Unrealized Dreams

One of my dreams was to live in a city. I don’t know why I was fixated on a life in the city. Maybe it was because of the movies I watched growing up. Or maybe it was the idea of something so different from the small town I grew up in.

Now here on the farm, the furthest from city life I could imagine, I see one old dream coming to life under my fingertips. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a writer and author. I spent my childhood with my head in a book, stories running through my head. I filled notebooks and journals with words and created a family “newspaper” with my cousins in the summer. We dug out my grandma’s old typewriter and I typed up stories about our pets and silly other things I found amusing as a 10-year-old. In the basement of my childhood house, I plunked away on our gigantic home computer. I wrote a story of a girl named Cassie, with an annoying younger sister. (Sometimes fiction is best drawn from real life. Sorry, Sister.) I’m not sure what happened to that story, or what happened to Cassie or her sister. 

The dream of becoming a writer went by the wayside somewhere between high school and college. In college, I spent a year as a journalism major, taking courses that were geared toward becoming a reporter. The classes didn’t leave me inspired and I changed my major (more than once). I finished my degree, doing the required reports and papers, but never writing for fun. 

A few years ago, I was at Taco Bell with my two oldest kids. Allie was a baby, and Rhett was a toddler. An older woman approached me and said, “You’re a brave mom for being out in public with him.” I can’t even remember what he was doing, but if I were to guess, it would be running around and standing on the chairs, instead of sitting down and eating. 

Her comment took root in my head, but not in a way that made me feel bad about my parenting. Or him. She wasn’t telling me anything new—I knew I had a wild child on my hands. Her sweet-natured comment did make me want to go home and write about it. Write how it made me feel, how at first I had been nervous when a stranger approached me. How I felt when she added that her own son had been the same way. Here she was, alone at lunch, while I was juggling two young kids—the sight of me and my kids taking her down memory lane. I hadn’t felt the urge to write in years. Probably since I was in middle school.

I went home and wrote the story out. After a while, I gained enough nerve to submit it. I didn’t tell anyone, including Rich, that I had even written anything. I especially didn’t want to tell anyone I had submitted it for publication. If it was rejected, then I wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone. It would be like it never even happened. A couple of weeks later, I received an acceptance email. That yes was a big nudge to lean into my old dream of writing. 

Farm life is full of stories. From Rich referencing cows while I was pregnant, to the kids learning about farming and ranching—from the front seat of a tractor to the back of a horse. Everywhere I look, there are stories waiting to be told. 

Years ago, I thought I was giving up my dreams to marry a farmer. I knew I had to choose. And I happily chose to marry the person I loved for a life I didn’t know. 

But in reality, this life and this farm, brought me back to a forgotten dream. A dream I hadn’t thought of in years. A dream I imagine might still be tucked away if I were climbing the corporate ladder, with no time for writing in the margins. 

This life allows me to put pencil to paper and create cities from words, and capture memories and stories of my family—from the most unlikely place I could have dreamed of. 

***this post was inspired by a writing prompt from Rhythm on ‘unrealized dreams’.***

Farm Wife / Farm Hand / Same Thing

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

The hot water pours down my back, steam surrounding me. “Babe. There’s something I need to tell you,” I say through the fog. 

I turn my head toward the bedroom, his outline is faint through the dingy hotel shower curtain. 

“Okay,” he slowly replies. 

“Nevermind,” I say. Butterflies feel like they are going to jump out of my throat. 

I hear the bed creak as he sits up, followed by the sound of him placing his phone on the nightstand. 

“You can’t start something like that and not finish,” he says. 

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s true, so I don’t know if I should tell you,” I reply. 

“Just tell me.”

I pause, wishing the water pressure matched the pounding of my heart. I let the water continue to run down my back, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Stacy. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” his voice rising. 

I take a deep breath. 

“I might be pregnant,” I breathe out. 

The silence that fills the room is deafening.

“I haven’t taken a test yet, but I’m a few days late . . .” I say. 

I shut the shower off, then move the curtain to the side—the curtain rings rattling overhead. Despite the clanging from the bathroom fan, it’s clearly not working—my shape is barely visible in the mirror above the sink. After grabbing a crisp white towel from the rack, I begin to dry myself. I reach up and wipe the condensation from the mirror, taking a look at myself for the first time since I’ve said the words I’ve been carrying out loud.

Tightening the towel around my chest, I walk to my suitcase perched on the table by the floor to ceiling windows. I begin to get dressed and look down the 20 floors to the busy street below. My mind flashes back to the last eight months of negative pregnancy tests, coupled with my knee surgery that forced us to postpone trying for three months. The past two months I didn’t even bother with the ovulation sticks. Despite them saying I was ovulating for the last year—the negative pregnancy tests outweighed their positives.

He leans his head against the headboard. “Should we go and get a pregnancy test?”

“I’m sure there’s a store around here somewhere,” I say, grabbing my phone from the table. “Looks like there’s a Target a few blocks down the street.”

We chat for a few minutes, a mixture of excitement and nerves fill the hotel room. I picture our two kids at home on the farm with their grandparents, feeling like it’s too soon to get excited about a baby. But then picturing a baby with two older kids sends me into a slight panic.

I collapse onto the bed. “I don’t know if I can handle three kids,” I exhale. “I thought I wanted another baby, but now I feel like we waited too long.”

I pause, running my hand across the maroon bedspread. “We can actually travel and leave the kids for a few days.”

He nods his head. “Well, we don’t know anything yet.”

After I’ve dressed and blow-dried my hair, I grab my purse and room key and we head to the elevator. We silently ride down the 20 floors and walk through the lobby. The sounds and smells of Chicago hit me as soon as the revolving door opens. The shock of concrete, people clogging the sidewalk, and traffic is such a contrast to our life at home, it makes me pause. Outside our front door on the farm I’m surrounded by dirt roads, wheat fields, and cattle. For a moment, I’m able to forget about the tiny being that might or might not be growing inside of me. 

We step onto the sidewalk, making sure to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. I look down at the street, still wet from last night’s downpour. Then I squint my eyes from the sun and glance up at the tall buildings around me.

“Which way?” he asks, grabbing my hand. 

I squeeze his hand with more confidence than I actually feel.

I nod to the left, “This way.”

//

**This essay was written as part of the workshop, “Reading Well, Writing Well.” The assignment was to focus on writing dialogue.**

My Own Little House on the Prairie

The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.

We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.

Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”

“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.

We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie

On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books. 

I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?

Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.

College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. 

Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it. 

//

“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees. 

I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own. 

The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.

“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.

We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.

Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).

Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s. 

Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.

Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.

This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.

Writing Over the Noise

I walk over to the calendar and put my finger on the square that has written in pencil, “Rhett’s first day of school!” It’s only four days away. Earlier that morning I woke up to the kids crying out for me–jolting me out of bed. I was immediately met with breakfast requests, which feels like a lot to ask of someone who isn’t fully awake yet. Remembering how I felt, I grab my phone and go to the alarm settings and slide the toggle to ‘on’ for 5 a.m. Starting tomorrow, I am going to get up before the kids. I know once school starts, the bus will pick Rhett up around 6:45 a.m., so he needs to be up by 6 o’clock anyway.

That night, after the kids have gone to bed, I grab my favorite blanket and the remote as I curl up in the recliner. This is the time I’ve been craving all day. I remember that my mom has told me many times that I have always been a night owl, often staying up later than I should have as a kid. Was I really going to try and change my internal clock? Even though my alarm is set for 5 a.m., I stay up later than I should.

The next morning, the alarm goes off and I roll over, fumbling in the dark for my phone. Once I silence the alarm, I exhale. I look out the window, seeing only complete darkness. I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep but I know I will regret it. I put my glasses on and step out of bed into the cool room, leaving the warmth of my down comforter. I slip on a sweatshirt and tiptoe down the hall, trying not to wake anyone—the last thing I want at 5 a.m. is an audience.

As I walk to the kitchen to fire up the Ninja coffee maker, I think how fast this summer went. Every year, time seems to go by faster. Rhett finished preschool in May, then I blinked and it was August. All summer we kept the windows open at night to cool the house down. Then one morning there was a crisp edge, the warm summer mornings giving way to the beginning of fall. For most of the summer, I was in ‘survival’ mode. Rich was gone for long hours and bedtime was always a zone defense: me vs. the kids. I was waking when the kids did; then I stayed up late, trying to soak up as much “me” time as possible—only to be tired and cranky in the morning. For weeks it seemed like no matter how early I woke up or how late I stayed up; I never had enough time to myself. I was greedy for more. When I had an hour to myself, instead of my cup feeling full, it felt like I had been in a desert—there wasn’t enough water to quench my thirst.

I jump a little when the coffee maker beeps—the sound piercing the silent house. I grab the cup, pour in an excessive amount of French vanilla creamer, and walk to my office. The washing machine clicks off (thank you, delay wash cycle), and I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. The clothes begin to tumble, filling the room with the rhythmic beat of the dryer balls. I pick up my devotional book, read a chapter, then I lift the screen of my laptop. The house is completely quiet, other than the dryer. My fingers begin to tap away at the keyboard, trying to catch my thoughts before they drift away.

Every once in a while, I stop typing, listening for sounds of the rest of the house waking up. I take a sip of my hot coffee, knowing that the minutes are ticking until the kids wake up. When it’s close to 6:30, I hear a bedroom door click open and tiny feet on the floor. 

“Oscar, no!” Allie shouts. 

I save my work and close my laptop, then walk down the hall to “rescue” Allie from the puppy, who greets her each morning with lots of unwelcome licks. 

I didn’t finish an essay or start a book. But in those 90 minutes, I was able to do what I enjoy—without being interrupted for a snack request or potty breaks. The quiet of the early morning is a welcome respite to an otherwise noisy life.

A week goes by, I am still getting up at 5 a.m., and Rhett has already finished his first week of school. On the next school day, I wake him up shortly after 6 a.m., feeling well-rested, my cup filled up. After he is gone for school, it’s just Allie and me. Later that morning as I’m picking up toys, she brings me the bag of magnetic letters. 

“Play with me?” she says. Instead of thinking I need just five minutes at my computer, I say, “Okay, let’s spell your name.” I sit on the floor in front of the fridge and spell out all our names. Just as soon as I put them up, she slides them down the stainless steel even faster. When we are both bored with the game, I begin to pick the letters up and get ready to pick Rhett up from school.

Later that evening, after the kids are in bed, I walk to the living room, turn on “Nashville,” and sit down to watch an episode before I go to bed myself. I thought back to the summer months when I felt guilty for watching TV after the kids went to bed. Guilty that “If I love to write so much, why am I not writing right now?” But I’m able to relax, knowing I already spent time writing this morning, and I have my alarm set for the next morning to do the same. 

After I click the TV off, I walk to bed. I think back to the times when I have told Rich that accomplishing a lot of my goals feels impossible. “How will I ever write a book? The kids need me so much.” His usual response is, “It’s like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.” 

I laugh whenever he says it because the image of eating an elephant is an interesting visual. But it’s true. I know that getting up early won’t solve all my problems, and I still find myself wandering to my office throughout the day, but it feels good to carve out time just for myself, not waiting until 8 p.m. to scrape together whatever energy I have left from the day for me to write (or read, or just sit in silence).  

Instead of expecting the time to magically appear, or waiting until my kids are both in school—I’m taking the time now. (It only took me six years to adapt to a farmer’s schedule, but here I am.)

I know there will always be challenges in finding the time to write, and there will be some mornings when it doesn’t work out. There are also the days I have to wade through the noise of my inner critic who says, “You’re not really a writer.” But I’ve found that my inner critic is a bit quieter in the morning.

No matter if it’s morning or night, I’m going to write anyway.

 

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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 “Write Anyway.

Image from iOS

Why I Write

Many years ago, I stood nervously behind a heavy gold curtain, waiting to go on stage at my first dance recital, it was right before Christmas. The lights dimmed, the curtains opened and the music started. All the girls began dancing around, but I just stood there. My black patent shoes frozen in one place, my hands at my sides. My mom whispered anxiously to my dad, “Should I go up there?” My dad, who was unsure of what to do said, “Let’s just wait.” And they did. I stood there frozen with fear the entire song.

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To this day, performing in front of a crowd is still not my forte. I’m a typical introvert and speaking in front of a group (heaven forbid: dance) is sometimes enough to make me freeze up like I did as a preschooler on stage. For many years I wasn’t sure where I fit in. In most situations I feel like an outsider looking in, even when I’m right there in the middle: leaving me feeling like that little girl once again.

When I became a mom four-and-a-half years ago, most of my wants and needs went out the window. I didn’t have time to think about my passions or what made me feel like myself. A year after I had my second baby, it felt like we were finally settling into a rhythm. One day I found myself constructing an essay in my head; itching to grab a piece of paper and bring my thoughts to life. The calling felt real; but I heard another voice in my head too, saying, “You don’t have time for this. You’ll have to wait until your kids are in school.” I listened to the voice for awhile, agreeing there wasn’t time. My writing would have to wait.

A few months later, after an extremely challenging day in town with my kids and an interaction with a kind older woman, it felt like the only way to process what happened was to write. I came home and turned the TV on for the kids and I wrote. I was able to express myself in ways I hadn’t in years. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, it felt like a direct connection was being made from my thoughts to the world. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.

Several months after that first dance recital, we had our spring recital. I imagine my parents were nervous leading up to the program. Would I dance this time or stand frozen with fear again? But, they dressed me in my pink tutu, did my hair and sent me on-stage. My mom says now with a laugh, “The curtains opened and you were all over the stage! Your dad and I thought you were going to fall off!”

I would like to say as an adult I became that precocious and outgoing girl from the second recital, but really I am still reserved. There are days I wish I was the outgoing one, the one that everyone gravitates toward. My friend Danielle is this person: she lights up a room with her infectious smile and laugh, along with her easy going personality. She’s quick to hug and you can tell it feels natural to her. I tend to gravitate toward the wall, picking up bits of conversation and standing with sweaty palms, wondering how much more small talk I have in me. Sometimes I envy her; but that isn’t who God made me to be.

Feeling at ease in social situations will likely never be my calling, and I’m realizing that’s okay too. The way she connects with others isn’t the way I connect to the world. I find myself connecting to my feelings through writing: constructing essays in my head while I walk around. I use stories to process my feelings.

Sometimes writing and motherhood feel at odds with each other. Every time I have a thought I want to get out: the kids need a snack, or help in the bathroom. It can feel like they are holding me back. There are also times I feel like my writing is taking away from being their mother. The days I find myself stealing away time in my laundry room to write, I still feel that nagging in my stomach. You’re ignoring your kids. Shouldn’t you be playing with them instead of writing?

In reality, they give me stories to write about and writing offers me a way to process being a mom, wife and woman. I hope someday the stories I have written: from essays in publication to the journals I keep for them, will give them a true glimpse of my heart. My days still revolve around them, but now I’ve made it a priority to write in the margins of the day. Some days that is only five minutes. For now that is enough. Because when I’m writing, I channel my confident, second-recital self; using my words to make a paper bridge, paved with words between their hearts and mine.

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Finding Myself in the Laundry

While the kids are happily playing together, I retreat to the laundry room. The laundry room also doubles as my study. I always feel rushed when taking time for myself, not knowing how long I actually have. In an effort to set a calming mood, I light my new candle. The scent of pink magnolias begins to enter the room.

I hear the towels going round and round in the dryer, along with the wool balls that hit the drum. I close my eyes and imagine the comfort of a fluffy, still-warm towel after a hot shower. Last year, this room was just a laundry room. I don’t know why I didn’t take notice of the space before; maybe it was the too cheery yellow walls that didn’t feel like me. Or maybe I wanted to spend the least amount of time with my washing machine as possible. One day I realized the space being used to hold my husband’s dresser would make the perfect desk for me. He happily agreed to move his clothes.

To find out what this photo has to do with my laundry room, click over to Sweatpants & Coffee to read my latest essay.