick you up, okay? You’ll have fun!” I smiled big and hoped my excitement would rub off. You wrapped your arms around my neck and didn’t want to let go.

The weeks went by. You clung to my legs at drop-off for a couple months.
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Although you never cried, some weeks I had to practically pull you off to get you to stay. Later, your teacher would tell me that within minutes of my being gone, your smile was back and you loved being at school.

Each day I would wait for you outside the classroom with the other moms.
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Without fail, you came barrelling out of the classroom toward me. You ran with your arms wide and an even bigger smile on your face, “Mom!” You locked your arms around my legs and looked up at me. “Mom, you came back!”

I tousled your hair, knelt down to meet your eyes, “Of course I did.”

Last night I brought out the chalkboard to mark the occasion of your last day of school. I began filling it in, asking you who your best friend is, and what you want to be when you grow up. In September on your first day of school you said you wanted to be a ghost. Now you want to be “an ambulance guy.”

I asked, “What’s your favorite part of school?”

I expected to hear:
Snack time.
ABCs.
Playing with my friends.

Instead you said, “When you pick me up.”

I asked again, to be sure. “Your favorite part of school is when it’s done?”

“Yup, and when you pick me up.” You looked at me with a big grin.

I thought back to all the times you ran to me and wrapped your arms around my legs.

I smiled, “It’s my favorite part too.”

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This post was originally shared on my Instagram, then was posted by Coffee + Crumbs.

 

Take Your Time

 

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“Okay, I just need to get a few things. After we’re done we’ll get lunch and go home, okay?” I said as I peered into the backseat of the car.

I glanced down at my list before throwing it in my purse: diapers, wipes, new socks for Rhett. Get in, get out. You can do this.

After unbuckling both kids from their car seats, with Allie on my hip and Rhett’s hand clasped in mine, we marched into Target. We went straight for the cart rack and I grabbed the behemoth cart, wondering how many racks I would accidentally ram it into before we left the store.

Rhett immediately started climbing into the bottom rack of the cart.

“No, Rhett. You need to sit IN the seat. Not underneath.”

I braced the cart with both arms and began pushing us down the aisle. Have you ever tried to drive one of those? You practically need a special driver’s license to operate it. After I managed to get the cart going in a straight line, we headed for the baby section. I parked the cart in the center of the aisle, hoping neither one of them could reach out and grab something from their side of the cart.

Diapers. Wipes. Check. Check.

As I pushed the kids through the rest of the aisles, I felt like an ant underneath a microscope. My parenting was on display, magnified for everyone to see. Allie began pulling shoes off the shelves and putting them into the cart, while Rhett begged for a snack. I looked around before lowering my voice to its stern, “I mean business” tone. “We are almost done. If you don’t stop pulling things off the shelves, you won’t get a snack. Do you understand?”

When my kids misbehave in the store, do people think it’s because I’m a bad mom? Do they think I have bad kids? Or maybe they aren’t even thinking of us at all.

I tried to squash any outbursts before they became too big. Too big for me to handle in the home goods aisle, at least. I glanced at my list to see if all the items were checked off, then made one last stop for an item not on the list: fruit snacks. I wondered as I opened the box and handed them each one package if I was doing the right thing by giving them a sugary snack to get through the checkout line.

As we were checking out, I’m sure I looked overwhelmed (that’s how I felt on the inside, at least). I didn’t notice the older woman that was checking out behind me. I don’t know what she saw. Had she watched me from a distance the whole time I was shopping? Or had she only seen us at the checkout line . . .  when each kid had a package of fruit snacks in hand?

As I was trying to wrangle my bags and contain both kids through the automatic doors, their hands now holding empty wrappers, she looked at me and said, “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

I was so taken aback, I’m not sure I even said thank you. I smiled and we walked out the door.

As I strapped my kids into their car seats, I kept replaying her words over and over.

I’d spent most of the time in the store rushing. Ramming the cart into the ends of the aisles in a race with myself to get out of the store. I wanted to cross all the items off my list and be back in the safety of the car as soon as possible—my jaw noticeably clenched, my face tight. My voice growling. Did I even smile once at my kids? Smile when Rhett helped his sister get into the cart? Smile as the kids pointed to books they recognized from our own bookshelf at home?

What gave her the impression I was a good mom?

As I drove out of the parking lot, I wondered, What if we told each other that more often?

What if we told ourselves that?

I left the store that day feeling a little bit better about myself. A little better about my parenting. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe when I wiped the tears from Allie’s face when she pinched her finger. Or me standing in the diaper aisle, scrutinizing over all the brands: making sure to pick the good ones, yet not the ones that cut into their college fund. Or maybe she just recognized a little bit of herself in me: a woman trying to be a good mom, but also acknowledging the challenge it is to shop with two young kids. Whatever it was, I appreciate that she saw my struggle. Saw me.

So if no one has told you lately: “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “We’re Better Mothers Together.”

The Best Kind of Surprise

whitneyriehlphotography-38“Do you know what you’re having?” My friend asked as she pushed her stroller along the path.

Gripping my stroller, I looked over at her and said, “A girl.”

“A girl?! Aren’t you so excited?” She exclaimed.

Two years earlier, with my belly swelling, I sat eating cake at my baby shower.

“Well, I think she’s definitely having a boy. Boys run in the family.” I overheard my sister-in-law say.

I put my hand on my belly and smiled. Girls run in the family on my side, although I suppose science would argue that doesn’t matter.

“It’s probably a boy.” I agreed. Part of me hoped if I said it enough, I would be okay if it was true.

“I can’t believe you’re not going to find out what you’re having! That would drive me crazy!” one of my best friends laughed.

I was well over halfway through my pregnancy, happy with our decision to not find out at the 20 week ultrasound what our first baby would be. Maybe I’d seen too many movies growing up: the woman on a hospital bed, the magical moment when the doctor held the baby up and announced, “It’s a boy/girl!” 

Before my baby shower, I walked the aisles of Target, scanning items for my registry. When I made it to the baby clothes, I paused when I reached the girl section. My fingers reached up to touch all the pink outfits: dresses, rompers, onesies. All the outfits looked so cute and I imagined years of dressing a baby girl. I kept pushing my cart to the boys’ section: everything looking dull. Nothing jumped out at me.

That night I came home and told Rich about all the cute girl outfits I saw when shopping.

“You do know it could be a boy, right?” He said, raising his eyebrows at me.

“Yes, I know. But I have no idea what I would even do with a boy! I never imagined having one.” I replied.

It was true. Having grown up with one sister, the thought of having a son never crossed my mind. I am one of two girls, my mom is one of two girls, my dad is one of two boys, and my sister had one boy, with a second one on the way. The way I saw it, I was bound to keep with tradition and would deliver a baby girl that fall.

Summer quickly passed to fall, and seeding time kicked off, keeping Rich out in the field most of each day. After months of Braxton Hicks, I found myself having what I thought were real contractions and thinking this might really be it. When he came in the house around 9 p.m. to grab something to eat, I headed back out with him in the tractor, knowing I would be unable to reach him (no cell service) if things really ramped up.

After uncomfortably bumping along in the tractor, I decided to sit in the pickup at the end of the field. After lying in the backseat and reading for less than an hour, the contractions were picking up and my excitement and nerves did too. I turned the headlights on and started flashing them: letting him know it was time to go. Fast forward to the next morning, when, after eight hours of unmedicated labor and two hours of pushing, the doctor held up our baby. Rich, beaming with pride, announced, “It’s a boy!”

My head hit the pillow, exhaustion taking over as the adrenaline wore off. When I think back, most of that morning still feels like a blur. Later that day with my new baby clutched to my chest, Rich hesitated as he said, “I was a little nervous to tell you he was a boy. After you’d done so much pushing, I felt bad. I didn’t know if you would be disappointed.”

I was shocked when they placed a seven pound thirteen ounce boy on my chest. I had really been carrying a boy for nine months? Even though I’d packed two outfits for the hospital, I didn’t really believe the girl outfit wouldn’t make it out of the bag.

Almost two years later, pushing the stroller with my busy toddler boy, I hesitated to tell my friend I was having a girl. We’d known for almost a week, yet had only told my parents and my in-laws. When we decided to find out the gender for that pregnancy, I assumed I would be elated to announce it to everyone I met. But the biggest feeling I had was guilt. I felt guilty that I wanted to be excited. If I acted excited, did that mean I didn’t love the boy I already had? Guilt washed over me, so much so that it took me weeks to get excited about having a girl.

Although I never expected to have a boy; I’ve never regretted or been disappointed to have him for a moment.

Since having a son, a few of the phrases I often hear are:

“He’s all boy!”

“Boys are so wild!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I have to admit, for him, they’re all true. Rhett will find any mud puddle to jump in or ride his bike through, even if it’s the only one for miles around. Slow is not a gear he has, he runs everywhere he goes. (My favorite is when he runs to greet me at preschool pick up. I’ll never tire of that.)

But.

He often tells me, with his arms wrapped around my legs, “Mama, you’re beautiful! I love you.” 

He plays hard, but he loves even harder. While I didn’t know what I would do with a boy, I’m thankful I get to keep finding out every day.

 

Photo by: Whitney Riehl Photography

// This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on “Rewriting the Script.”

The View From My Kitchen // On Coffee + Crumbs

In the kitchen, I can hear the kids yelling in another room. It sounds like my son is trying to get his sister to play and from what I can hear, she isn’t being compliant. I am about to call out for them to “play nice,” but think better of it and let them be. When I glance down at the floor I notice the flour dusted on the carpet. I can’t remember when I had the flour out last and suspect the kids might have had something to do with it.

I hear the hum of the fridge and the tick of the old oven as it heats up. When I turn toward the window I notice the crunchy snow that is still on the ground, surrounded by patches of brown grass peeking through. Out of the corner of my eye I see the dishes stacked beside the sink, and think it’s a never-ending cycle of cooking and cleaning. The snow on the ground is a lot like my kitchen lately. As soon as the snow begins to melt and I think I can finally shout “spring is here!” It snows again. In the same way I feel a satisfaction when I wipe down the counters at the end of a long day, tomorrow there will be another meal to cook and another sink of dishes to wash. Our dishwasher has been acting up lately, leaving me to wash all the dishes by hand. Surprisingly it hasn’t bothered me as much as I anticipated; it’s somewhat relaxing to have my hands in warm water and the feeling of accomplishment when the dishes are clean and dry.

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Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.