“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.