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.

//

Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

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.

—                                                                             

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.

//

IMG_1095

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.

//

“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.

IMG_0626

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

//

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

 

 

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.

Out of the Mouths of (Farm) Babes

“What’s that sound?” my son asks. I put my hand above my eyes to block the sun on this already too hot May day. Looking toward where the sound is coming from, I don’t see the farm equipment that is in question. I give a quick reply thinking it will suffice, “It’s just a tractor.” My three and a half year old promptly says, “No, it’s not. It’s the wheel loader.” Within a few seconds, the wheel loader drives around the shop into sight. And yes, there is a difference between a wheel loader and a tractor. Just ask my son. I then wondered why he asked me the question, when he already knew the answer.

IMG_1232

Rhett wearing his dad’s jean jacket from when he was a kid.

I truly have learned that “kids say the darndest things.” And Rhett just might top the list. Now that the weather has finally turned to summer, we have been spending more time outside. One day Rhett was trying to get his Gator into the shed and he said, “Mom, where’s my hooker?” I paused for a moment, wondering if he had been watching some TV show that I would not approve of. I started looking around the yard, trying to envision the world from his point of view. I soon saw what I assumed was his hooker. His blue tow strap was lying on the ground, just waiting to be hooked up to his Gator. I smiled and felt a sense of relief that he hadn’t learned a new word that I would hope he would never say at church. Although there is still the risk he will be looking for his hooker at church. We will have to have a conversation that hookers are only for the farm and not at church.

There are some moments in parenting when you immediately feel a rush of pride and feel that you are doing something right. Starting at a fairly young age, Rhett would fold his hands and pray with us before meal times. He started doing it without any prompting, he merely was copying us by folding his hands at his highchair. As he has gotten older, he occasionally recites the prayers along with us. Due to my Lutheran background, I have always felt more comfortable reciting common prayers rather than praying “off the cuff.” This night was no different and we were saying the common table prayer. Rhett interrupted us and said he wanted to do it. I looked over at him in anticipation of what he was going to say. He bowed his head and said, “Come Lord Jesus, thanks for fixing the truck. Amen.” It was clear that he had spent the day at the shop with his dad and indeed they had been working on a truck.  

Rhett is already learning a strong work ethic, which can be a challenge when trying to get him to go to bed. There are many evenings when he doesn’t want to park his farm equipment and just wants to keep “working.” When I tell him it’s time to stop playing and go to bed he firmly tells me, “It’s my job!” I think his dad would agree that when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. For Rhett playing is his job, and it’s hard to convince him it’s time to call it day.

I started journals for each of my kids to write down funny things they say or do, and milestones along the way. I quickly realized that even though I think I’ll remember all the funny sayings, I don’t. Each year on their birthdays I write them a letter in their journal. I anticipate I will give them their journals on their 18th birthdays or when they graduate from high school.

What funny things do your kids do or say? Do you keep a journal for them?