Finding yourself in parenthood…

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Finding yourself in parenthood
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Before I became a mother, before I realized that you’re not always in control of the timing of your life and throughout my six pregnancy losses, I was worried about the way in which becoming a mother was going to impact me creatively — in my career and in my process.

Because, looking back on it now, I didn’t see any women like me out there who were mothers on the road singing and performing and speaking with their kids in tow. And if they were, then maybe I wasn’t hearing them talking about it, or complaining about, or, what I really wanted, writing a step-by-step instruction manual on how it was done.

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And so I only thought I could be one or the other — a creative person or a parent. But since I was a young teenager, I’ve been performing and writing music and stories as part of my living in most of its phases. After 20 or so years in some sort of a professional music career, 10 years of marriage and pregnancy losses and crying and trying, by the time I became a mother, I had fully developed a version of myself that had dug in, planted roots and wasn’t going to change without a fight.

Cue a battle with postpartum depression that I didn’t see coming and didn’t dare admit after all that time and all that struggle. Because no one tells you that even if you’re finally granted everything you thought you’ve ever wanted, you still have to learn how to exist with it.

This new tiny human was an endeavor that had changed my body, changed my mind, changed my sleep patterns and sucked me of all the freedom from which I drew my creativity, that had for so many years been tied to my self-worth and my bottom line. Turns out, nothing squashes that whole freedom-to-let-your-thoughts-wander vibe quite like a new human life in your house.

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And from what I can tell so far, it’s pretty clear that my children will never stop interrupting me. When I became a mother, I found it profoundly difficult to find inspiration beyond my new child, partly because there was nothing I found more fascinating or magical and partly because the long walks alone taking photographs of the sunset became a long-lost memory of a different version of myself.

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Now I’m almost four years into this parenting gig with, God willing, a lifetime ahead of us all, and I’m finding I’ve managed to wrestle and push and grind and hustle (and medicate) my way back to a version of myself that feels whole and connected and fulfilled and creative again. And it doesn’t look like it used to.

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So let me tell you what it looks like now (because I wish someone would have done the same for me). It looks like me trying to do a promotional photo shoot for a new album with just me, the photographer and my two young daughters dancing, singing, fighting and crying for a snack while I yell “Just a minute baby!” and smile with my guitar while the light is still golden.

It looks like them getting a hold of my phone and Facetiming my little sister and then China and me letting them go ahead and do it if it gives me three more minutes of time to try to get the shot.

It looks like “Mommy, I have to go pee,” and then helping her pop-a-squat in the pasture and getting back to it.

It looks like the one epic meltdown and the guitar dropped in the dirt that ended it all and sent us home for pizza and wine (for me, not the kids). It was nuts. It was sort of embarrassing. It was on the edge of chaos, but it got done. And we all survived (except my guitar).

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And then I found myself wondering out loud to my little sister on the phone (who was checking in after the Facetime call to see if we all survived) why do I do this? It takes me a little time after the kids go to bed to quiet the negative voices in my head and listen for the reminder.

I want to be known as my daughters’ mother. I want them to know that I am there for them fully and completely and that I love them entirely, but not exclusively, not solely. More than a strict bedtime schedule, I want to show my daughters what it looks like to have passion, to love beyond.

Because, ultimately, that was the greatest gift my parents gave me — they live and are living their lives as love in action — for the land, for the arts, for the community and, of course, for their family.

And truth be told, sometimes love and passion looks and feels and sounds a lot like work. And maybe it’s a mistake, just like the one I made tonight by keeping the photo shoot on my schedule without any help with the kids.

But I’m just out here trying to be true to myself so that my daughters can see what that looks like and lean on it when they’re out there in this big, wide world struggling to do the same.

 

 

Country living and grocery store fails

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If only we had an endless garden year round to keep me from the grocery store…

Why do I make the easiest tasks so difficult?

Country living and grocery store fails

Last night, I did that thing where you have 30 minutes between work and day care pickup to power shop the grocery store and restock the essentials while planning a week’s worth of meals in your head because the list you have on hand only says “eggs and milk,” but the list in your head screams, “You’re all going to be living off of Daddy’s secret stash of ramen noodles if I put this grocery shopping trip on the back burner one more day…”

So yeah, I did that thing where I hang out between the canned beans and the pickles and text my husband about the level of our flour supply and he texts back that I should pick up some whiskey. And then I check the time and power walk through the cereal and freezer sections, throwing in a couple pizzas for good measure on my way to the checkout with a cart so full I have to hold the big family-sized box of frozen lasagna under one arm like a spectacle of the failed ranch wife and mother I’ve become.

And even though I had to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay the bill, I somehow managed to forget the most urgent of my husband’s requests: dog food and whiskey. But I’m proud to say, when it came to toilet paper and ranch dressing, my Midwestern country living instincts didn’t let me down, because, well, girlfriend don’t want to be stranded…

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But I think those instincts are also to blame for the reason I brought home my fourth box of Minute Rice for the pantry shelves that currently house 17 jars of mayo, bags and bags of dry beans we’ve never ever cooked with in our entire lives, a bigger noodle selection than the Olive Garden and enough oatmeal to feed a branding crew if we were facing down the apocalypse.

Oh, and because I’m always inspired by the beautiful produce aisle and my snug-fitting jeans, I decided I’m going to start eating healthier, once and for all. So I bought a giant container of mixed greens for all of the salads in my future… Mind you, that was before the aforementioned panicked, time-crunched walk through the freezer section for last-minute chicken nuggets, but I digress.

Because after I got all of my wares and two toddlers into the house in a record-breaking (and arm-breaking, and back-breaking) two trips, I realized I must have had that same salad conversation with myself last time I was at the grocery store when I discovered the same exact container of mixed greens sitting untouched in my produce drawer.

So I did what every goal-oriented and focused career woman, wife and mother of two would do when faced with that moment of clarity — I poured us all big bowls of Peanut Butter Crunch for supper, called my sister to see if she could use some fresh lettuce and called it a day.

Because there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow we’re having salad… and dry beans… and Minute Rice…

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Or garden tomatoes….

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Or homemade noodles (if I have flour) 

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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My holiday wish for you

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A sight we didn’t know if we’d ever see coming into 2018. 

Happy New Year to you all my friends. I hope you found some peace this holiday season. I’m trying to recover it in day three of my attempt at taking down the Christmas decorations and day eleventy-billion of the flu and pink eye and runny noses and coughs

As we face down the new year, I am thankful for a 2018 that challenged our hearts and our relationships, but brought us here, together and laughing in the best possible outcome.

And if you’re carrying with you a heavy heart, this is my wish for you.

The Day After Christmas, and my wish for you

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It’s the day after Christmas. I can’t see my floor. Every dish in this place is either dirty or awaiting its fate in the sink or dishwasher.

Toys are making noises that I can’t figure out how to stop, and I’ve eaten nothing but sugar cookies in the last 12 hours. And it’s snowing. A little late for a white Christmas, but I’m fine with that.

What lies ahead of us is a few more long months of winter, saved by those noisy new toys and the sweet memories we made the past few days with family. And I am grateful for so many things this year, but on the top of that list is our health. We have it today.

And as I sat in the emergency room with my husband and 1-year-old when we were supposed to be eating prime rib dinner with his family last weekend, I couldn’t help think of all the holiday suppers spent in hospital rooms around the world. Oh, our daughter is fine. A dose of Motrin and a flu diagnosis and off we went to wipe her nose and snuggle her for the next several days.

And I left that hospital knowing full well that we have a sick baby at Christmas, and yes, that’s a bummer, but we are the lucky ones. We are the lucky ones who got to bring her home. We are the lucky ones who were granted our Christmas wishes last year to spend another holiday season with my dad, Papa Gene, and watch the kids dance as he played “Jingle Bells” on the guitar.

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At this time last year, we didn’t know if we would ever see him again as I served pancakes on Christmas Eve in an attempt to carry on the comfort of tradition as we held our breath with worry.

In my life, I haven’t been sheltered from the fact that the holidays are not magical and harmonious for everyone, regardless of the faith one might carry. In fact, in the presence of twinkling lights, Champagne toasts, carols, gifts and funny photos of children terrified of Santa, grief, loneliness, hopelessness and worry become magnified. And for some, if the suffering or the loss is fresh or in the present moments, the weight can be unbearable.

I’ve known that unbearable weight. I know the feeling of going through the motions. And now that we’re on the other side, in a place where we are opening gifts with the babies we never thought we’d have and wrapping up dad’s leftover prime rib bones for the dogs, I wanted to leave this here. I wanted to say it out loud, put it in print, to tell you if you’re living that suffering right now, I see you.

I know you’re out there staring down a new year and wondering if you’re all going to be OK, if you’re all going to get through. If you’ll survive it.

And while each circumstance, each ache and emotion radiates through every heart in a different way, as the winter settles in now, my wish for you is that you can let go of that breath, hold tight to the memories and reach out for the people that love you.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

Out of respect for the angels.

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It’s been a rough couple weeks at the Veeder Ranch. After a bad bout of pancreatitis, three surgeries and a week and a half hospital stay in the big town, dad’s finally home resting up and probably making plans to do things he shouldn’t be doing yet.

We’re shipping calves on Thursday and, well, there’s lots to do to get ready for that. So it wasn’t great timing for my daughter to come down with this weird flu all last week where she would trick you into thinking she was just fine, twirling around in her dress and bowing like a princess, right before snuggling into your arms and barfing all over you. I brought her in to the doctor on Monday for a rash and then again at the end of the week because I thought she was going to starve to death for lack of food hitting the bottom of her stomach.

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And then she gave it to me, the little darling. So yeah, having the flu at 8 months pregnant, now I know how that feels. My husband had to take a couple days off work to deal with the ailing, whining females in the house, pushing back his plans to build corrals and move cows home after work in preparation for this week. And for those of you who don’t understand the daylight savings time thing we have happening up here in the winter, we get daylight now only until about 5:15 pm, so there’s not much time for ranchers who also work a day job to get much done after work.

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Anyway, the man didn’t complain. But then he got the flu himself and all I can say is that sounds about right. ‘Tis the season.

Isn’t it interesting how much we take our health for granted until it slams us hard and reminds us that it can stop us in our tracks? All the big plans we’ve made don’t mean much when you can’t get up out of bed, and in the case of dad, in our most uncertain moments of the ordeal, whether or not he ever would again.

And in these moments, when we’re at our most vulnerable, it’s when the littlest things have the most impact. My aunt made several two hour trips to the hospital, for example, to be there for my mom when we couldn’t. My uncles are coming this week to help with the cattle. And that is something they think is a little thing that they can do, but it’s a big thing. A very big thing.

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Because it goes the other way too, in times of crisis and worry and sleep deprivation, the small inconveniences in life, the bad news on television, a rude or misplaced comment that may have otherwise rolled off your back, those poke and grate harder and can become unreasonably unbearable, because there’s no more room to place them.

You’re already carrying a much too-heavy thing.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about the moments that make the heavy things feel a bit lighter and how simple it is to choose to be kind in spite of it all. Because often we think that having faith takes the form of big, complicated, grand miraculous gestures, scriptures and the regiment of religion, but I think more than all of that, it’s inside of us.  And when you choose to be a light, well, maybe that’s the way angels work.

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All the ways I’ve seen angels at work
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She took his hand and looked him square in the eyes as he lay there in the hospital bed, in pain, worried and frustrated. His thoughts and words were clouded under the mask of painkillers, and it was her job to check his vitals, help manage his pain and answer his family’s questions about what was going on in our dad’s body.

Seeing him in that hospital bed, the man who was in his wool cap and on a horse just days before, laying there so vulnerable and sick brought back too many memories of that long January night just three years ago when his heart tore and we nearly lost him.

Could we be there again? How much agony should we put into this moment that turned into a week of waiting in that hospital room with him? Because worrying and calling the nurse is all a person can do in moments of helplessness.

I’m not sure I’ve said it out loud before, but I’ll say it here: I think I might believe in angels.

Maybe not in the literal sense, where they swoop down from heaven with outstretched wings — I don’t think it’s as theatrical as that.

But I think I’ve seen them inhabit the shape of things here, if only for the moments in which we need them — the body of a good dog, a well-timed breeze, an outstretched hand — all small things with the capacity to restore, if only briefly, a worn-out faith in this place.

I’ll confess these days my faith has been waning. With this world growing smaller, and so many words thrown out and scattered recklessly, it’s hard to escape the cruelty that humans choose to inflict on one another. It’s wearing me out and making me sad and scared.

I’ve seen the price people pay for anger and hatred; we’ve all seen it reported to us, seemingly, hour by hour. But that morning that nurse looked into my dad’s eyes and rubbed his arm in a genuine attempt to bring him comfort, I knew I was witnessing an angel moment, one that nurse pulled out effortlessly in the hectic and so very unglamorous demands of her day. It’s her job, yes, but it would be much easier for her to make her rounds, do her duty and keep her heart out of it.

I imagine it would certainly keep her schedule on better track.

And as it turns out now, my dad’s going to be OK. His ailment was excruciating, but his life’s not in danger. And for that we’re grateful.

But the whole ordeal has worn on our nerves and made us less patient with the little things because of the weight of the big thing we’ve been carrying for days on end.

Yet I vowed in the hospital hallway to take a cue from Dad’s nurse, so I offered a smile and directions to the cafeteria to a man who looked lost, because Good Lord, aren’t we all?

If the cost of kindness is nothing but a few minutes, I’m willing to pay it forward, out of respect for those angels.

Unexpected free time…

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It’s Monday.

Another busy enough week looms and both Edie and I have been battling a cold for a good week now, because apparently we don’t waste time in getting in on cold and flu season.

We spent the weekend in Bismarck where I had a singing engagement and my mom chased my daughter around the event grounds while dad and I sang, trying to keep her hat on and her little hands occupied.

They had fun, Edie rode a little pony, jumped in the jumpy castles and ate popcorn. I had a meeting there the day before, so we stayed in a hotel and Edie got to go swimming, which is pretty much her favorite thing to do in the world besides singing and twirling around in her dress.

And apparently she’s ready for the belly flop olympics as well…

Oh my gawd, this girl did this like thirty seven thousand times before I finally had to wrestle her out of the pool and calm her down so she could take a breath.

She’s got a lot of get-up-and-go that one. But she comes by it honestly. And lately, as we’ve been exploring this world together, trying to fit in a good amount of work and play into each day, I’ve also been thinking that my other big hope is that I can teach her how to find peace and inspiration in the quiet times. I hope she seeks it out. I hope I can teach her how to properly work, properly play and properly take a breath and relax and enjoy the moment.

I need to stop and remind myself of this important part of this life as well sometimes.

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So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about an unexpected unscheduled Saturday and how I chose to use it…

How I spent an unexpected dose of free time 

Apparently when I’m pregnant I can’t help but feel like I’m a ticking time bomb, waddling around counting the days until my world explodes into unmanageable chaos.

So I have a tendency, I’ve learned, to try to manage the heck out of everything in my path in the meantime.

I overbook my work schedule, I annoy my husband with reminders about unfinished house projects, I organize places like bathroom cabinets, I plan house additions and I deep clean the oven, (because apparently deep cleaning the oven is strictly a hormonal thing…)

Yes, my mentality as a pregnant woman is a weird sort of frantic, but after months of running around trying to fit it all in, I think I’m gonna have to call it.

I’m tired.

But I still have a good two and a half months to grow this baby, which, in my brain, should be enough time to finish that entryway addition and get a good start on my novel.

Last weekend my husband left to go hunting in Montana, Edie went to spend a couple nights with my mother-in-law and my Saturday event got cancelled, which left me with an unexpected window of time that I planned to use to clean out my office to make way for the crib and the tiny baby socks.

Blame it on the late night spent singing, or the rainy day, or just plain laziness, but that Saturday I didn’t step foot in that office. Nope.

I was alone in my house in the middle of nowhere for over 24 hours and nobody called and I called nobody.

I didn’t use my voice, I didn’t go outside, I didn’t cook or get dressed and moved only to do a couple loads of laundry and take out some stinky garbage. I read. I ate. I seriously took binge-watching Netflix to the proper level. I took a nap.

And I had to keep reminding myself that it was OK.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I finally had some quiet moments to myself, and I couldn’t help but use it to wonder why the luxury of free, unscheduled time made me feel so anxious. Maybe I’ll just blame it on my workaholic parents who I’ve rarely seen spend an entire Saturday relaxing…

Which I sort of get now. Before becoming a parent, I would have likely spent that Saturday being productive in leisurely and creative ways, like taking a hike in the rain to come up with new ideas, inspiration and motivation.

But that was before I understood how fast you become accustomed to taking care of the constant needs of young children, and how it becomes embedded so deep into the muscles of your body you forget how to be alone with both your hands free and a mind with a quiet space to wander again.

Which I probably should have done. I should have let my mind wander. But I was too busy having zero inspiration, feet up, hair up, counting baby kicks between bites of popcorn and reminding myself to enjoy it because it’s all gonna hit the fan again soon enough…

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What I don’t want to forget…

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Greetings from Minnesota. We spent the Labor Day weekend here with my grandparents and aunt at the lake cabin and in true family vacation fashion, we get to stay a bit longer because my car crapped out on us.

So send a little prayer up for my radiator so we can get on the road and head back west with the babies at a decent hour today.

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But we’ve had a nice time. Edie and Ada have the relatives wrapped around their tiny little fingers and it’s so wonderful to see Edie at this fun age developing relationships with our family.

It seems like there’s so much turmoil and unease in the news and in our world right now, some days it’s hard for me to stay grounded and optimistic about it all. But spending a stretch of days focused on extended family, creating memories, keeping it close to home, teaching and showing love and affection and feeling it in return reminds me that it begins here…

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It begins with our children.

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Coming Home: What I don’t want to forget

Yesterday I asked Edie if she pooped.

“Pew Eee,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose, scrunching up my face.

“Pew Eee Hondo,” she replied, mimicking my actions and successfully blaming the dog for the first time.

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I guess it doesn’t take long for them to start figuring out how this world works. Like, I thought I had more time before she started declaring opinions about my wardrobe, but I was wrong. She demands I take my shoes off when they’re on in the house and when I have my hair up, she makes it clear that she prefers it down until I oblige and she can move on with her little life.

And she’s got even stronger ideas about what she should be wearing. Like absolutely nothing when she’s outside in the backyard, bending over to moon the world while drinking out of the kiddie pool like her BFF Hondo. And when she’s inside? Well, she must be in a dress.

A dress and a winter beanie — I’m sure she’s right in style and I’m just her old pregnant mom walking behind her making sure she doesn’t make poor decisions, like running wide open down the scoria road toward the bulls screaming “MOOOO!”

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These are the types of things I report to her dad at the end of the day when he walks through the door. Because not only do I never want to forget, it feels a little unfair that her only audience is a hormonal woman three months away from giving birth to another one of these mysterious, messy and magical tiny humans.

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Last week my family hit up the local farmer’s market to buy some peaches and listen to my dad and his band play. I stepped up behind the microphone to sing a few songs and Edie cried the cry of heartbreak until I plopped her on my hip to sing with me. It took a couple rounds of the chorus, but before long she leaned in and sang the words to “You Are My Sunshine,” as clear and as confident as a 1-year-old can be, right into that mic. And then she grabbed it out of my hand for another round.

I’ve spent the past few days hearing from my friends who have been sending their kids off to another year of school. So many talks of firsts and nerves and “where does the time go?” and big hopes and worries about tenderness, toughness and compassion as they navigate the time out from under their parents’ wings. It’s exciting and heart-wrenching to know it won’t be long before the little world Edie’s so intent on figuring out gets bigger and more complicated.

I mean, one stage performance has already secured her a bigger audience…

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And there are a thousand things to reflect upon and have opinions on in the tumultuous times we’re living in, but today I just want to tell you how on Saturday, when we came inside from looking at the stars, Edie waved, blew a kiss and said goodbye to the moon.

And it was everything.

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A moment in the plans we’ve made

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This week’s column is a little reflection triggered by branding day at the ranch a few weekends back.

It really is something to take a breath in the middle of this crazy life and realize that the crazy was actually your intention and what you’re doing is a little piece of a dream coming true.

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Oh, and for those of you who don’t reside in Western North Dakota, a slushburger is a sloppy joe.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement. In six months or so I’ll be calling you at 3 am wondering what we were thinking.

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Coming Home: Taking time to appreciate moments as ranch, family expands

I rushed to get the slushburger in the slow cooker, the chip dip layered and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He’s more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.

The neighbors would be here in an hour or so to help ride, and I had to get Edie and my niece dressed and down the road to gramma’s with the burger, melon and grocery bags full of paper plates and potato chips so I could climb on a horse of my own.

It was branding day at the ranch, and the sun was quickly warming up the world as I finally made it to the barnyard, buckling my belt as I ran past the neighbors and the guys already saddled and waiting to take off over the green hills together, splitting off at the corrals up top to gather cattle in the corners, search the brush and trees and meet up at the flat to take them home.

It’s one of the best views in my world, to see the cowboys and cowgirls you trust most riding together on our land, connected by generations, friendships and blood, dedicating a Sunday to getting a familiar and time-honored job done. I loped my horse across the flat to catch up and watched a trail of black and red animals form a jagged line across the crick and up the road, kicking up dust and bellaring to their babies as our crew gently coaxed them along.

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My husband and I have dreamed about the days we could figure out a way to own our own cattle out here, a goal we began to realize last winter with the help and partnership of my dad. We branded a handful of our own calves last year and worked this year to crunch numbers and build plans. And it’s been scary, exciting and challenging to say the least, balancing full time work and family while helping to take care of this place and the animals on it.

But last Sunday we sorted and doctored those animals together while the neighbor kids sipped juice boxes and waved sorting sticks outside the fence, my grandparents sat watching in the shade, my sisters standing together, my little sister arching her back against the weight of her pregnancy while my mom and aunt opened the door of the car to let out my fresh-from-her nap daughter, and I willed myself to take a moment to appreciate that I could stretch out my arms and nearly touch all of the most important things in this world to us.

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And then I reached down to loosen the belt on my jeans that are growing tighter each day as my belly swells with the newest member of the crew, due to arrive in December to these grateful arms.

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If we listen as much as we speak

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Because isn’t this what we try to teach our children?

In these heated times, listen as much as you speak
by Jessie Veeder
2-5-17
Forum Communications

Last weekend we slowed down our typical agenda and spent some much-needed time with our good friends. Because we both live in rural North Dakota, we thought it would be fun to meet in the big town to do some shopping, eat out and take our babies swimming in the hotel pool.

My friend and her husband have a son who turns one soon and in the years prior to the arrival of our long-awaited children, we would spend hours on the phone together discussing doctors appointments, crying over losses and wondering why it was so hard for us and so easy for others.

These days, much to our delight, we talk about car seat choices and sleep schedules and how working from home and taking care of a toddler is the hardest and most wonderful gig we’ve had so far.

When we finally get a chance to get together, we hardly take a breath. Our husbands shake their heads and change the diapers and connect on what it’s like to be working daddies married to emotionally charged women.

So much of what we’re going through at this moment is the same — same demographic, same type of rural existence, same stage in motherhood, same small-business goals — but (and I think I can speak for my friend here) there are still experiences and pieces of our lives that don’t fully translate.

There are personal situations and feelings that we may never truly absorb or comprehend about one another, no matter how much we have in common or how much we adore each other.

And that’s ok.

“Be careful not to assume your experiences are the experiences of others.”

This statement appeared to me somewhere tucked inside the political back and forth that has become our lives in America these days. For some reason it really spoke to me as a line that somehow sums up what I’ve been feeling in a neat little package tucked in my pocket just waiting and ready to be disputed at any given time.

I’m not sure if I’m going to explain it properly here, but since becoming a mother it feels like every nerve I possess is exposed, every emotion so volatile. I see children in a different way now. I see them attached to mothers like me who felt them kick inside their bodies and welcomed them in the early mornings or long dark nights to worry and pain and then wails of relief.

I see those children, no matter the race, religion or distance across the ocean, and I see Edie.

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I see their mothers, by birth or by adoption, by choice or by chance, and I see myself.

And then I wonder if they walk on this earth the way I do, so aware of how each decision made holds their babies so fully in their wake.

But that’s where the shared experience begins and ends. Because I might just be naive enough to think that loving a child the way a good mother loves her child is, in so many ways, universal.

What if I couldn’t give Edie a decent meal? What if the home I planned to raise her in was invaded or destroyed? What if she woke up with a fever or fell and broke her arm and I had to calculate and sacrifice our tight budget to afford a trip to the emergency room?

What if the only chance I thought we might have at surviving this life was to load up my one-year-old on a raft and float across the sea with nothing certain but uncertainty at the shore?

What would I do?

There are mothers in this world making choices like these while I sit in a hotel room drinking wine and playing cards with my best friend, our babies sleeping safe and sound beside us.

It’s not lost on me in these trying times, in a world seemingly teetering on the edge, that our opinions can be thrown around, but dear friends, they won’t go as far as the compassion we might find in stories we hear.

If we listen as much as we speak, we just might be reminded that we are nothing but the lucky ones.

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Home-Construction Role Models

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I spent the weekend across the state singing, doing my best to pay tribute to the great Johnny Cash at a concert on Saturday and then playing music in one of my favorite bars with some of my favorite musicians that evening.

It was the first time I’ve been away for the weekend without the baby and/or my husband. Usually the babe gets to come along and we leave Husband in the dust to work on the house or the ranch for the weekend. Poor guy, he never gets to have any fun.

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But this weekend I left them both home. My mother-in-law came over to hang out with Edie while my husband and his dad worked on trying to finish up the basement.

This is our life. It has been for years, trying to fit in home construction on the little 48-hour space that we call the weekend. I spent the previous weekend going as far up the ladder as my comfort zone would allow to put stain on the house and kicking the five-years-ago versions of ourselves for thinking it would be a good idea to build a 30 foot house with cedar siding that needs to be re-stained every few years.

That was dumb. Especially when half of us hate heights and the other half has no fear and leans out too far once he’s at the top of 30 foot ladders.

So, to survive, I’ve learned there are things I just can’t watch.

And so here’s this week’s column, written after a weekend spent outside on ladders and in town at the hardware store and in bed late at night realizing that my life will forever be in a constant state of construction.

So if you want good advice, don’t ask us. We had every idea of what we were getting into, and we did it anyway.

Coming Home: The height of a ladder gives couple perspective
by Jessie Veeder
11-6-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

“When you get married, marry someone with money,” he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. “Or just be rich yourself. That would be better.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” he said. “Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich.”

This is the advice we give when you bring your children to our home. I’m not proud of it, but it came to us after a weekend spent trying to make progress on this not-ever-going-to-be-finished house we decided to construct ourselves almost four years ago. And, because we’re hosting a Thanksgiving/first birthday party here in less than a month, we need to get that basement finished, you know, the one that was supposed to be done a year before the 1-year-old was born.

So my husband spent the weekend standing on a ladder mudding the sheetrock on the walls, my niece worked to save the baby from climbing the staircase and eating box elder bugs while I spent my weekend outside on a much taller ladder trying to put stain on the house before winter and cursing the idiots who decided to side a 30-foot house with cedar that needs to be refinished every three years.

Because I hate ladders. And heights. And my husband hates projects like this, but he also hates hiring anyone to do a job we can do ourselves, especially when we’d like to have money in that bank at the end of it all. Because I figure by the time Edie’s 18, her college tuition will likely be approximately a million dollars a year, so we better start cutting back where we can.

Ramen noodles for everyone!

“In my next life, I’m not going to be a ‘DYIer.’ I’m going to be a ‘Hire Someone Elser,’ ” he said while he stood at the top of that ladder trying to reach heights I was unwilling to attempt, maneuvering a stain sprayer while his wife suffered anxiety-induced heart palpitations looking up at him with a white-knuckle death grip on his ladder, wanting desperately to believe that the tightness of my grip was directly related to the likelihood of him falling to his death.

“I should have married you in your next life!” I hollered up to him. “Now careful! Seriously, don’t lean so far over like that, my gawd, I can’t watch this!”

And so, given the weekend’s events, you can see where we were coming from with the money advice. Because while it’s not often people like to admit that money buys happiness, I can tell you with complete certainty that I would have been a lot happier watching a paid professional work a spray gun 30 feet in the air. And I know I would have been happier with the finished product.

Because at least it would be finished.

But it’s not. Nope. We ran out of house stain, daylight and weekend, and if you come over for the party, you’ll likely come in to a half-stained house and an almost-finished-basement, which may or may not have carpet because we did what we could and called it all good enough.

But we’ll have so many people crammed into this little house you won’t be able to see the floor anyway, so in the big picture, I guess it’s a blip.

Like my niece said as she walked the aisles of Menards with me in search of more Sheetrock mud, “What would this family do together if we didn’t do work together?”

“Go fishing.” That was the first answer that came to my mind. But how much real marital bonding can you accomplish on a beautiful lake? Certainly not as much as you get when you’re praying for his life as he extends beyond his comfortable reach 30 feet from the hard, cold ground.

It sure makes you love each other more when you’re back on solid earth, realizing you’re both alive to see another day.

So, yeah, if you want to spend your weekends catching walleye in the summer sun, make sure one of you has some money. But if you want death-defying, love-igniting, budget-friendly adventure, well then, we’re your role models.

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