Only the crocuses know

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Only the crocuses know
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A few days ago, I went out searching for crocuses.

The sun had been warm enough to dry the hilltops and gravel roads and so I thought a few of them may have been summoned. With my head down searching, I climbed to all the familiar places on the ranch where I know they live, just under the dirt, waiting for the right morning to take the risk and reach up.

I didn’t see a hint of that purple promise of spring.

The next day, I woke up to a blanket of fresh snow covering every inch of this place. It was April 1. I’d been fooled.

And so the snowflakes fell in big chunks outside our window all morning as my kids were slow to wake up for another day of playing mommies or monsters or dress-up. I shuffled around this house, picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

A few weeks ago, these tasks and countless requests from my children would have been competing with my sense of urgency to get my work done, to meet a deadline, to prepare for an event, to wake my kids up early to get in the car and leave the ranch with the sunrise. These days, the only place we need to be is home.

And aren’t we the lucky ones.

“Seems like we’re just living like we used to live out here,” my dad observed, recalling memories of his childhood on this place before the road to town was paved, before private phone lines, before he was old enough to know what he might be missing in that great big world that existed beyond these hills.

A few months ago, my 4-year-old started to ask me every night, “Where are we going tomorrow?” It was a question that snuck up on me, like somehow I didn’t think she would notice the rushed breakfasts, the late suppers, the weekends spent without me while I was on the road singing for that supper.

You all know we’re only in the beginning of this plea to retreat and distance ourselves from the lives we’ve grown accustomed to. And that looks like different things to different families, depending on situation and story.

But for us, even with the weight of worry heavy on my chest for all of the circumstances out of our control, I’m finding peace and strength in leaning into what is, like picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

And my walks to the hills, a daily reminder that to everything there is a season, and there’s no amount of worry and wishes that will make the crocuses grow.

Because only the crocuses know.

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Greetings from isolation

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Greetings from quarantine where we’re thankful for two full freezers, homemade chicken noodle soup and a community that is taking this outbreak and showing colors of caring and foresight and solidarity.

Also, YouTube. I am thankful for YouTube. Edie and I used it yesterday to work on our drawing skills and pass the time creatively while we wait for things to warm up so we can spend more time outside.

If you are home with little ones who like to create, I recommend visiting Art for Kids Hub and trying out their drawing tutorials together.

I am making it a goal to try to find a different creative project to do with Edie (and Rosie if she can sit still) each day, so watch my Instagram and Facebook stories if you want to follow along.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a podcast that I was honored to be a part of a few weeks ago. Rebecca Undem is the host of The Small Town Big Talk Show where she interviews guests about what it means to live big in a small town. As you can imagine I felt like this woman was hand picked as a friend for me, and we connected right off the bat. I was honored to be able to share a bit of my story and theories on why it’s important to invest in our small towns.

Enjoy and stay safe and healthy out there.

Sending love and a picture of Millie in a sweater.

The Small Town Big Talk Show with Rebecca Undem

On the show today, Jessie Veeder, musician, rancher, and author of a weekly column in North Dakota’s largest news publication, joins us to talk about her journey back to her rural community in western North Dakota. She shares about growing up in her community, and how she wasn’t encouraged to return due to the belief that there wasn’t a future for her there.
Now, after making her way back home, she’s contributing so much to the vibrancy of her community and she encourages us to do the same.

In this episode, we tackle… Why did it seem that you had no future in your small town? At the time when Jessie graduated, it didn’t seem that they were many prospects. Now, with great rural internet, she’s living a multi-passionate life that allows her to express all her unique gifts in a way that only she can. This future didn’t really exist for her then and now, it does.

Listen to this episode to hear more about: How to create a sense of place in your community and why it matters
Why quality of life and economic development are no longer separate in small towns How to make changes without ruffling feathers
How reconnecting to what you loved as a child can spark ideas
Why giving others ownership over projects is so important

Connect with Jessie: Websites: http://www.veederranch.com or jessieveedermusic.com Instagram: instagram.com/jessieveeder Facebook: facebook.com/veederranch

About Jessie Veeder: Singer, songwriter, writer and community advocate Jessie Veeder tells the story of Western North Dakota. An Americana musician with heartfelt, honest lyrics, Jessie has been singing and talking about the buttes and creeks of her family’s working cattle ranch since releasing her first original album at age 16. Since then she has gone on to tour nationally and record four more albums, the latest, “Northern Lights” recorded in Nashville in 2015. Jessie’s nationally acclaimed song “Boomtown,” a folk ballad about life for people in the Bakken has been featured on area news programs, national and international documentaries and put her on the frontlines of telling the story of community in oil country.

Since 2010 Jessie and her husband, Chad, have worked alongside her father as the fourth generation stewards of the Veeder Ranch where she chronicles life on the land as a weekly columnist for state-wide newspapers and on her popular blog titled “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…Her book “Coming Home,” released in 2017 is a compilation of her favorite photos, poems, stories and recipes. Jessie is currently working on a new album, “Playin’ Favorites,” due to be released this spring.

Jessie is a founding member of McKenzie County’s Long X Arts Foundation where she works as Tourism’s Art and Event director to help create and promote cultural and arts based activities in her hometown, blending her love and connection to the arts with her drive to make her community a better place to work and live.

No one’s sleeping

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My oldest daughter hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

Nighttime has become a routine of reading four books, then one more, please one more, and then singing three songs and then one more and then fulfilling a request to tell her the entire plot of “Frozen” while she comes up with another excuse for me not to leave her alone in her room.

“Please don’t go. Now tell me about ‘Frozen II.’ Please. Stay and snuggle me…”

She doesn’t want to be alone. And so none of us have been sleeping well lately, struggling between wanting to teach our 4-year-old independence and self-soothing and just giving into laying down with her, holding on tight before she grows too big to need us this way anymore.

Who cares if I wind up with a foot in my face and my body dangling halfway off the bed with no covers in reach? Who cares if we’re sleeping with her until she goes to college?

“Why now?” I wonder aloud to my husband as we telepathically will the other parent to deal with her 2 a.m. visit to our bedroom.

Is she growing? Is she scared of something? Are we spoiling her beyond repair? Are there really monsters in her closet? How do we not screw this child up?

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Last night, after the bedtime stories and snuggles and songs and snuggles, I tried a compromise to spending the night with her and set up camp outside her bedroom door. I could hear her tossing and turning as I scrolled through the news on my phone that, minute by minute, seemed to pile up to what was starting to feel suspiciously like the end of the world.

Every once in a while, my daughter would get out of her bed to check to see if I was still there, and with each check-in I reassured her, but tried not to give in. “I’m still here. Go lay in bed. I’m still here. Please, try to go to sleep.”

This went on for a good hour or so, which left me alone on the hard hallway floor facing the news of a country that’s divided and a disease that’s spreading and a world that’s uncertain and populations of people trying not to panic.

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And even though I knew I should tear myself away from it, take a deep breath and find my perspective again, I just felt my own anxiety rising in the back of my throat. In the dark and quiet of a privileged life in a house on the ranch that used to feel so far from everything, I was feeling scared.

And the fear wasn’t necessarily for myself, but for a world full of people who could be impacted beyond repair, not necessarily just by the things out of our control, but more disturbingly, by the decisions we make. How do we not screw this up?

Suddenly, it was me who needed reassurance. Suddenly, it was me who didn’t want to be alone in the dark with my own thoughts. Suddenly, I could relate to my daughter who had been tossing and turning and worrying and checking to make sure I was still there for her for the past hour.

She just wanted to feel safe. I just wanted to feel safe, laying smack in the middle of a metaphor my tiny daughter had created for me.

Because collectively, right now, that’s what we all want. To feel like we’re taken care of and that we have the means to take care of ourselves.

We want to have a plan. We want to be in control. And if we can’t be in control, we at least want to feel like we have the right people, our community, sitting on the other side of the door telling us not to worry.

We’re here.

We’ve got you.

Rest easy tonight.

I know it’s not just this house losing sleep these days. So I got up off the floor and went in to lay with my daughter, who curled in next to my body and immediately fell asleep. And it might not be the right thing, but it felt right to me then, because sometimes the only thing we can do is be present and hold on.

Now, let me tell you about “Frozen II.”

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To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

Cows by the dam

To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

To gather. As a ranch woman, this phrase conjures up images of roundup season, sitting on top of my horse and moving our cattle together from all corners of our pastures.

It’s the throaty hum of the animals’ voices as they call to their calves or to one another or out into the world, seemingly saying, “I’m here, I’m coming. All right already.”

It’s the creak of the old cows’ bones as we let them slowly navigate themselves toward a well-worn path they know toward home. And it’s the “heya” and the “c’mon” we let out of our lungs as we follow the small sea of black backs, the quiet counting and calculations in our heads, our warm breath cooling down in the autumn air.

It’s the swing of our leg off the saddle and the swing of the gate when they’re all in and accounted for so we can take a deep breath, put our hands on our hips and say, “Well, all right then…” and move on to the sorting.

I recently participated in a different kind of gathering down in Elko, Nev. A gathering of cowboy poets, musicians, artists and fans from across the world in an event dedicated to the stories we tell about a way of life that I would say is more rough than it is romantic, except it’s the rough parts that make it so.

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The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. That’s what they call it. And I like that they call it that, because that’s what it is.

It’s a gathering of people, ideas, stories, music, art and conversation in a small town in the dessert in the middle of winter when the cowboys and ranchers that create have time to take leave from the Plains or the mountains to connect with other artists and an audience eager to hear from them so that they might be a part of that life, too, if only for a few days under a felt hat.

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Mike, Dad and I with Cowboy poet Jake Riley

That is, if they have someone at home to feed the cattle and the kids. Which is where my husband falls in the story. Because everyone wants to be a cowboy until it’s actually time to do cowboy stuff, and so he got the less-glamorous gig of wiping toddler noses and rolling out hay bales while I was shaking hands and singing under the lights.

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And I couldn’t help but look out into the audience of hundreds of anonymous silhouettes sitting still and quiet and ready to nod along and feel overwhelmingly grateful that somebody thought the world needed an event like this. Because in the 20-some years that I’ve been writing music and performing, I’ve never found a better muse than the rural community, rugged landscape and ranch life in which I was raised.

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An American Forrest , Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Corb Lund on stage in Elko

But in the miles I’ve traveled up and down the Midwest, I have questioned if it ever really resonates, if there is anyone else out there who thought the world needed a song with a rhythm based on hoof beats. I’ve spent a career slowly finding those people who do, and then, three airplanes later, I found myself in a land where they’ve all congregated for us, caffeinated, fed, inspired and ready to listen.

To gather.

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Shared the stage with Brigid & Johnny Reedy

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This talented little ranch girl Marinna Mori

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With film maker Clare McKay and songwriter Anna Rose Pozzi

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Ran into Cowboy Poet, songster and podcaster Andy Hedges

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With the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

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And then randomly, one of my favorites, Colter Wall was in the greenroom

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Dad

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The morning gathering of entertainers at the Western Folklife Center

I kept saying it to myself as I looked out in this community the Western Folklife Center created in Elko for people like me and people nothing like me at all.

What happens when we gather? Those differences become less important than the way a song about loss reminds us both of similar struggle.

Or the way we collectively clapped and laughed, the whole auditorium full of us, as he yodeled and kicked up his leg.

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Backstage listening to the Munsick Boys

Or the silence none of us discussed but honored as an 85-year-old legend, with a voice worn from years of songs and stories, closed his eyes and worked through another one on a stage that afternoon.

And so I couldn’t help but feel a bit like our cattle that week down in Elko, surrounded by a sea of hats and smiles, reaching out to touch one another as we drew closer to say, “I’m here! I’m coming. All right already,” taking a familiar path toward a place that feels like home.

And I’m back at the ranch now, hands on hips, ready for the sorting…

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The Animals of Winter

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Like the animals of winter

Last week, I went out into the winter. I squeezed into my long underwear, pulled on layers, tied my scarf around my neck, made sure my wool cap covered my ears and zipped my coat to my chin.

The snow was fresh and the wind was blowing it in sparkly swirls around the barnyard. The hay bales were adequately frosted in neatly stacked white drifts, remnants of the small blizzard that blew through the ranch in the evening and was lingering into the late morning hours.

I stuck out my tongue to taste the snowflakes and snuggled down into the collar of my coat like a turtle as I walked toward the horses munching on hay below the barn. I wished I had their fur coats, thick and wooly and brave against the wind. I wished I had their manes, wild and tangled and smelling of dust and autumn leaves, summer heat and ice.

They keep it all in there, all of the seasons.

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They nudged and kicked at one another, digging their noses deeper in the stack of hay, remembering green grass and fields, tasting warmer weather in their snack. I lingered there with them, noticing how the ice stuck on their eyelashes and clung to the long hair on their backs.

I scratched their ears and pulled some burs out of their manes and imagined what grove of trees they picked to wait out the storm last night, standing close and breathing on one another’s back. A herd.

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I followed them out of the protection of the barnyard and into the pasture where the frozen wind found my cheeks and the dogs cut footprints in the fluffy snow in front of my steps. They played and barked and jumped and sniffed and rolled in the white stuff, like children on a snow day.

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I found the top of the hill and let myself feel the cold. I had forgotten how my cheeks can go numb, how my fingertips ache, now my eyelashes stick together at the close of a blink and how the wind finds its way through the layers of clothing and freezes my skin.

I forgot that sometimes it doesn’t matter that you took care to wear wool socks and three pairs of pants — we are never as prepared as the animals. Sometimes, the weather just wins.

Winter barn

I wished I had fur on my ears, tufts on my feet, whiskers to catch the snow. I wished I had hard hooves to anchor me, my own herd to lean against, to protect me from the wind. I wished I was part of a pack, chasing and jumping and rolling through the drifts.

I might have stayed out longer if I had these things. I would have explored how the creek had froze, stuck my nose in the snow, walked along the banks of the coulee, leaned against the buttes and followed the indecisive sun.

But my scarf wasn’t thick enough, there was snow in my boots and my skin is fragile and thin. No, my body’s not wooly and my nose is not fuzzy. And my fingers? Well, if we can’t have hooves, then we at least have fingers, to knit sweaters and sew together blankets, our hands to build fires and houses to protect us, our arms to wrap around one another, our feet to propel us toward shelter or sun and our brains to invent things like warm, spicy soup and hot coffee and buttery buns.

No, we might not have fur coats, but we have opposable thumbs. I pointed my frozen feet toward the house and flung open the door, stripped off my layers and stood over the heater vent, happy for my warm house and man-made blankets.

And happier still for a promise of spring that isn’t too far away on this winter day…

Winter Horses

A New Song

A New Song

“If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”

I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.

I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…

“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”

My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.

I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.

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My 2005 Release

It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.

And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.

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I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.

When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.

I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.

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But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.

Jessie Veeder Music

I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.

When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.

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Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?

At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.

The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.

And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.

Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.

And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight…

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Watch for the release of my new album, “Playin’ Favorites” that celebrates the songs that influenced me in the spring. 

And check out my music website,jessieveedermusic.com for a list of places I’ll be playing near you! 

Outside the fence

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Coming Home: Outside the Fence
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There’s a little stem of a willow tree growing wild in our backyard. I wouldn’t have known it except my dad pointed it out in the thick of the wild grasses, bushes and weeds that we have been meaning to turn into a retaining wall for years.

Willow trees aren’t common out here among the bur oak and the ash, the bull berry thorns and chokecherry brush, except for the big ones that line the edge of the stock dam outside of our fence line, so Dad thought it was special, suggesting maybe we keep it there to grow instead of digging it up to make room for petunias or paving stones or domesticated bushes. I looked out at those big willows then and couldn’t help but think what a big jump that little seed took from home to here, what strength it had to dig in among the clover and weeds, successfully avoiding lawn mowers and chubby, curious hands.

Last month, while I was attempting to assist my 3-year-old daughter at T-ball practice, she told me to go wait outside the fence and watch like the other parents, because apparently now she’s a teenager.

Today at her little preschool Bible day camp, she gave me the same direction — and this time I was even offering a cookie.

She was sitting at a tiny table with a group of her friends and it was as if my presence immediately reminded her of her small place in the world at a moment when she was really feeling quite big. And hilarious.

Her little sister Rosie has already taken the “no parents allowed” stance on important things like hand-holding down the steps, drinking out of lidless cups and, recently, getting in on the dance circle and the horse-drawn wagon rides with the big kids, reminding me that the letting go part happens slowly and then all at once, like the way that we all noticed that tiny little willow tree that had been working on growing right under our noses day after sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day.

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Below the boards of our deck, in the corner on top of the beam, a mother robin spent her springtime gathering sticks and mud, grass and rocks to build a nest for five little blue eggs. Her work was so unassumingly diligent that we didn’t even notice the life and home she created there until among the laughter and frosting and pony rides of my niece’s birthday party.

This time, my dad looked up to find four tiny little fuzzy heads attached to beaks open wide, stretching up to find a mother surely coming with a worm or a bug.

I took the girls to get a better look from above through the cracks in the deck, instructing them to close one eye and keep the other one open to help them spot the tiny creatures who were close enough to feel our breath. I noticed the mother then, perched on the cedar fence rail that serves as a symbol, a barrier between the tame and wild world, safe and unsure. She was waiting there, watching, a worm dangling from her beak.

Tonight I am sitting alone in my backyard listening to the day quiet down with the chirping of those birds and the howling of the coyotes. That nest below me has been empty for weeks, because as fast as we think our babies sprout wings, real birds fly in a blink.

And I am the willow, the robin, the mother, on the other side of the fence with a worm, with a prayer, with a hand reaching out to steady them as they stretch toward the sky.

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All the things to love

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All the the things to love
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Last night, as we were driving back to the ranch late from a performance in a bigger town, my dad said he wishes he could live a whole other lifetime so he would have time to fit in all of the things he wants to do.

He said it sort of casually to our friend sitting in the passenger’s seat, the man who has played guitar next to me during most of my music career and stood on stages with my dad in their younger lives. I sat in the back seat listening to them talk about the getting old stuff they are facing now — retirement and bad shoulders, travel and finances and grown children.

But I couldn’t shake what my dad said about the other lifetime, because it’s the same thing that has come out of my mouth time and time again, but it was the first time I’d heard it come out of his.

I wish there were another couple hours to linger a bit on the most important, or the sweetest, or the warmest, or the most fun things. To sit on the back of this horse a little longer, or with my arms around my sleeping child, or climb another hill, or make a trip to see my friends, or help or host or work on the ideas that tumble and toss in my head — the ones that need nothing but a little work and the extra time, time that we cannot, no matter how we try, create.

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And it’s funny that he said it then, after we wrapped up a night of music in a beautiful park in the middle of a growing town. That evening I stepped away before we went on the stage to have a look around. I watched daddies strolling babies, grandparents taking walks, a woman playing fetch with her dog, kids screeching down the slide, and I thought, ‘Well, I could live here.’

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And then for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine it. It’s the same way I imagine myself being a part of the families riding their bikes down a charming city sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. I wonder what it looks like in their houses and then I recognize that there wasn’t ever just one way to be me.

This spot out here on the ranch, where the cattle poop in my driveway and eat my freshly potted plants, might have remained the quiet little pile of abandoned cars and farm machinery if I would have followed through with my idea when I was 22 years old to move to the big city and sing.

What if he never asked me to marry him? What if he bought that motorcycle he talked about and headed farther west while I headed east, uncompromising in the vision I had for myself at that moment as someone who shouldn’t go home again?

There’s nothing there for me. They told me so. Would I have bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb in the Midwest or traveled to Nashville like they all told me I should do?

Would I have broken his heart and met someone new? Would I have children now with different colored eyes and unfamiliar names and would we ride our bikes and play fetch in a park like this listening to another woman singing about a life I could only imagine?

And in these imaginary scenarios, I like to think that I am happy and content, that whatever choices I made would find me just fine. And if I’m being honest, a part of me wishes that there was some way I could find out what would have become of me in Minneapolis or in Nashville or on a ship on the Mediterranean. What would my new favorite places become?

Because as much as there are things in this world that terrify me, those don’t weigh as heavy as the weight of all the things there are out there to love, if only we had another lifetime.

“Oh, I hate this getting old stuff,” our friend said to my father and then they both got quiet, staring ahead at a dark and familiar road, the headlights lighting up the night.

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Parenting pit stop

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Over Memorial Day weekend, my most favorite sister-in-law in the entire world took my children on a four day camping trip so that my husband and I could be alone in our house together for the first time, basically, since the first kid was born.

It was a gift that resulted in meals eaten uninterrupted, a date night, two clean vehicles, a mowed lawn, weeds sprayed, flower pots planted, multiple rooms cleaned, a tiling project complete, a front door replaced, and the basement bathroom construction nearly finished.

Oh, and I sorta slept in.

And we watched a movie together without both falling asleep.

And while we checked off our list the girls were playing with their cousins and friends and making the best kind of memories.

It was one of the best gifts my sister-in-law could have given me. And it got me thinking that I could have been better some things in my kid-free life…

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A parenting pit stop is more important than you might think
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This morning, about 15 miles into our 30-mile trip to town for work and day care, my 3-year-old daughter declared from the back seat, out of the blue, that she had a tummy ache.

I asked if she thought she had to poop and then held my breath for the answer, because (1) we were another 20 minutes from the nearest potty and (2) we were also approaching the busiest intersection between here and there, meaning an emergency ditch stop wasn’t likely going to be a private one.

I started to sweat a little as I asked follow-up questions. It wouldn’t be our first busy-roadway-ditch-potty-pit-stop, but it turns out it was our first busy-roadway-ditch-puke-pit-stop. And just like that, child No. 1 wasn’t going to day care and my plans for a productive day at the office turned into my laptop on the kitchen table surrounded by Play-Doh and a child bouncing back to life minute by minute, begging me to go play on the playground.

Parenthood will surprise you, just like a side-of-the-road puke. And I’m telling you, 11 years ago, when our friends started having children in their mid-20s while my husband and I worked to build our lives around our visits to the infertility clinics, I wish I knew.

And it’s not so I could be prepared for this whole motherhood thing myself. Nothing prepares you for this. But looking back, I wish I knew what my friends’ lives were like with those young kids in tow. Because, bottom line, it’s hard on friendships when the babies come for some and not for others, which has certainly been the case for my husband and me.

But the level of the dust we got left behind in didn’t really resonate with me until we started kicking up our own all these years later. And now those friends carpool to hockey practices while we wrestle with car seats and I am starting to realize how crappy I was at being a friend to them back then.

I didn’t know what it really takes out of you to raise these tiny humans. I only knew what it took out of me as I hoped to be in their role.

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And I didn’t know what it truly meant to relieve some of the stresses of parenting little kids. Hint: The gestures don’t need to be grand. In fact, just the tiniest effort, like offering to watch the kids for an hour so she can go to that hair/dentist/doctor/banking appointment ALONE makes a big difference in the life of a parent of toddlers.

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Or maybe it’s just swinging by for a few minutes to give her a moment of adult conversation and a chance to pee without company. Especially the ones with limited day care options, like many of us have in these small towns or growing communities.

Before I became a mother myself, I took my free time for granted, free time I could have thought to give to a friend with a young child who might want an hour or so alone to clean the bathrooms or vacuum out her car without a “helper.”

Or maybe she wants a date with her husband? That would be nice. I could have done that for her. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now.

And I’m doing my best to try to be a better village member, especially out here in the middle of nowhere, where our village is so small. With my little sister now living down the road, a 2-year-old in tow with another on the way, I have a clear view of what she needs.

Because more often than not, parenthood feels like that panicked little voice coming from the back seat, with no ideal pit-stop options for miles.

And I’m going to do my best to be that pit stop.

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Not on days like today

Spring Trees

Not on days like today
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I planted some flowers this afternoon as the temperature reached up toward what we can finally call warm.

Some are working to root themselves in pots that have sat for years on this deck, and some sit next to me on the deck waiting for a turn as I watch the moon come up. Behind me, the sun streaks the sky pink, making its long, dramatic exit.

I leave more things undone these days than ever before. It’s a part of motherhood no one told me about. Inside the house, the ice in my husband’s whiskey glass clinks as he walks across the room, but I am outside searching for words tonight.

So I look up. The tops of the oak and ash trees are budding a neon sort of green, trying to compete with the birches. It’s quiet out here in a way that a world waking up and winding down is quiet.

The birds are having their final say for the evening. I hear whistles and chirps and the flap of the wings of ducks on the dam against the drone of crickets and the creak of frogs.

Something big is moving on the trail in the trees. I watch for it to appear — a deer, maybe an elk or cow — but it quiets and so I look up again.

Up at those treetops that were bare this morning, before the sun shone at 75 degrees, and I wonder if those crickets and birds and frogs, if that wind and the barking dogs in the distance, if the cattle and the babies and the mommas and the daddies and the engines of the trucks rumbling way up on the highway could take the same breath and hold it all at once, at the right moment, if we might actually be able to hear those leaf buds emerging one by one.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

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We will never know. Nothing here could ever stay so quiet. I suppose it’s all magic enough as it is.

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I’m anxious for the change of seasons. I feel like those leaves. It’s why I loaded up our pickup box with little cherry tomato plants and basil, petunias and geraniums, black dirt and seeds. All of the hope that is held in the small bud of a sprouting leaf I hold inside of me.

This afternoon, I filled up the baby pool with warm water as the sun shone on the backs of my splashing, naked children, and I dug in the dirt. Before I could strip her down appropriately, my youngest daughter, 1-year-old Rosie, climbed in that tiny wading pool. With her blankie clenched in her fist, she drug it with her to the water that was soaking her socks and up over the hem of her little pink pants.

And when she was where she wanted to be, she just stood there and looked out over her world and up at the big blue sky and fluffy clouds shaped to fit her imagination. A better mother might have scooped her up, but I just let her be for a moment.

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We’re all so thirsty. Tomorrow it will be cooler, and maybe it will rain, but today they were mermaids and then they were fishermen and I was a gardener dreaming of plump red tomatoes bursting in our mouths and a world where we might sell them together, my daughters and me, in little Mason jars on a card table at a farmers market in town.

Someone told me a story like this once, and there are times that my dreams are much bigger, but not today.

Not on days like today.