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.

Bringing Home Oscar

Over the years I have become a self-proclaimed, “Crazy Cat Lady.” (I figured I should jump on calling myself that before others coined me with the name.) A year or so after I finished my undergrad I would occasionally search the shelter website in Laramie looking for a kitten. I knew what I wanted: a Tuxedo cat. (Obviously I have fancy taste.) For those of you who don’t know, a Tuxedo cat is black and white. One day I was looking at the website and as I was scrolling, I knew found the one. I can still picture his little face, the white whiskers, white around the mouth, and four white paws. I told my co-worker, Kara, “I found my kitten!” After showing her the picture, she agreed I needed to go and get him.

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Skittles, no longer a kitten, at my apartment in Bozeman. Naturally he was sitting at the kitchen table.

Fast forward almost seven years, three moves, and a couple boyfriends, but I still had Skittles. He slept in my bed, often tearing up the sheets at the bottom. He was slightly annoying in lots of ways, but I loved him anyway. When Rich and I got engaged, I moved to town and into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. I brought Skittles out to live at the farm until we got married. One evening we let him outside, as he often scratched at the door (in every apartment I had he did the same) and wanted outside. We let him go out that night, not thinking anything of it. And we never saw him again. This was 10 days before our wedding, and I was devastated. Rich felt horrible. He searched all over, looking in fields and the shop, and even setting a live trap in hopes of catching him. Nothing. I would call him from town with tears in my eyes, “Have you seen Skittles?” He would quietly respond, “No.”

My mom told me a short time after we assumed Skittles was dead, “God knew you needed Skittles until Rich came along.” I responded, “Why can’t I have Skittles AND Rich?”

A couple months after we got married, my mom found a black and white kitten and asked if we wanted him. At first I said no, I wasn’t ready to replace Skittles. But eventually I said yes and we brought home our first baby (don’t tell Rich I said that).

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Welcome home, Fred!
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A side-by-side comparison of Fred and Skittles. Such fancy fellas!

The last few months Rich has said multiple times, “We should get a dog.” I have never been a huge fan of dogs: they smell, lick, need a lot of attention, and did I mention, they smell? Last Thanksgiving my sister was telling me about goldendoodles. I hadn’t heard of them, but after doing a quick Google image search: I was in love. Or maybe that’s a little extreme. Let’s say I was in definite ‘like’ territory. We were in Red Lodge for the holiday, and I was driving down the street and like fate would have it: I saw a couple walking a goldendoodle down the street. In a move totally unlike me, I pulled over. Then I took it a step further and called out to them, “Is that a goldendoodle? Can I pet him?” Which I did. I went back to the house and told everyone I met a goldendoodle and now I definitely wanted one.

Over the winter I had been following a woman on Facebook with doodles. She had two pups left from a litter and she kept posting that they were still available. I messaged her a few times, but the timing never felt right: potty training in the cold winter, calving season, did we actually want a dog? Last week I randomly contacted her again and she still had the two puppies. She told me someone was coming to get one on Saturday, but there would still be one left. I told her we would come on Sunday.

Long story short, we brought home Oscar on Sunday evening. He is six months old and is the quietist, chillest dog I have ever met. (He does smell a bit. Although he doesn’t shed.) He didn’t whine or cry once on the six hour drive home. He is supposed to be a petite goldendoodle, but he already seems fairly big for six months . . . I guess we will see!

I might have romantic ideations: picturing the kids running and playing with the dog this summer, skipping over the work that dogs are. But on the drive home with the puppy Rhett told me, “I’m real glad we have this dog.”

Welcome home, Oscar!

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Oscar and Rhett digging in the tree row. (Oscar is due for a grooming.)

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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Still Looking for Love

Still Looking for Love

Despite the wind blowing outside, I’m comfortable and warm with the down comforter pulled up to my chin. The kids are fast asleep. The only light I see is from under the door—a glimmer of the last strand of Christmas lights hung above the picture window in the living room. I turn my head to Rich and say, “I want to write an essay about ‘love after babies’, what should I write?” I hear the bed creak as he turns over, and even through the dark I can tell he is looking at me.

He pauses and teasingly asks, “Is the title going to be ‘Still Looking for Love After Babies’?” We both laugh.

I gently nudge his arm. “Maybe. I’ll let you know when I find it.” He rolls back over, and it isn’t long before I hear his heavy inhales and long exhales: his rhythmic breathing telling me he is fast asleep.

I lay there, eyes wide open, beginning to think about what he said. I close my eyes and picture our wedding: his gray suit, his eyes fixed on me as I walked down the aisle in my white sequined dress. I was about to marry a man I’d met less than a year before. But it didn’t feel crazy. It felt right. I had found my soulmate—the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Much of the preparation before our wedding was about the ceremony itself, not the marriage. I knew he wanted kids, but how many? Was he a morning person or a night owl like me? (Spoiler alert: he loves mornings and I’m a night owl.) I didn’t worry about any of those things. Instead, I agonized about the details right in front of me: what flowers would be in my bouquet, what the groomsmen would wear. It didn’t feel like we thought much about what came next. We just knew we were in love.

“Mom, mom, mommy!” Rhett cries from his bedroom. I let out a sigh, I’m not sure I’d even fallen back asleep after getting up with Allie only an hour before. I gently nudge Rich’s back, loudly whispering, “Rhett is awake, can you go in?”

He quickly inhales a breath, finally awake. He doesn’t say anything as he gently eases himself out of bed. I hear the door shut behind him and through the wall I hear his mumbled voice: “It’s okay, Rhett. I’m here.” I snuggle back under the covers, grateful to stay in our warm bed.

Five years into marriage and two babies later, love comes in different ways. It might look like getting up with the toddler while I sleep. Or bringing home pizza when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s easy to feel like our marriage isn’t as exciting as it used to be. We don’t go on weekly, or even monthly dates. But you will find us holding hands in church and going for drives to check on his crops in the field. Some mornings he leaves Post-it notes for me when he rises for work, long before the sun comes up. And other times it looks like grinding coffee beans for me, right as I’m about to brew my first cup of the day.

While what he said was meant to be a joke, it reminds me that we always have to keep looking for love. Love before babies felt easy and exciting: an adventure. But our wedding day was the start line, not the finish line—our signatures on our marriage license the silent crack of the starting gun.

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The next morning as we are getting the kids’ breakfast, he stops to give me a hug and says, “Are you still looking for love?”

I laugh and kiss his cheek before grabbing my cup of coffee. The months of December and January mean feeding the cows every day on our ranch, which has become the kids’ favorite time of year.

As the sky finally starts to redden around the edges, the first light appearing, he says, “Get your boots on, let’s go feed cows.” Both kids jump down from the table and run to the front door. I instinctively look over at Rich. His eyes light up, creases forming at the corners as his mouth widens in admiration of Allie.

She starts pulling on her cowboy boots and exclaims, “I go feed cows!” We both smile and laugh as she runs back toward us, boots on the wrong feet, but her heart in the right place.

As the kids and Rich head out the door to feed the cows, I watch out the window with my cup of coffee in hand. Sometimes, love feels hard and I can’t remember what it was like before we had kids. But mornings like this when I see the excitement on the kids’ faces and the admiration on his: I’m reminded why we started this race together.

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This essay was inspired by the writing prompt #love after babies from Coffee + Crumbs.
My friends, Molly & Cara, also wrote essays about #love after babies and I would love if you would click over to their essays (and give their blogs a follow too).
52 Minutes” by Molly Flinkman
Butterflies” by Cara Stolen

Why I Take My Wild Child Out in Public

This post was originally published on Her View From Home one year ago today. I wrote this after a particularly challenging day in town with my kids. I wrote this and submitted it for publication without telling anyone, I was afraid it would be rejected and I wanted to keep the rejection to myself. But, it wasn’t rejected! Thank you to Her View From Home for accepting my first piece for publication (and all of those since then) and giving me the courage to keep writing. And thank you to my kids for continuing to challenge me, giving me things to write about.

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“You’re a brave mom for being out in public with him.” I could have easily been offended by the older woman’s words, but truthfully, I was feeling like I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide, or at least go home. The words she said after that, as she squeezed my shoulders, told me that she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings—but that she had been there. “My boy was the same way. I had to tie him in his crib for two years.”

My three-year-old gets referred to in many different ways: spirited, busy, wild, a handful, and many others. And he is all of those things. There are times I do feel brave for being out in public with him. But mostly it doesn’t feel brave, it’s a necessity. I have to get groceries, and sometimes I have to take him with me. Sometimes we need to eat lunch in public, although I would prefer to avoid it.

I never pictured myself being a “boy mom” (although I don’t fall strictly into the Boy Mom Club, as I also have a one-year-old girl). I was that person in the past who would see a spirited child in the store or at a restaurant and think, “Wow, do they not care that he is jumping around and making so much noise?” Now I realize, yes, they do care.

I’ve read a lot of articles on how to deal with “spirited” children and it seems like whenever I’m in the moment, I don’t know the right thing to do or say. And then it just seems like I have zero control over my child. But I do care. I would love for him to sit quietly and eat his lunch. I would love to be able to enjoy a meal in public without having to reprimand him every 15 seconds. But that’s not who he is right now. What most people don’t see though are the times when he will say, “Hug you,” meaning he wants a hug. Or when he says, “I’m going to give you a kiss.” Or when you have a Band-Aid on and he says, “Are you okay, Mama?” He is a wild boy with a big heart.

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The older lady reminded me that kids do grow up. And I’m sure if she had sat down and had a conversation with me, she would have told me to enjoy his wild ways and big smile and to not feel like everyone is watching me (although I am certain they were). She would have said that someday I would be able to sit and have lunch with a group of my friends in the quiet. But would I enjoy the quiet? Or would I want for the times when my little boy is testing every ounce of my patience?

I know that this window of time is so short in comparison to a lifetime. He will spend most of his life, God willing, as an adult and on his own. I won’t get to be on other side of all of his sticky hugs and slobbery kisses. I won’t hear, “Mama, look at this!” or “Mama, watch me jump!”

I know how cliche it is to hear, “You’ll miss this time when it’s gone.” And I know that I truly will. But some days, it really does feel brave to be a mom of a spirited boy. I could have been offended by the woman’s comment, but really, I took it as a compliment. I am brave. I have been reading Annie F. Down’s book, 100 Days to Brave, and every chapter feels like it was written just for me. I have never really thought about being brave and what that means in everyday life. God wants me to be brave, and not just live my life passively. My little boy teaches me that I can be brave, too. If he can jump off the couch without any fear (although sometimes I wish he would have a little fear), then I can be free to be me, not just a mom. I can explore my interests and hobbies and remember who I was before I was the mom of wild boy. And sometimes it takes a little nudge from a three-year-old and from a stranger at a restaurant to remind me that I am brave.

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

When a Farmer Has a Son

The first step into our home brings me onto the chocolate and caramel colored floors, which run the length of the house. The rich color attracts dust, something that is in great supply on the farmland that surrounds our home. The floor is smooth under bare feet, but I feel the grooves as I walk over each plank. My feet have become worn, my heels, smooth. I have trudged these floors bringing in groceries from the garage and pacing them with my newborn.

We spent nine months not knowing if we would be bringing home a boy or a girl. I had dreamed of a daughter, not imagining what it would be like to have a son. When the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” my eyes widened and my mouth was empty of words. After the initial shock wore off, I was in total awe of this dark-eyed boy. I never could have imagined the heart-stopping moments that come along with raising a young boy. Or how much I have began wondering what having a boy means for our farming family.

Twice now, we have brought babies into our home. Both times we were filled with excitement and fears, each in different ways. The first time was fear of the unknown, the second, fear of the knowing. We brought our son down the hall to the living room to introduce him to his new home.

When a son is born to a farmer, does a father immediately take a sigh of relief, knowing that his land will be passed onto a future generation? Does a mother draw in a breath, imagining the pressures for this baby who just entered this world?

While my son is still young, he appears to have an interest in farming. A farm boy has the privilege of seeing trucks, riding in tractors, and getting dirty in real life. His toys are replicas of his daddy’s work equipment, and play means driving the combine to the field and hauling cows to the spring pasture. I love seeing my son following his dad, taking two steps at a time to keep up, his little cowboy boots kicking up dust. His eyes lock onto his father, his little face shaded under his baseball cap. But moms of future farmer boys worry over all this fun. During our most recent trip to urgent care, my son pleaded with me several times, “Mom, we have to get back to harvest!” All while the doctor was stitching his finger.

Just like the dust that is constantly surrounding us, so is the work. As I glance out the picture window, I tire at all the work that is to be done. Farming is a family affair: from harvest meals in the field delivered by the farmer’s wife, to the dryer full of grain long after the last stalks of wheat are cut. Work begins when the sun comes up, and the tractors don’t shut down until after the sun is long gone.

I am not sure if we will ever know how much our influence has impacted his passion for farming—are we steering him toward this future? Like the reins on a horse we must be careful to guide, not push. Children, like seeds planted in the fertile soil, bloom and grow up. But I am raising my son to work alongside us. The harvest may be great.

When harvest is in full swing, my days are mostly spent alone with the kids. We feel the long days with my husband not home. After the dishes have been washed from the latest meal brought to the field, I find myself walking down the hallway in the quiet dark. Everyone is asleep. The floor is lined with plastic farm equipment, ready for another day of harvest. Behind this door, sleeps a firstborn son who is living up to the hope that the farm will be passed on to another generation. I pray that we lead him in the way that he wants to go, all while giving him every opportunity to succeed in this humble life if he chooses it.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

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This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.