Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

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Good morning from the ranch where it’s been raining for three days straight, but it feels like 20, and where this truck has been stuck in our driveway since Friday night, essentially trapping those of us who don’t have the proper mud tires on our vehicles.

But as of 9:20 am, it’s gone,  which means it’s my turn to attempt the muddy trip out of here…

Yeah, there are things that are glamorous about country living, but this my fine people is not one of them.

And there’s more where that came from in this week’s column:

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

There are times when I’m being whiny about how hard life is with two little kids and two (or three?) jobs plus the ranch and the laundry and the 40-minute trip to town, and I think of the women who came before me who raised their children without air conditioning or microwaveable chicken nuggets, and I tell myself to suck it up.

Because, well, these are First World, privileged Middle-American problems and I am lucky. This is all I ever wanted, (except for maybe $1 million collecting interest in the bank…)

But yesterday, I finally wrapped up my office work for the day at 5 o’clock knowing that I had to get the girls from day care at 5:30 and it took a good 10 minutes to drive from my office to the store, but I needed essentials like milk and granola so I did it anyway and forgot the granola, but made it to day care by 5:29 and then wrestled my dear munchkins into their car seats, distributed an equal share of snack and drink for the long drive home before stopping at the gas station to fill up my tank so I wouldn’t have another gas can situation — and just as I turned the corner on the last stoplight out of town with two quiet kids munching on crackers in the back, I dared to think I might actually have it under control.

That’s when I heard a panicked voice from the back: “I have to go potty!” And at that moment, I thought that there are a lot of things about raising my children in the country that make me forever grateful for the life that we have, like wide-open spaces and wild plum picking and watching them catch toads in the backyard….

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but this?

This was definitely not one of them. So I did what any good mom would do and I asked her if she could hold it. And she did what any good almost-4-year-old would do and said she would try. Which she did while she argued with her little sister about who had the right milk cup and then who had more crackers and then gave me suggestions on my radio choices before asking, repeatedly, if she could have a piece of gum that did not exist, a request that prompted a full-on meltdown from her little sister who happens to be obsessed with gum, before, finally, about 10 miles from our home, she winced, pulled her knees to her chest and whimpered, “I really, really have to go potty!”

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And so I did what any good mom would do and said, “OK, OK, OK, just a minute, hold it just a little bit longer,” and then proceeded to cuss under my breath while trying to simultaneously speed up and slow down to prepare to pull over in the nearest approach, which just happened to be an oil location.

And while truck after pickup after SUV rolled by on their way to an oil site or home or to work or to sports practice on a busy Tuesday evening, I crouched in the ditch, my butt in the air, trying and failing to shield passerby’s from witnessing my daughter’s emergency situation, our hair blowing in the 30 mph North Dakota autumn prairie wind, her bare bum catching that breeze, waiting, er, for the plop which would put us all out of our misery.

Except that plop never came. Turns out she’d rather poop in the potty at home. Which she did, and we all lived happily ever after in our home in the hills 30 miles from the nearest public restroom.

And if you need me, I’ll be loading up that portable kids toilet I bought three months ago that’s still in the box in the garage.

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Call it a day

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Here’s a photo of my precious daughters having a moment of sisterly love.

And when I say “moment,” I mean it. Nothing lasts too long around here in the world of little girls. Sweet turns to sour and back again at the drop of a hairbrush.

So I tried to keep that in mind last Wednesday when my little family outing went a bit off the rails, which isn’t much of a surprise at all when you take a one-year-old and a three–year-old on an hour car ride to run errands and eat in a restaurant. But still somehow I’m a little shocked when my toddlers are both testing their lung capacity in the car, that this is my life.

Oh, I know this too shall pass, but there are times that argument is more convincing than others…

Call it a day

OK, real talk here: Today was a day. I would use the word tough, but I’ve had some days that truly fit that category, so I’m just going to Call. It. A. Day.

It was supposed to be an easy 60-mile trip to Dickinson with my kids. And when I use the word “easy,” I guess I don’t really mean it, because nothing with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old is easy. But my husband was going to come with us, which meant that running errands, getting my driver’s license and our passports renewed and hitting up a couple doctors’ appointments looked a little more doable with another set of hands.

So doable that I had the delusion that we could eat a nice lunch, hit up a park and maybe even get ice cream afterward. From where I stood on Optimist Hill, it looked like the perfect opportunity to turn our annoying adult responsibilities into a family outing. (Cue all you veteran parents pointing and laughing hysterically…)

But it seemed like it had potential. The kids only sang (screamed?) at the top of their lungs for the last 20 minutes of the trip and I only had to threaten to “pull this car over” three times along the way, but the first one was because the 3-year-old thought she might have to poop. Or puke. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, so she decided that she had to do neither.

Turns out she was saving it for when I left her with her dad and her little sister while I went into the DMV to pull my ticket, fill out the form and wait for 20 minutes (not bad, not bad) only to realize that to get the new “Smart ID,” I was going to have to come back with 16 forms of identification, five pieces of mail, the title to my house and my mother’s signature written in blood. Probably should have Googled that one… Yeah, nothing bulldozes Optimist Hill quite like a trip to the DMV that results in the promise of another trip to the DMV.

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Meanwhile, in the public bathrooms, my husband found himself in a situation in which he had to manage two small girls in emergency pooping situations, all while, ahem, holding it himself. When I caught up with him, the youngest was running through the door without a diaper while the older one was playing this weird toddler game where she runs as fast as she can and then throws her tiny body on the filthy floor while her bare-bottomed sister followed suit.

In our life, this was all pretty standard stuff really, so we proceeded on to the doctor’s office where my poor baby had to get a shot, which went surprisingly well thanks to a nice nurse and a couple suckers. Which, coincidentally, is what we were when we made the day-shifting decision to bring our entire family to a sit-down restaurant during naptime. Cue an in-transit crisis over sucker color choice on the way followed by empty parental threats that defied every parenting book in the history of the world.

We arrived at the restaurant and settled in for three minutes of quiet coloring, followed by sporadic singing (screaming?), negotiations, a drink spill, the food order, some crying, a Styrofoam to-go box tower collapse, two “situation removals” and “talking-tos,” actual eating and an early momma/kid exit to wait out a meltdown in the car while my husband wrapped up the check and slunk out.

We left the restaurant fully annoyed, which was exasperated by my daughter’s new favorite “bad mommy” refrain, which she was in the middle of when my husband dropped me off at my chiropractic appointment.

Turns out my chiropractor also makes a good therapist. We compared toddler war stories and he suggested I try to do more things that help ease my stress and tension.

So we skipped the trip to Menards and Called. It. A. Day. Godspeed to you parents. Godspeed.

If you need me, I’ll be on my deck with a glass of wine.

Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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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.

Praise for the good kids

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Praise for the good kids

For the past month, we have had a guest in the house. And no, it’s not a mouse, and no, she’s really not a guest. She’s more than that and always has been… my niece, my family, my helper, my right-hand woman and just an all-around good kid.

Good kid. I like to say those two words together.

Good kid. There are plenty of them out there, but we don’t usually pay real tribute to them as a whole unless they’re some sort of child prodigy or sports star or young business mogul or queen or winner of something. And when we’re talking community, sometimes we forget to include them in the discussion, in the decision, in the vision for it all.

I mention this because my niece, T, reminded me of the demographic I have been away from since I was one myself 100 million years ago.

Because on Monday, T turned 16.

I remember when she was born and her first birthday and when I bought her a tiny pink cowgirl hat and she fell in the mud at the ranch and was so mad we couldn’t get her to stop crying, but let’s not go there with those memories today.

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Because today, T is 16 and she has her driver’s license so she took the 100-mile trip to stay in the basement and save our lives during the months when I had major events to plan and execute, long-distance singing trips, my husband was laid off from his job, my family had health scares and our lawn still needed mowing, our ranch still needed running, our suppers still needed cooking and our babies still needed us.

So when we couldn’t fully be there, T, who was still just 15, was. And I never worried about her with my kids for a minute, which freed me up to worry about all of the other things listed above.

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And while I was giving her a rundown of the schedule for the day in the middle of our very unscheduled life while sweeping Froot Loops off the floor on my way out the door and then coming back into the house two or three more times because I forgot my coffee cup/phone/computer/sunglasses in my rush out, it made me wonder what our life looked like to this almost-16-year-old observer.

When I was 16, I drew a picture of the house I wanted to live in, on the ranch surrounded by cattle and horses. It wasn’t a good picture — I’m a terrible artist — but you get the idea. And inside that house I thought we would have three sons and matching furniture and cupboards that you could open without Tupperware and sippy-cups falling out on our heads.

Inside that house I thought there would live two adult people canning garden tomatoes together, certain of a supper plan and free of the angst and fear you have when you’re 16 years old. Because at 16, I really thought that there would come a time in adulthood, likely right here on the cusp of my 36th year, that everyone just had it figured out. Your cupboards, your lawn, your career, your family, your paperwork… because that’s what I thought adulthood meant.

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If T ever thought that was the case, my husband and I popped her bubble in the most chaotic way. This summer threw a few hooks at us, it’s true. And when I was almost 16, I certainly didn’t see a future where an almost 16-year-old would save my almost 36-year-old butt the way that T has this summer, just by being fully and truly there.

Not by being a superhero.

Not by being a princess (although she’s earned a few tiaras).

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Not by being a child prodigy or a star athlete or winning “American Idol.”

No. She’s none of those things.

But allow me to let something as simple as this thought make the paper for once: She’s loyal. She’s confident, trustworthy and mature. She’s compassionate and helpful, organized and has good manners.

She cleans up after herself. She doesn’t complain much. She’s kind, but fierce when she needs to be. She’s loving and smart and she knows what she wants.

She’s 16. She’s my niece. And she means everything to me and she’s going to mean everything to this world, because simply and most importantly, she’s a good kid.

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A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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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.

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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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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What the cat knows…

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What the cat knows
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When we were growing up, we had a house cat.

I shouldn’t say “we,” really, because that cat was all my little sister’s, except that my big sister named her Belly, after one of her favorite mid-’90s girl grunge bands and I got the heroic ranch kid privilege of rescuing her as a tiny abandoned kitten from underneath my grandma’s deck while my 5-year-old sister clenched her small, nervous fists under her chin and waited for her turn to hold her.

And so the runty calico cat with the weird name came to be ours and stayed through the entirety of my little sister’s childhood. And she was a typical cat in all the ways cats are cats.

She did her own thing. She waited at the door to go out and then would immediately climb up the screen, tearing it to shreds and driving my mother crazy. In an effort to try to deter this habit, we were given permission to use our squirt guns in the house. But only on the cat clinging to the screen door, of course.

But Belly didn’t care. She knew how to get our attention. She knew how to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was to sleep in my little sister’s bed every night.

After she was tucked in, if my dad forgot to leave the door open a crack, the cat would sit out there pathetically whining until the little kid version of my sister, with her wild hair, leaky eyes and big heart, would let her in. Every night for 13 years until my sister left home and left that cat behind.

Belly didn’t live a year without my sister in the house. My little sister was her person. And in a different life I’d be the type of skeptic that doesn’t believe in those sorts of bonds, except I watched that cat come and get my little sister before she gave birth to both sets of her kittens in that house that raised us all, which is an uncommon behavior for any animal, especially an independent cat.

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I’ve seen it with my dad and his horses, too. And I’ve had it with my old dog Hondo, who always slept on the floor on my side of the bed, even though he was technically my husband’s hunting lab. My mom has a cat now that will only sit on her lap — that is until the few times a year my uncle from Texas arrives, and then that cat’s all his. It’s as if she’s saying, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Yes, I think we choose them, and then they choose us, because maybe they just know better.

Last week I brought my two young daughters to Dickinson, N.D., to sign the paperwork to adopt a big, orange house cat from an animal rescue. As I write, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do such a crazy thing. Maybe it was that heroic ranch kid rescue gene in me, but the last thing I need is another wild creature in these walls.

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And Lord knows there are plenty of cats for giveaway out here in rural North Dakota, except I saw him in a photo all curled up in that cage and I made a decision. Oh, I used the “we need a mouser” excuse on my husband, but this big orange cat is clearly a lover, not a fighter and my husband knows it.

Time will tell us what this cat knows.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps

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Husband and I took a break from the never-ending winter last week, dropped the kids at Nana and Papa’s and headed out on a tropical location. How we wound up in Jamaica alone when we were supposed to be in the Dominican with friends is a story for next week.

This week I’m going to leave you with some tips on how to get out the door with two toddlers. It seems simple enough, but all you parents out there know, there are way more than 20 steps, but I only get so much space in the paper. Anyway, when I wrote this, we still had plenty of snow on the ground, but the air was warming up. When we arrived home from our vacation, we found that snow is quickly turning to mud, which means not as many clothes, but plenty more laundry.  Today Edie added a few more steps to the process as she searched for just the right amount of jewelry and the proper hair bow to put under her snow clothes for a trip to help load cattle, adding another thirty or so steps to this process, so really, you know, it’s not an exact science.

Anyway, if you need me I’ll be catching up on that laundry and itching my sunburn.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps
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So you want to go sledding with two toddlers? Here’s how to do it in only 20 steps.

Step 1: Check the weather. Declare to the entire house that it is now above zero and you are all going outside.

Step 2: Tell the 3-year-old to go find her snow gear while you attempt to wipe all the syrup off of the 1-year-old. Respond to 3-year-old’s cries for help because she can’t find her mittens.

Step 3: Try to find the mittens while wondering why in the bleep you can never find the mittens.

Step 4: Pull the 1-year-old out of the pantry that you forgot she could open. Sweep up the sugar she was eating.

Step 5: Marvel at the way your 3-year-old’s body can transform into an instant limp noodle while you attempt to get her rubber band legs into her snow pants. Leave her lying on the rug half-dressed while threatening to cancel Christmas if she doesn’t, literally, straighten up.

Step 6: Start sweating.

Step 7: Locate the 1-year-old in the kitchen. Clean up the 5,000 plastic baggies she has pulled out of the box.

Step 8: Lay the puffy toddler-sized snowsuit out on the floor and attempt to wrangle the wiggly little child’s limbs into each proper compartment.

Step 9: Dig out her little hands and spend the next 45 minutes trying to get them into her mittens. Allow the same time frame for the snow boots.

Step 10: Set that tiny human down on the ground to waddle around. Cry at the cuteness. Also, wonder where you put her beanie.

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Step 11: Start searching for the beanie all over the house, declaring to whoever is in the house with you (which is likely just your children) that it’s the only one she will keep on her head and what the heck could you have possibly done with it, you just had it a second ago for crying out loud!

Step 12: Check on the 3-year-old, who is sitting at her little table fully outfitted in her snow gear and fully invested in a coloring project she has to be convinced to abandon for the sledding hill.

Step 13: Realize you should have taken her to the potty before you started all of this. Continue your search for the missing hat.

Step 14: Give up on the missing hat. Locate smaller, less practical hat and squeeze that on the 1-year-old’s head. Notice that she’s taken off her mittens and one boot’s now laying on the kitchen floor. Repeat Step 9.

Step 15: Hastily pull on your own snow gear as your tiny, puffy humans crowd around you. Hurry now, Momma — each passing second is a second one of them could pull off a mitten.

Step 16: Declare joyfully, “Let’s go!” — and then take the 20-minute waddle–style trip down the steps, past the kitty (stop for a pet) and out the front door.

Step 17: Plop puffy children into sleds and proceed to pull them toward the sledding hill. Continue sweating, as previously indicated in Step 6, while you vow to start a workout program tomorrow.

Step 18: Take three runs down the hill, all while yelling at the dogs to stop licking and jumping on the children. Have the time of your life for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or the time it takes for someone to lose a boot.

Step 19: Carry one crying, slippery, puffy child on your hip while pulling the other limp noodle child toward home.

Step 20: Undress the children as fast as you can because now you have to pee. Discover that the missing hat was zipped up in the 1-year-old’s puffy snowsuit the whole time. Swear. Sweat. Repeat Steps 1-20 tomorrow.

 

Dear Husband, I miss you.

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Dear Husband, I Love You
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Dear Husband,

I’m writing this at naptime because I have a moment and I’m worried when I try to say it I’ll get interrupted for a snack request or to break up another argument over the toy purse. I love being a mother, but I miss you and me.

I’m not sure we’re really supposed to admit it as parents, but sometimes I’m sad we will never go back to being the same people we were when we both squished on the easy chair together every night after supper. And it’s not that we don’t still want to be close like that — it’s just that for the foreseeable future, us two and the babies can’t all fit on the fancy new chair we bought to replace the big, ugly hand-me-down that used to sit in our living room.

Slowly, we’ve replaced the newlywed stuff with grown-up things. Yes, we are grown-up things now, with grown-up aches, grown-up plans and grown-up arguments about chores and bills and schedules, and I know, I know, this is life.

And I know how hard we’ve worked to get here and how grateful I am to see some of our dreams play out, but man, I didn’t realize the compromise this phase of parenthood would put into the equation of our partnership.

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I didn’t realize how little I can be by your side when there’s work to be done and naptime and diapers and wild little girls who aren’t much help yet. And so we compromise indeed. We divide and conquer. You take the babies so I can work and I do the same and so we’re apart more than together.

But remember when we could just load up the car and take off to anywhere? I looked at you the other night as you helped the baby feed herself and negotiated two more bites with the toddler and I said this out loud to you: “Don’t you think we just took all that time for granted? Like what were we doing?”

You echoed my thoughts so completely. And I was surprised I felt so relieved.

Funny how time works on us humans. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time that hand-me-down easy chair was a big score in our lives and so we sat in it together, looking out the window at the snow falling on the city street outside, making plans for this day at the ranch, feeding babies after feeding cows. I just didn’t know getting what we wanted would mean missing you, and that easy chair, sometimes.

Nobody told me that. So I’m telling you today.

Because last week when you were late coming home and I called you 6 million times about the icy roads, or when I check in every afternoon about supper plans, or when I’m annoyed at a chore that turns into your all-weekend absence (as every ranch family understands,) instead of the sighs or the calls disguised as grocery lists, I think I should just tell you.

So I’m telling you today, husband. I love our life together. And this magical and maddening phase that we’re in? Well, we’re both going to miss it sooner than we’re ready to. But just because that’s the truth doesn’t mean that the rest of what we’re feeling can’t be, too.

And so today, I will call you about supper and then I’ll just say it.

I miss you.

Love,

Your wife

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