Sweet clover, sweet summer

Listen to Jessie and her sister Alex get interrupted and sidetracked as they try to catch up on motherhood and memories, a real live look into the chaos of life at the ranch on this week’s podcast, “Meanwhile, back at the Ranch…”

Read in the Fargo Forum

It’s officially summer and my daughters have officially done the thing that I’ve sorta been waiting for the past month or so — they’ve made the great escape over the hill to my little sister’s place, without mention to me. By themselves.

Don’t worry, there are no major roadways between the two places. In fact, it’s just a long driveway connected by a prairie trail that cuts across the homestead place and barnyard and into another long driveway (the beauty of country living) — but it’s a big deal for them to be able to do it alone.

So much so that when they asked if they could go exploring in the trees by our house and I said yes and then also said, specifically, “Just don’t go over to Aunt Alex’s,” they went ahead and did it anyway. Because maybe they were feeling brave and maybe they were feeling grown-up in their jean shorts and tie-dye shirts, but mostly if kids listen to their parents all the time, are they really even kids?

I stepped outside and hollered for them with no answer back and had a hunch. My sister texted — “Your kids are over here in case you were wondering.” And I was. Sort of.

I couldn’t blame them really. To have an aunt who gives out Popsicles and two cousins your age who have different toys and a trampoline just over the hill and now all of the sudden your little legs (or the battery-operated plastic Jeep) can get you there unaccompanied, well, see ya later girls.

I don’t know how many times this summer I’ve said something like, “I’m so glad they have each other.” Or watched them run full speed down our scoria road and had a flashback to my childhood out here alongside my cousins, doing the very same thing.

I can almost feel my knees being skinned and scraped on that very road and the sweet clover itching my bare legs as we took a cardboard box down a grassy hill. I swat a mosquito and itch a bite and feel the curls spring out of my ponytail, unarmed against the humidity of a hot June day, and I might as well be 4 or 6 or 8 again on our grandma’s deck eating an orange push-up pop from the Schwan’s man.

I walked myself over the hill and found them hauling buckets of water to the little clay butte in front of my sister’s house so they could make mud pies. And in her daughters I saw my sister standing 3-foot-something, with a permanent crusted tear on her cheek, Band-Aids up and down her arms from picking at mosquito bites and patches on her little overalls.

Raising kids in a place that raised you will do that sometimes. In the crisp smell of a storm brewing on the horizon, or the wind blowing the sweet scent of fresh-cut hay to your door, the sprinkler whirring on your lawn and their happy screeches, a handful of sweet peas, the pop of a wild plum in your mouth, in the heat of the summer you are transported for a moment to a time when those things were all that mattered to you in the whole wide world. Those things and ice cream, maybe.

My summers with my little sister used to be fort-building in the trees by the creek, a tin-can telephone, singing at the top of my lungs running on cow trails and her following close behind despite my protests. Summer for us out here was riding horses bareback and mixing mud and flower petals in a leftover ice cream bucket and riding bikes and skinning those knees; it was a tire swing out over the banks of that crick and getting lost bringing lunch to Dad in the field and it was our bottle calf Pooper and the way he would escape and chase us down the road to the house, but I was faster and she got the brunt of it. It was telling her about the elves that lived under the big mushrooms that grow out of cow poop and her believing me.

And me wanting to believe it myself.

Because summer is magic, and it’s easy to forget that in the reality of living in this adult-sized world.

But the kids, with their sun-bleached hair and sticky cheeks and skinned knees and small voices singing while they run, full speed, down the road into the sweet spot of childhood, the sweet spot of official summer, making their great escape, they remind you. And I’m so glad they do. And I’m so glad they have each other.

Not for the Faint of Heart

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My youngest has been playing mother to her baby dolls for four weeks straight. She tucks them in at night, feeds them in the morning, washes them, changes their diapers, brings them outside to play and calls them her sweeties.

And if this sounds all sugar and spice, I also want to make sure you know she gets after them, too. They can be naughty, and she can be strict. This mothering thing, it’s not for the faint of heart. Especially when you’re only 4.

Recently I called home from a weekend away and Rosie got on the phone to update me. I asked her how it was going, and she said good. She’s very busy taking care of her babies.

“Oh, great, how many babies do you have today?” I asked.

“Edie!” she yelled to her older sister in the next room and also directly into the phone. “Come here and help me count my kids!”

Turns out, that day, she had four.

Earlier this week, those four children came with us to preschool drop-off. Adding four to the two that already live in this house made for a marathon morning routine. We barely made it to school on time due to the clothing changes, feedings, teeth-brushing, fitting them all in one baby doll car seat and then, of course, all the kisses goodbye.

Her orders for me while she was away at school? Bring them all to day care in Florida.

OK then.

“Is it hard being a mom?” both of them have been known to ask me after I let out a big sigh or, despite my best efforts to remain calm, do not, in fact, remain calm.

I reply honestly. I tell them sometimes it is hard. Just like sometimes it’s hard being a kid. And while I’m not sure if that’s the right answer, it is the truth, and I guess I’ve decided on the truth when it comes to parenting.

Turns out parenting in the truth also means things I didn’t think about, like apologizing to them when I’ve overreacted or admitting there are just some things even mommies don’t know.

So then, of course, they go ask Daddy. As if he has more of a handle on where we go when we die the same way they’ve observed he has a better handle on things like numbers and biology and why Rosie just can’t jump inside of the television and live with Bluey. (Did I ever tell you about the time I got kindergarten math homework wrong? Did I ever tell you how many times Rosie has asked us to tape her into the TV?)

Anyway, it’s as if knowing all the parts of a horse and every lyric to every ’90s country song counts for nothing…

“Did you even go to school?” my oldest asked me at bedtime last night after I failed to properly explain why the nights are longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. It was 9 p.m. on a Monday, and I’m pretty sure I was already sleeping.

But Edie moved quickly from that question to her confession for the day. These usually happen in the final hours of bedtime…

“Mommy, the kids at school all gave better valentines than me. I don’t think they liked the suckers I brought.”

Turns out jealousy is one of those things they learn in kindergarten. So is the one about friends who don’t always act like friends. And the one where you don’t always win the contest or learn it the quickest, where you’re not always the best or get the most attention and get left out, and on and on, and it can be hard for a kid…

And hard for a mom.

Which is what I went with in trying to ease her little mind. I told her that mommies get jealous too. Everyone does. And to help get through it, she should try to think about all of the good things that make her uniquely Edie. And I try to do the same. After all, there are so many reasons to be proud.

Her big blue eyes welled up then and as she leaned in for the hug, I felt like she forgave me for all the things I don’t know and just trusted me on this.

And oh, this parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart. Even when you’re a grown-up…

A cupcake and a concert

Every day my four-year-old daughter asks me if we can “do a band.”

And by “do a band” she means that we will make some cupcakes or cookies, get out her guitar and little microphone stand and I will eat that cupcake and watch her perform music that she spontaneously composes with all the emotion and drama she has collected in her short little life, the fireplace the backdrop of her stage.

That’s Rosie. I’m not sure why on earth she thinks we need to make cupcakes for her to show her stuff, but I think it may be because it makes it special, like more than a rehearsal. Cupcakes make it a performance.

And Rosie’s no dummy. Recently she’s been asking me to tune her guitar properly so that it doesn’t sound so terrible. And then after I’m done with that could I please, for the love of kittens, teach her to play. Because she recently realized that she really doesn’t know how to play.

And she has a point.

But here’s the thing. She’s four. As in, she just turned four. And her hands are small, she’s still learning to write her name, she has the attention span of a blue heeler puppy. It’s probably going to take a hot minute for her to become a guitar prodigy. But she’s relentless. So for Christmas I bought her this little guitar with three strings that’s made for small fingers and designed to teach young kids the basics of the chords so that when they graduate to a six string, it all makes sense.

At Christmas she unwrapped it and I was excited. It comes with an app and flashcards and video tutorials, all the things I didn’t have when I picked up the guitar to learn at 11 or 12. (I had my dad, his guitar, an old 1970’s chord book and a tape player that I could play and pause and rewind and play and pause and rewind to figure the songs out on my own, but I digress). Anyway, I got that little guitar tuned up, her little strap adjusted, I coached the lefty to put it on right side up and helped her figure out her first, one finger needed, chord. And as I looked at my youngest daughter with anticipation, scenes of her life as a rock star flashed in my mind. I smiled and encouraged her. Her face dropped. She let her hands off the instrument.

“It doesn’t sound like a real guitar,” she exclaimed. “I need it to sound like yours.”

Oh Rosie, just another example of how I imagine that you’ve lived another life before this. And in that life you were indeed in a band. And you played killer lead guitar. And, I’m assuming there were, of course, cupcakes.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve had to consider my daughter’s prior life in my role as her mother. Like she was out of the womb demanding that she do it all herself and so I’ve spent hours waiting for her to perform grownup tasks as a mere toddler, like style her own hair, pour her own milk, choose her own outfits and make her own phone calls.

And then there’s her affinity for coffee, a habit that couldn’t be left behind.

Which makes sense now, considering all those long nights she must have spent as a bandleader back in the day.

Yeah, it seems my daughter’s just annoyed now that she has to learn to do these things all over again considering she’s already perfected them. So I get it about that little guitar, I do. It’s not what she’s used to. It’s not what she remembered.

But she’s coming around. It looks pretty cool after all. And fits her perfectly. Recently she jumped right in on a little jam session with her grandpa Gene and me. When the song was done, he gave her a high five after and declared, “Rosie, you’re getting so good! You can be in my band now!”

To which the four-year-old going on 40 replied, “No Papa, you can be in MY band.”

Happy New Year everyone. Cheers to learning something new this year…or maybe, if you’re like Rosie, relearning.

On Charity and showing our kids they are loved

Charity and showing our children they are loved
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The other day, Edie declared she was going to give one of her dolls to charity.

“Who’s Charity?” Rosie asked, confused as to why anyone would think to give a doll away, even if you have another just like it in your room. According to a 4-year-old, you can never have too many.

“Charity is for kids who don’t have toys. Rosie, there are some kids who don’t have toys!” Edie explained to her little sister who didn’t seem convinced of the plan.

And she put the doll in a leftover Happy Birthday gift bag and vowed to look through her things to find more toys to add to it.

Charity. I tried to explain the concept to them last year, when they were freshly 3 and 5. I took them through the house on a deep clean, going through toy boxes and drawers, under beds and in the basement, pulling out misplaced blocks and tiny jewelry and naked dolls with tangled hair and making piles for trash and piles for giveaway.

Which, of course, resulted in my two girls rediscovering stuffed animals and games they hadn’t snuggled or played with in a year and falling back in love. And so I had to resort to the covert operation of sneaking things into boxes and out to the car while they were asleep or at school.

They have too much stuff and I hate it. What a very privileged thing to say.

“Eat your supper please, don’t you know there are kids who don’t have enough to eat?!” Which is a very mom thing to say. And sadly, true. I only wish making my kids eat the last few bites of broccoli was going to change anything for the kids who need and deserve so much more in this life.

To raise my children with a grasp of gratitude and compassion is something that keeps me up at night. How lucky are we that this can be one of my main concerns? Because we have the means to keep our children clothed and fed and, additionally, celebrating birthday parties with friends, decorated in their favorite colors, serving their favorite foods. Which makes it hard for their little brains to get a grasp on a perspective. Isn’t every kid’s life like this?

And so I took an ornament off the giving tree last night after Edie’s kindergarten Christmas concert. She stood up there on that stage in a fresh new outfit, black tights and new red, sparkly shoes that we had to get in a size larger because she’s stretching and growing out and into so many things these days. Shoes are just one of them.

On our way home, Edie asked me what the ornament said.

“Girl. Age 6. Special requests: gloves, winter gear,” I replied. “We’re going to have to go shopping. Will you girls help me? I figured you would know just what she might like.”

Edie wanted to know what her name was. Rosie wanted to know how we were going to get her the toys if we didn’t know where she lived. How will she know it was from us?

How do you explain that it doesn’t matter? We don’t need credit. We don’t need to know her. We just want her to have a good Christmas. How do you explain what real need is to two small children who have everything they could want?

How do we give them what they need, but also make them understand what it means to work for it? How do we give them a charmed childhood and keep them grateful? How do we make them feel special, but keep them humble?

My daughters are coming to the age where they are becoming aware of the world around them, of the kids who have more and those who have less. How do we teach them to treat each with kindness and respect? How do we teach them to only compare in the way in which it makes them feel grateful, generous and compassionate?

When my little sister was a kid, she was out doing chores with Dad and asked him, “Are we poor?” My dad was taken aback a bit, wondering where this question was coming from. Turns out she noticed that we didn’t have a four-wheeler or a new pickup, a boat or bigger house like some of her friends.

“Would all of that make you happier?” he asked her. She thought probably no, but she was aware. And she was wondering.

If only we knew for certain that every child in this community was held safe and armed with what they needed to stand up against the tough elements of weather and life. If I could give the gift of reassurance and wrap it up in that box with the hat and gloves and Barbie doll, I would do it. If I could make my kids understand that in the long run, they won’t remember how many gifts were under the tree, but for a child who has none, well, that’s something that sticks with them.

And we can’t do so much about any of it, but we can do something. And so we did something.

Tiny, perfect things

There is a hill on the ranch that is completely covered in tiger lilies. My little sister went on a ride with Dad and they discovered them, a scattering of bright orange petals opening up to the bright blue sky.

It has been a dry year here, with our spring rain coming to us late, and so our wildflower crop is just now appearing. And this news about the tiger lilies may not seem so thrilling to some, but it’s exciting for us.

Because the flower is so perfect, and so exotic looking, and they don’t always come up every year. So when they do, we feel like we have access to our own personal florist, Mother Nature.

I don’t know if everyone has a favorite flower, but the tiger lily is mine. I carried them at my wedding, a bouquet of orange walking with me down a grassy, makeshift aisle in a cow pasture. We had to mow and build benches and move cow pies to make it presentable for guests, but we didn’t get rid of all of the cactus. My little sister found this out as she was making her trek down the aisle in front of me. I didn’t know if she was crying because of the cactus in her leg, or if she was so happy for us. I think a little of both.

Anyway, that’s what happens when you live in a wild place. No matter how you try to tame it, the flies and the thorns, the barn swallows and the raccoons, they don’t care about your fancy new deck furniture that you got for the family reunion — they will show up to eat the cat food and then poop on it.

And so then you sort of become wild, too. I know because I caught myself standing outside in my underwear one morning yelling at the birds to find a new place to make their messy clay nests. Not here, swallows. Not on the side of my house! And my husband? Well, he likes to scare raccoons at midnight… also in his underwear.

Anyway, I guess that’s why the wildflowers seem so special out here. For so much of the year we’re battling the elements, praying for rain, shoveling snow, bundling up, tracking mud in the house, pulling burs out of horses’ manes, cutting down weeds and clearing and cleaning and building and doctoring. The wildflowers, especially the tiger lily, seem like a reminder that there is perfection in this world, in the smallest things. Tiny, pretty miracles surviving despite and because of the hot sun and clay dirt.

I took my girls to that tiger lily hill the other day to check out this year’s crop. On the way they were singing Bible school songs they just learned, doing the actions and repeating the lines over and not quite right the way little kids do in the cutest way.

They had never seen a tiger lily before, and so it was a fun and easy Easter egg hunt, each girl grabbing up more than a handful of the flowers and thrilled with it all. With the familiar songs they were humming, and their sun-flushed cheeks and mosquito-bit arms, I couldn’t help but think: Now isn’t this the quintessential ranch summer?

I wonder what they will remember about being a little kid out in these hills. Do they feel as wild and free as I used to feel out here, enamored with the mystery of this place and how it can change so magically by the hour, the sun sinking down, turning the tips of the trees and grass and my daughters’ hair golden?

I hope so. I hope they feel as wild and beautiful and as loved as those lilies, because they are to me. My own little tiger lilies on the hilltop, growing before my eyes.

My favorite little flowers reminding us that there are perfect things in this world.

Ode to a Kitchen Table

One set of markers. And then another.
Some in their boxes, some without covers.
Two lined notebooks, spiral bound.

An orange water cup. A princess crown.
One egg carton for some creation,
Forgot now what sparked such imagination.
A small sticky puddle of chocolate ice cream.

Some glitter, some glue sticks, a five-year-old’s dream.
And somewhere in pencil is Rosie Gene’s scrawl.
There’s a splash of nail polish, a race car, a doll.

A pile of sweet tarts left stacked from Monday.
Ten-thousand hair bands. A unicorn. Clay.
And underneath, on the floor, I don’t want to look,
half a cookie, a puppy, squished Play Dough. A book.

When the supper bell rings, you’d think, if you’re able
You could serve your fried chicken at the kitchen table
But able we’re not, because, well, we have kids
and it seems that our table has turned into this.

A surface for projects and dreaming and snacks,
and paper for drawings, stacks upon stacks.
I’d clear it away, some days I insist,
then others I simply just let it exist.

As an ode to these times that quickly pass by.
Oh, the mess we can clean, but the clock won’t unwind.
I know it is true, I remember the time
when our table was set up simply to dine

and make up to-do lists, eat cinnamon toast
or romantic spaghetti or a Tuesday night roast.
I remember the quiet, the slow conversation
about long weekend plans, or gasp, a vacation.

But now if we’re lucky, two words pass between us
overtop of tall tales and loud songs and screeches.
And this table, it listens, it hears all these things,
the “Please sit on your butt” and “Listen to me!”

And the “What’s been your favorite part of the day?”
Or, “I love it when you make the hot dish this way.”
Oh, I can’t help but think it’d like to talk too,
to say maybe go easy on the paint and the glue.

Or to comment on how fast they want to grow up
from bottles to sippies to pink big girl cups.
To thank goodness for sponges and quality soaps
and for all of the prayers it heard as we spoke.

Because here among colors and the half-squeezed juice box,
the pipe-cleaner bracelets and collection of rocks,
if you sweep past the crumbs and the coffee cup rings
you’ll find a spot at the table, a front seat to our dreams.

Looking for my reflection in my grandmother’s journals

My reflection in Gramma’s old winter journals
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It’s January and we’re working cows again, sending our later calves out to the sale and retiring a few old cows, a couple who won’t stay on any side of the fence and the one that will run you over if you don’t watch your back.

If I get my office work done in time this morning, I will go out and help. My mother-in-law will be here in a few hours to watch the girls who, these days, are passing the time by drawing pictures and then cutting them up. All those toys for Christmas and right now my black magic marker and the kid scissors might as well be gold. I just have to remember not to turn my back on them too long…

Yes, January’s settling in. And it should be about 20 below zero these days, with wind whipping snow, but we haven’t seen that yet around here. It rained yesterday. The day before, I took a 2-mile walk out to the east pasture dam in nothing but a light coat and a vest with the dogs zooming out happily ahead of me, zipping back and forth across the hills like blurs.

The guys have been busy fixing fences and setting water tanks, tasks that are usually reserved for different seasons. It’s sort of eerie, this mild winter weather. Yesterday I stepped outside and it was quiet, the kind of quiet you can’t put your finger on, until you realize your ears aren’t freezing and your nose isn’t running and there’s not a lick of a breeze.

It reminded me of the winter we lived in Missoula, Mont., where the snow floated straight down in fluffy puffs, settling like frosting on rooftops and windowsills and tree branches where the thermometer never dipped too far below 20. In Montana, winter was more magic than punishment. When we returned back to the ranch for Christmas, I felt the North Dakota wind chill on my face in a new way, looking out across the prairie, a line of black cows slowly moving toward us as we worked on serving up the best part of their day.

Up here, the weather exasperates every possible sense and I hadn’t had the autumn to help me work into the bite of that kind of cold. I swear I could see it come to slap me on the cheeks and sting my eyes into squinting. More stable creatures would have retreated to the mountains to stay put. We were back in North Dakota by late spring.

Last week, my mom brought over some of my grandma Edie’s old journals, a stack of notes scrawled in the squares and margins of a Cenex calendar. Recounts of the day-to-day from a woman who was born, married, mothered, worked, lived and died on the edge of these Badlands.

I was only 10 when my grandma died suddenly; she was barely in her 60s. These days especially, I want her to have never left us. I didn’t get a chance to know my grandmother the way a grown woman knows her grandmother, and given that we’ve moved in on her turf, I’m sure she’d have some things to say. And I have questions.

So I pore over her words again. It’s been several years since I’ve done so, before I was a mother, before settling down for good in this place. Back then, I was searching for something with a little more dirt on it, a reflection on her mood or the way someone rubbed her the wrong or right way, some inner turmoil that revealed a sweltering side of her humanness… or maybe I just wanted to see myself reflected there somehow…

Oh, how we make the departed so exalted, don’t we? I pick them up again…

January 6, 1982: -26. Pete changed filters on the tractor, then it ran better. We hauled a load of calves to Dickinson for Paul, he bought us supper at the Queen City. Got home at 9:30.

January 10, 1982: -42. Tractor and pickup didn’t start until late in the day. Wade helped Pete feed so I didn’t go out.

January 14, 1982: + 40. I almost tipped the pickup over today, it was slippery.

January 15, 1982: -27. Really stormy today. I am cleaning the closet in the bathroom, what a mess…

Ranch mom problems

Ranch mom problems
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There have been many moments in my life when my “ruralness” has shown up in all its glory.

Last week, for example, when my 2-year-old daughter dropped her pants in the middle of the playground in town and proceeded to pee in the sand while I was on the phone trying to be a professional working remotely.

Well, professionalism went out the window pretty quickly when I screeched into the phone and then promptly confessed to my colleague that my kids haven’t been off the ranch much lately.

The only saving grace was that there were no other families around, and honestly, I was pretty proud that she didn’t get any on her pants. For us girls peeing outdoors, that’s a pretty advanced technique.

Before we had kids, the whole stamp-of-country-living thing used to show up as red scoria mud caked to my car, as a line on my shins across my dress pants and the reason I had to change from muck boots to heels on my way to work. Or maybe all the times I’ve driven our pickup to a work meeting, singing gig or grocery store run with feed buckets, fencing supplies and once, accidentally, my dad’s cow dog hiding in the back.

She was afraid of storms, so I can’t blame her, but it was a long hour-and-a-half drive to bring her back home…

Growing up on the ranch leads to all kinds of adventures for the Veeder girls. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Anyway, when I chose to raise my kids on the ranch, no one really warned me about the ways in which that upbringing might affect them — or, more importantly, embarrass me.

I should have known though. I mean, it might have been a million years ago, but I was once a ranch kid witnessing my little sister pop-a-squat right in front of the bleachers full of rodeo fans. The only time I’ve ever seen my dad run that fast was when he was being chased by a momma cow. I swear the two of them flew. At least most of that audience understood, likely finding themselves in a similar parenting position at one point or another.

But the time she peed in the middle of the lawn at an Art in the Park event in our hometown was a little harder to explain, the same way it’s hard to explain to a toddler that peeing outside is fine some places, just not others. The whole privacy thing is lost on a 2-year-old. Just ask any mom of young kids and she’ll tell you she hasn’t pooped without a guest appearance in years.

The 4-year-old at least has the outfits to pass in civilization. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

So that’s where I’m at today, working on acclimating my children to civilization. And we’re getting there. I mean, the 4-year-old at least has the outfits — long, flowy, sparkly princess dresses complete with a tiara and tiny high-heel shoes function well in the barnyard climbing on and off of ponies and picking up every cocklebur along the way. She looks the part, that one, but the fact that she doesn’t flinch at the dead bird the cat drug into the house, pulling a tick off the dog or that she can explain the birthing process of a calf without skipping a step sorta gives her away.

But, the 2-year-old? Send prayers and any tips you have for me on homeschooling and house training.

Peace, love and all my apologies to the Park Board,

Dear Daughters…

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Dear Daughters
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Dear Daughters,

I want to tell you about all the summers the two of you stripped down naked in the backyard and ran with arms wide open into the sun and through the freezing, glistening splash of the garden hose, your small, soft bodies reflecting the sky and the innocence of a moment that will inevitably get stripped away with the years.

I want to remind you of the time that no voice of reason could stop you from taking a running leap toward that puddle of mud that always pools up in front of our driveway after a spring thaw or a summer rain. Not that I ever really wanted to stop you. Because what’s a little mud in the beginning of the story of a life that could take you anywhere, send you right back where you landed or find you fighting every day to be brave, to do the right thing, to reconcile mistakes or to let go?

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You don’t know what any of this means yet. You are too fresh to this world. That’s why I’m writing to you. Because I want you to know there was a time that you felt safe enough, loved enough, free enough, happy enough and beautiful enough to strip down and squeal at the sky. And while you ran naked and free in our backyard, the world was standing up to yell “enough enough enough!”

That’s what happens when you have a voice, dear daughters. You can sing, you can coo and whisper. You can tell stories out loud to yourself in the dark of your room about unicorns with sparkling tails to help you fight the worry of the monsters in your closet. And you can comfort your friends with that voice. You can whine and complain. You can ask a thousand questions. A million. And you can answer them.

You can shush shush shush a baby, or a skittish pony, or your sister who won’t leave you alone. And you can yell. Yes, you can yell.

Kitten
But first. First. First, you need to listen.

Because yes, you have a voice. But you also have ears, dear daughters. And let me be clear here. You don’t get to use one without the other.

Dear daughters, you were born with blue eyes and blond hair and the dirt of this earth under your fingernails, the wind in your lungs, the grass bent under your feet and the stories of your blessings and your struggles, they will be forever in your mouth.

And make no mistake, your story is precious. But it is not more precious than your neighbor’s.

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And as much as you want to tell yours, so that you can be seen, so that you can be loved or understood or helpful or praised or protected or trusted, please remember, please always know, your neighbor wants the same.

Dear daughters, right now you are little and wiggly and hungry and wild and innocent, and no reasonable voice can stop you from jumping in those puddles. But I am your mother and it is my job to love you and teach you and today, even though you’re too young to understand it, I need to tell you, I have to tell you, that the best, most useful gift you can give to your neighbor, to the world, is an open heart.

Even when it’s heavy. Or broken. Or tired. Or angry. Or confused. Or hurt beyond repair…

And so, dear daughters, today I’m going to plant the garden. Some people will tell me it’s too late in the season, but I won’t believe them. Because I’ve always had hope, even in times I had to dig to the dark, damp, chilled places on this earth, I find it.

Because even if it’s too late for the pumpkins or the watermelon, I know I can grow a peapod. And won’t it taste sweet on a hot July day when you run out naked into the backyard, arms stretched out to the sun!

Dear daughters, I love you. Now go love others.

From the bottom of my heart,

Your Mom

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Where we float

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

There’s something about having access to a lake like Lake Sakakawea that makes a 16-year-old feel simultaneously invincible and terrified. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Where we float
Forum Communications

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Recently, I loaded the girls up in the car for an impromptu trip to the shore of Lake Sakakawea, where my husband was finishing up a carpentry job on a cabin.

Our ranch is only about a half-hour drive to the shores of that big rustic lake surrounded by buttes and ranch country with more shoreline than California. As teenagers, my boyfriend and I would take every chance we could get to load up his dad’s old pickup with the canoe, or, if we were lucky and could get it running, his fishing boat, and head down to her muddy shores.

There’s something about having access to a lake like this that makes a 16-year-old feel simultaneously invincible and terrified. Like kings of the universe, but insignificant enough to understand that there are things in this world that could swallow us whole.

I stood on the edge of that water with our young daughters as we watched that boy I loved then, now a full-grown man, skip rocks halfway across the bay. The sun revealed a glint of white around his temples where his dark hair used to bleach in the sun, the same way our daughters’ hair is turning white under the first rays of summer.

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I felt the cool clay on my bare feet, the same bare feet that I used to prop up on the dash of his gray Thunderbird going way too fast with the windows rolled down, on our way to find a spot where we could fling open the doors of that old car, strip some layers off of our hot skin and run into the water, frantic and young and splashing until that lake did, in fact, swallow us up, just like it promised. But just for a moment, before we had to come up for air.

And the thing about love is that you can fall into it with anyone, anywhere. And maybe I fell in love with him in the halls of that high school when everything else was awkward and uncertain, except the boy who showed up each day to walk me to science class. But the campfires he built and the fish he caught and the cool water and the laughing and the way that he kissed me in that Thunderbird kept me there with him to see what the next summer might bring.

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That was 20 summers ago. Twenty summers that brought us right back here to the muddy banks where it began, watching our babies strip down to undies, splashing, tossing rocks and searching the banks of this massive shore for treasure upon treasure upon treasure, me with our girls and my darling dear husband, enamored, exhausted and smack-dab in the maddening middle part.

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And sometimes it feels like we were never those kids, like it was a million years ago, but in a million more our daughters will be doing the same. And then unlike us, they will likely fall in love again, and again and again until the timing is right or, more likely, completely wrong, and so then they will dive.

And I will watch them and be reminded about the falling part, the frantic, feet flying toward the freezing water, gasping for air, falling part and be glad for the memories…

And then, when I need to, I will tell them about the holding each other up part. Because that part, well, that’s where we float.

Chad and Jessie