A Part of Who I Am

“I was a high school counselor before I got married.”

“I have a master’s degree.”

Years ago, I sometimes found myself trying to drop these sentences into conversations. I wasn’t necessarily trying to brag. But as a new mom in a new place who no longer worked full-time—I worried what people would think about me. I wanted people to know that I used to be somebody. Not just somebody’s mom. 

I’m still proud of the degrees I have and the time I spent as a counselor. But, I don’t believe they define me. And honestly, they never did. If anything, those stepping stones brought me to where I am now. If I hadn’t gone to grad school, I wouldn’t have ended up in Bozeman. And if I hadn’t ended up in Bozeman, it’s not likely my path would have crossed with a random grain farmer from the middle of nowhere, Montana. And these three kids? They wouldn’t be here. 

//

Allie had her first day of school last month, and we sat down with the chalkboard to fill in the details about her. I honestly had no idea what to expect when I asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Surprising no one, Rhett’s answer the day before had been “a farmer.” But Allie? I didn’t know what she would say. But without hesitation, she said, “I wanna be a cooker. Like you.” 

With her watching, I wrote down “a cooker” in purple ink. 

“You know I do more than cook, right?” I slowly said, immediately realizing this was more about me than her.

“I know. But I like cooking,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. 

I decided there was no point in explaining more to her, and really, who was I trying to prove it to? Once again, I wanted to feel like I was somebody. 

A few weeks ago, my mom was visiting, and we were sitting around the kitchen table for lunch. I pulled a pizza cutter with a decal from a former employer out of a drawer, and sat it next to the steaming pizza.

Rhett grabbed the pizza cutter and said, “Where’d you get this, Mom?”

“I got it from a place I used to work,” I replied. 

“You had a job?” Rhett asked matter-of-factly.

“Your mom had a lot of good jobs,” my mom said. “But being a mom is your favorite, right?” she said, looking at me with a smile. 

I guess the moral of this story is, my kids don’t understand what jobs are. Or maybe they do, and I’m trying to make it more complicated than it is. Allie sees me cooking a lot—because I do. So that’s what she sees as my job. Someday I’ll tell them how I was a high school counselor—peeling back another layer of me.

But for now, they don’t think of being a mom as a job. And maybe that’s a good thing. Even though being a mom is the most demanding job I’ve ever had—I don’t want them to see it as work.

I want them to see it as just another part of who I am. 


//


This post is 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 view the next post in the series “True.”

Farmer’s Wife

When I married a farmer, I didn’t realize one of my biggest roles would be feeding people.

Years ago, Rich occasionally showed up at the house before noon, asking, “Could you make the guys lunch?”

Now, I anticipate before he even asks. There are certain seasons when he will need me to make lunch (or dinner) for our employees. 

Lately, Allie has been saying, “I wanna be a cooker. Like you, Mom!”

Initially, those words stung. Is that all she thinks of me?

But, when I think about it, Allie doesn’t just see me as someone who cooks. She sees how we gather around our table, in the kitchen, or in the field—the food bringing us together.

Because isn’t that what farmers do? Farmers feed the world. And it starts with the farmer’s wife feeding the farmer.

(This was first posted on my Instagram, but I wanted it to have a home on my own space.)

On Baby Teeth, Rejections, and Mediocrity

Mediocre • / me·di·o·cre
/ˌmēdēˈōkər/ adjective: mediocre
1. of only moderate quality; not very good.

//

Since I became a mom of three, most days, I would describe myself as mediocre. All the other moms in my life appear to have more patience; they do fun things and have kids that follow the rules.

Last summer, Rhett had to have a tooth pulled, and I blamed myself for the whole thing. Did I not brush his teeth well enough? How did I miss this cavity—a cavity that got so bad it became infected, without me even noticing. As he sat crying in the chair, I felt guilty as the dentist tried to numb the tooth. Rhett was nearly six at the time but hadn’t lost any of his baby teeth yet, and this was a tooth he wasn’t supposed to lose until he was 10 or 11. 

Mediocrity. 

That night, he put the tooth under his pillow, excited for the Tooth Fairy to come for the first time. I snuck into his room after he was asleep and carefully pulled the tooth out from under his head. I replaced the tooth with a one-dollar bill (no glitter or notes, just a bill I found in Rich’s wallet). After closing his bedroom door, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in my hand.

Unsure what to do with it, I walked into my room and put it in my nightstand drawer. Throwing it in the trash seemed sort of sad. Am I a bad mom if I throw it away? Should I keep it, to remember him as a baby?

//

I’ve been trying to be a writer (cringe) for about four years. I started submitting my essays to online publications when Allie was a baby. Early on, I had success after success; my acceptances outweighed the rejections. 

Any writer will tell you, rejection is part of the game. If you’re not getting rejected, it means you’re not putting yourself out there. While I believe that’s true, the rejections still hurt.

In the last year, my rejections have far outweighed the acceptances. The initial sting hurts a bit less than it did a few years ago, but overall it’s affected me more than I admit. 

I think it hurts a bit more now because I feel like I’m mediocre in mothering on top of it. I’ve lost count of the times have I’ve hushed them, “Mommy’s working!” While trying to steal a few minutes to put down words on the computer.

Am I ignoring them only to be rejected, to be a mediocre writer?

//

“Mom, what’s this tooth doing in here?” Rhett called down the hall. “I thought the tooth fairy took it.” 

I groaned. “What tooth?” But I knew what tooth he was talking about. I walked down the hall and into my room and found Rhett and Allie with his tooth in hand. 

“Hmmm… I don’t know what it’s doing in here,” I said, trying to come up with an excuse for why the pulled tooth was next to my bed.

“She must have accidentally dropped it when she came last night. I’ll take it,” I said, holding out my hand. 

“Can I put it back under my pillow and get more money?” Rhett asked. 

“Nope, she just comes once for each tooth.” 

He handed me the tooth, and I put it in my pocket to properly dispose of later.

//

On a Sunday afternoon, we were all driving home from church, and I was skimming through a local magazine, looking for my latest article. 

“Hey, Mom, can I read that?” Rhett asked from the backseat. 

“Sure,” I said, passing it back to him. He flipped through the magazine for the rest of the drive home, stopping when he recognized a picture of one of his dad’s tractors.

Once Rich parked the Suburban, I started unloading everyone and all our stuff. 

Rhett, still in his car seat, looked at me, then back at the magazine. 

“Mom, it’s your name!” he said, his face beaming. 

“It is. I wrote that,” I said. 

“That’s cool,” he replied, still smiling. 

Turning around, I met Rich, who was coming out of the garage to grab another load from the car. 

“Rhett’s proud of me; he saw my name,” I said, nodding toward the car. “I think this is the first time he thinks I’ve done something cool.” I laughed; but, it felt good, knowing he was proud of me.

(Being a stay-at-home mom married to a farmer with a farm-loving son is hard to compete with.)

//

This past winter, Rhett came home from school and excitedly said, “I have a loose tooth!” He shook the tooth back and forth in his gums to prove it. 

A few days later, after all the lights were out and we had tucked him into bed, he called out, “I pulled my tooth out!” 

We cracked open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. He sat up, squinting into the now bright room, grinning with his new smile. This time it was a bottom tooth—front and center. 

A couple of hours later, I snuck back into his room and took the tooth, replacing it with a dollar.  

Then, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in hand. The tooth was one of his first two teeth that came in when he was eight months old. I could still remember his smile with the two new teeth on the bottom, a contrast to the months of gummy smiles we were used to.

Feeling a pit in my stomach, I paused at the memory, then I walked down the hall and threw the tooth in the trash.

//

Recently, Rhett spent a whole Sunday afternoon outside, seeding lentils and chickpeas in our tree patch. The weather was too cold for Rich to be in the field seeding, but that didn’t stop Rhett. He was outside for hours. He even asked me to pack a lunch to take with him, along with his handheld radio. He left one radio in the house with Rich with instructions, “I’ll call if I need you.” 

After a couple of hours, his voice crackled through the radio, “Dad, you got a copy?”

“Yes, Rhett, go ahead,” Rich replied. 

“I’ve still got a few hours left; I’ll be back after dark, okay?” 

Rich put down the radio and, with a big smile, said to me, “This has got to be a story.”

I nodded, my fingers itching to write. I wanted to remember Rhett in his navy winter jacket, speckled with mud, a stocking hat, and Muck boots on a chilly April day. I didn’t want to forget how proud I felt watching him from the house, as he used a hoe to make his rows, then carefully poured the seeds into the tilled soil. I never want to forget how serious he takes this “play,” copying phrases his dad says and how much he already knows about farming.

//

Comparison often steals my joy in motherhood and writing. I don’t know all the struggles another mom has—the ways she feels defeated. The same with writing, I only see the pretty squares of acceptances, their byline successes—but I don’t know their rejections.

I think part of me hopes I can look back at the baby books and journals and essays I wrote during this time, and I’ll not only remember who they were, but who I was too—I’ll see that I was more than just average. 

Writing helps me remember the good stories I never want to forget and gives me a way to reflect on the challenging moments.

My writing might not be one of the greats, but I’ll take being average—if it means I get to tell my family’s story. 

(And I think my words will have a longer shelf life than baby teeth in a jar. And less smelly, too.*)

*If you’re a mom who keeps her baby’s teeth—no judgment. My mom kept mine and gave them to me when I was in high school. Then I threw them away.

Cleaning My Closet

The hangers rattle across the curtain rod, the metal on metal scratching with each shove back and forth. Then, I pause at the bright yellow pencil skirt—I can’t remember the last time I wore it. My mind scans years of memories. Could it be eight years ago? Each time I see the cheery yellow in my closet, I’m taken back to a spring day, 300 miles and a lifetime from here. Yet, I can’t remember the last time I took it off the hanger and put it on.

//

I pulled up to a house I had never been to before but had found the address online. A new yellow skirt, one size too small, sat folded on the passenger seat. Putting the car in park, I clutched the skirt in my hand and walked to the front door.

The woman directed me to go behind a curtain, where I was to change clothes. Now, I couldn’t tell you what the woman looked like or how old she was. I can vaguely picture the room—scattered with different colors and textures of fabrics slung across the backs of chairs. Sliding the skirt up as far as it would go, I stopped, unable to zip it. I walked back into the room, where she examined the seams and pulled out her measuring tape. Once she figured out her plan, I went back behind the curtain and took the skirt off, putting my clothes back on. I left the dress behind and got back into my car to drive home. 

I don’t remember picking the skirt up when she was finished. It was a purchase I made for work back when I worked full-time. Now, most days, I find myself pulling on a comfortable sweatshirt and jeans paired with my slippers—the perfect outfit for sweeping floors, chasing kids, and cooking meals. I couldn’t tell you the day I wore the skirt last. But I’m almost positive it was eight years, one wedding, and three babies ago.

//

Today, I rub my fingers along its fabric, remembering a little bit of who I was then. I put most of my value in my career and my degrees. I was in my second year as a high school counselor, and I was planning a wedding.

If I donate the skirt, is that admitting I’ll never be that girl? 

And if I’m honest with myself, Why would I want to be her again?

I’ve moved, gotten married, had children, and learned to love farm life. All the experiences I’ve had since I hung the skirt up have forever changed me into the person I am today. There’s nothing wrong with the version of myself I was then. But there’s a reason we can’t go back in time—we don’t belong there anymore.

My body has changed to grow and birth and feed three babies. At this point, I don’t even know if the altered skirt fits my body or if it’s me who doesn’t fit it. 

For years, I’ve held onto the weight of that skirt, giving the linen fabric more substance than its worth. I thought it meant something to keep it—to show who I was before and someone I felt I should be again. 

I believed putting it in the Goodwill box said something about me.

I’m a failure.
I’m less than I used to be. 

I pull the hanger from the rack and unclip the skirt. Running my fingers along the fabric one last time, I add it to my box of donations. 

What if giving it away means something simpler.

I’ve grown.
I’ve changed. 

And the skirt has stayed the same.

Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash


// This post was inspired by a writing prompt in the
Simple Style: The Art of Creating a Capsule Wardrobe” workshop. //

Love Letters In My Backyard

Love Letters In My Backyard

It was a gray spring day; the buds on the trees were just starting to bloom. I walked across the kitchen floor, and my bare feet slid across the carpet. Looking out the window, the reflection from the windows on the old house nearby caught my attention. The house was the original home on our property, and it sat not too far from my farmhouse. It had been abandoned for many years, and I’d been curious about what was inside. After putting on my shoes and jacket, I headed outside and toward the dilapidated house. Not sure what I was going to find, I cautiously made my way through the front door. I stepped over old furniture and debris and wandered through the first floor. After I had walked through the downstairs, I eased my way up the narrow, creaking stairs and glanced around. My heart started pounding, expecting anything, something to jump out at any turn. “I think you watched too many scary movies as a teenager,” I whispered to myself. At first, I only saw dusty, broken furniture and papers strewn about. But when I was about to turn around and go home, I found a stack of letters in an upstairs bedroom. 

Guilt bubbled up in my stomach as I picked the letters up. I glanced over my shoulder, feeling like at any moment I would be caught red-handed with envelopes not addressed to me.  But, I brushed the guilt aside and gently slid the worn paper from one of the envelopes.

They were love letters from the previous owners of our home, in the days when postage was only three cents. The wife grew up in this old house, and then when she married, they built a home (where I live) within walking distance of her childhood home.

I was excited about my find, and I looked around to see if there were more, but didn’t have any luck. With the envelopes clutched in my hand, I headed home, and pulled my coat up around my ears from the brisk breeze.

I placed the stack of letters on my kitchen table and carefully opened them one at a time—not wanting to lose track of which envelope each went in. 

Piecing together the letters’ order by their postmark, I put together a fractured timeline of their courtship. The letters were from 1938, when she would have been 26 years old. “My dearest Buff,” the letters began on weathered paper, his black ink faded with time. I imagined hearing his ink pen scratching along the thick paper. Did he write the letters from his kitchen table? Or at a desk in the evening after work? His words were lined up neatly across the unlined pages. It looked like he took his time, taking care with each word. 

After reading each letter, I placed them back in their envelopes. I wished I had the letters she had sent back to him in return. What did she say? Were her letters as neat and thought out? Did she scribble out a reply in neat penmanship, maybe in the late evenings by a lamp in the kitchen?

I knew they married and had two children, and in 1955 they built the house we now call home. But I wondered what she was like as a young wife, having been married only a few months myself. 

A few days later, I went back to the old house, hoping to find the letters she had written to him. I knew it was a long shot, but I wanted to read her replies. I poked around in the old house but nothing turned up. I would never know if she had a nickname for him or if it was only he who had a special name for her. 

I’ve always loved historical fiction. When I stepped into that old house, finding the letters felt like walking into a real-life book. Often, that time period is romanticized, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. I want to know: how they lived and how they loved. 

When Rich and I first started dating, we didn’t exchange letters, but there were hundreds of text messages. And sometimes he wrote me short Post-It notes and left them for me to find. Times have changed in the last 60 years, where a letter cost three cents and took days, maybe weeks, to be received. Now, texting makes communication instant. 

These letters reminded me that living on this land is a love letter in itself. The long hours and sometimes back-breaking work isn’t done because we want to become rich. Farmers and ranchers do it for the love of the land. 

My kids won’t find old love letters lying around between their parents. But I hope they can see our love written in the fields, in this house, and the time we spend together—cultivating their hearts, alongside the land.

After Dark // A Love Story

I walk into the half-lit room, a soft glow from one single bulb. The only sound I hear is my bare feet sliding across the hardwood floors. I hold my breath, not wanting to wake the kids. Inching closer, a familiar scent fills my nose. When was the last time we were alone? The house is quiet until the thermostat kicks on—the vent forcing hot air into the already warm room. I jump, then giggle, startled for a moment—thinking one of the kids had snuck out of bed. 

My hand grasps the back of my neck, and I close my eyes. I can feel the day’s weight sliding down my shoulders and out of my body. My day was filled with diaper changes, making meals, cleaning the kitchen, getting more snacks, and refereeing fights. I sigh. Bedtime feels like a finish line to cross, and we’ve almost made it.

Through the window, the full moon’s light illuminates the two of us. I reach out my hand, feeling the heat rising between us.

My hand cups the ceramic mug—the cake is still hot from the microwave. The rich chocolate clings to the edge of the cup, bubbles forming at the top. The individual packets of Duncan Hines “mug cakes” are hidden at the back of the cupboard—they are mine alone. 

I grab a spoon from the drawer, the silverware clanking in their slots as I close it. I breathe in, exhaling into the quiet kitchen. 

Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, double chocolate—I love them all. But chocolate in the dark, alone, just might be my favorite. 

The hours between 8-10 o’clock are mine. 

And sometimes I have cake, too.



This post is 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 view the next post in this series “280 Words”.

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

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.

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