Christmas fudge and other holiday miracles…

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my family and I fully committed to the Christmas season. And when I say, “fully committed” I mean my husband helped me put lights and big homemade snowflake decorations up on the outside of the house. Because I can’t remember the last time he climbed a ladder in the name of decorative lights. I mean, it was even his idea. I swear I looked up to find a couple pigs flying overhead.

A Christmas miracle.

But it was a perfect day to do that sort of thing and we were all home with no other plans besides digesting all the Thanksgiving treats, and so we busted out the five fully disorganized tubs of Christmas decorations and sparkling Santa hats and we loaded the girls up in the side-by-side for a trip to cut the perfect cedar off the ranch.

Tradition. We’re heading into a season where we reminisce while creating moments to reminisce about. And the great Christmas tree hunt always starts and ends the same: heading to the pasture where Papa Gene saw a perfect tree on his last ride, singing along to Jingle Bells and Rudolf on repeat, spotting one on the horizon only to get closer and realize it’s 75 feet tall, hoofing it up a few steep hills and doing the same thing a few times before we finally we get it right. Then a family photo, saw, saw, saw, timber, and the realization, upon getting it home to lean up against the entryway wall, that this tree may have been smaller than the last, but not by much. (Note: items on prairie skyline are larger than they appear.)

I’m looking at the tree right now. It legit takes up half the living room.

And don’t worry, even though we haven’t learned any lessons on sizing, the great Christmas tree crash of 2019 and 2020 (and probably every year before that) has finally taught us to strap it to the wall first thing. When it about took my oldest daughter out, leaving one lone ornament dangling in her tangled hair, we decided we were done taking chances. 

Anyway, we spent the whole weekend decorating and it turns out we needed a ladder for lights on the inside of the house too. The girls got to work organizing ornaments, laying them out and putting thirty-seven or so on the same two lower branches and I made sure they weren’t looking when I fixed them and so now Christmas can come.

I don’t know the last time I’ve been this prepared ahead of time. More pigs fly. Another Christmas miracle. Now if I could just find Edie’s stocking that I managed to misplace, we could make it three.

I’m so in the spirit that I spent the afternoon making Momma’s Famous Christmas Fudge for an event in town, another tradition checked off the list. It was a special request, which is a testament to how good the recipe is. No one ever asks me to make dessert.

So because I’m on a roll I thought this would be the perfect time to share that famous fudge recipe once again, a little early this time so you have the chance to get after it, or fully procrastinate it, whichever you choose!

Enjoy!

Mom’s Famous Fudge

  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz package milk chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 pound of butter
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk (not to be confused with sweet and condensed milk. I won’t make that mistake twice)

Got it?

Ok, onward.

  • Butter an 8×12 baking dish
  • Bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil for 7 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir chocolate chips, vanilla and butter.
  • Stir until smooth and pour into the buttered baking dish
  • Refrigerate until set
  • Muster up your incredible strength to help you cut the fudge into squares and serve it up on cute little platters or in festive tins for your friends.
  • Become the favorite.

Merry Holiday Season from the ranch!  

What we don’t know…

I don’t know what it says about me and my culinary skills, but every year at Thanksgiving, the only thing that anybody wants from my kitchen is a giant cheeseball in the shape of a turkey.

By the time you read this, it has already been constructed, admired and devoured, carrot nose, pretzel feet, cracker fan and its little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup top hat all slumped and scattered to the side of the decorative plate, joining the leftover beets in the relish tray as the thing no one really wants to eat, but makes the table setting more festive.

Oh, Thanksgiving. So much of the holiday for me represents coming home. Maybe even more than Christmas, and maybe more so because on a Thanksgiving six years ago we spent our first night in our house as parents to a brand-new bald-headed baby and nothing has been the same since.

Especially the holidays.

Our Thanksgiving meal that afternoon was drive-thru Burger King with a frozen Stouffer’s lasagna for supper as we sat in the living room recliners staring at this new wrinkly human who would grow up to become the young girl who requested rainbow cupcakes for her kindergarten class this morning and questioned if I was following the rules when I helped her walk the treats into the classroom.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she said nervously as I pulled into the parking lot instead of the drop-off line like every morning before. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be doing this. I’m just not used to it.”

Not used to it. What a way to describe it. I’m not used to it either, girl. Just yesterday, you and I walked the planet essentially attached to one another. Now you’re 6 and questioning my parenting judgment and authority.

And I’m not sure I’m used to my almost 4-year-old spouting off facts about reptiles behind the driver’s seat on our way to school. When we brought these little bundles of baby home to the ranch, I didn’t know I would blink and they would already know more than me. Like preschool is just the threshold. I’ve already been confused by kindergarten math homework and she’s 3 spelling words and the discovery of voice commands away from being able to Google everything.

I thought my motherhood expert status had more of a shelf life. I mean, up until this year I still believed some of the B.S. parent answers my dad had for our incessant questions. I mean, he always sounded so confident. But back then, we were living in a land of encyclopedias and experience-it-for-yourself. He was golden as long as we didn’t ask for confirmation from Mom.

These days, these kids literally have the world at their fingertips. A few weeks ago I was teaching a writing workshop for high school kids in a neighboring town. I watched them work to complete the short writing prompt I gave them and wondered if I really had anything that might be useful to them at the end of the day.

Then it occurred to me that when I was their age, sitting at a desk in my senior English class, there was no way to anticipate that 10, 20 years later so many careers and tools of our everyday existence would be founded in technology that we could have only dreamed of in our Jetson cartoon fantasies.

Like, artificial intelligence is real, and video chat is a thing that my kids will never not know. And so is travel to Mars, for like, normal millionaires, not just astronauts.

And black holes. I mean, we have an actual picture now. Don’t even get me started on things like Spanx and eyelash extensions and dry shampoo…

Anyway, after a few minutes going down the rabbit hole, I decided to tell those students the one thing that I do know: You just really don’t know what’s to come. But you do know your heart. And what and who you love. Pair that with the mission to do the best that you can, and then when it doesn’t work out (because so many times it doesn’t work out) and when it finally does, you’ll know you put the best of you out into this ever-shrinking universe.

And if you need a recipe to take to a holiday party, a themed cheeseball never disappoints. Just text me and I’ll give you a recipe. Or better yet, we can do it together over FaceTime.

We spent the weekend decking the halls at the ranch and now I’m in the spirit! Shop https://jessieveedermusic.com/store for great prairie-inspired gifts.

Use code HOLIDAY for 20% off now until Friday! Happy Shopping!

Will our children know the quiet?

Will our kids have a chance to know the quiet?
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On a recent trip to a Minnesota town, I took a walk along a path by the river that wound through the city. I kept my headphones out and listened to the sound of slow-moving traffic, wind moving through the changing leaves, dogs barking, a mom and dad chatting, strolling their newborn down the sidewalk on a sunny evening, the sound of my own thoughts…

In the quiet neighborhood I noticed a little girl swinging, alone on the playground behind her apartment complex, her mom sitting on a bench at the corner of the sandbox while the child sang to herself, pumping her legs up to the sky, lost in thoughts of her own, only the way a child can do it when left to herself. What might it be like to be a bird? She closes her eyes and imagines she’s flying, imagines she has wings and a place to be. She sings to herself and the world she’s created in that slow and steady moment she was given to play alone.

I used to be that girl. I hope we all have been a version of her at some point in our childhoods, whether we grew up between these sidewalks or, like me, with miles of road and trees and creeks separating me from parks like these. With years between my sisters and me, I spent plenty of time alone as a kid, using my imagination to occupy me, to come up with a project or a song or a place I needed to be that day — checking on the wild raspberries, trying my hand at catching a frog or pushing logs up along a fallen tree and calling it a fort. I didn’t know it then, but it was the best gift I could have been given, the time to learn how to be with myself.

It’s served me well now as an adult in a career that’s sent me traveling thousands and thousands of miles along lonesome stretches of highway, navigating it alone. Dining alone. On a mission to wander.

To be quiet with myself has never been a thing that’s scared me, and now, as a parent to two young children in a world that feels noisier every day, the thing that scares me about the quiet is that our children won’t have a chance to know it. And without the quiet moments, I worry they won’t get to truly know themselves.

Last weekend my husband was digging in a water tank for the cattle behind my parents’ house, along the creek that used to be my old stomping grounds. My 5-year-old suggested we take him a picnic and so we packed up juice boxes in lunchboxes and ducked through the fences behind dad’s garden, past where the tire swing used to hang and along the beaver dam where a tin-can telephone used to connect my fort with my little sister’s across the creek.

We found a log to sit on and dug into our treats, talking about how I used to float sticks and watch the water bugs row across the clear water, and pretty soon I was leading them along that creek bank, making crowns out of reeds, picking riverbank grapes, jumping after frogs and digging in the sand. I was transported and they were transfixed the way wild places work on children. Let’s go farther, stay longer, look for more frogs, please.

Do you know we can still feel this way if we allow it? The magic — it still works on us too. I forget sometimes, but I was reminded.

There’s magic in nature. Magic. Magic in reaching for the sky, in the pumping of our legs to the rhythm of the songs we sing to ourselves. What’s it like to be a bird? Close your eyes, let the quiet in and grow yourself wings…

The injury tally

Family injury tally

“How many bones have you broken?”

“That I went to the hospital for?” my husband asked, sitting on the edge of the bed pulling off his socks for the day. “Hmm, let’s see…,” he replied, counting quietly to himself, going through the Rolodex of close calls and yelps, jump-backs and limp-aways.

“Three, four, five, six, seven… eight… at least eight… nine…”

“Nine is the number?” I try to confirm.

“Nine for sure. But that’s not counting when I think I broke a toe, or all of my fingers. I broke three ribs and a shoulder blade, both thumbs, at least once… pretty sure I broke this thumb twice,” he examines his body, feeling around for the aftereffects of 38 years of a life spent about as rough and tumble as you can get without serious consequences.

“What about your nose? I think I’ve broken my nose,” I declare rubbing the bump incurred from a heavy sled catching a famous North Dakota wind gust when I was 10 or 11.

“Yeah. Pretty sure I broke my nose too, but I never went to the hospital or anything official. Unofficially? I think I’ve broken something on me 15 or 16 times…”

That’s my husband, currently nearly recovered from his latest injury incurred when a cow kicked him right below the chest, sending him and his head flying into a metal panel fence, ringing his bell just long enough for him to scramble to the top of it, wake up and wonder how long he’d been dreaming.

It wasn’t pretty, and we don’t bounce back the same way we used to, the two of us accident-prone and together long enough to measure time based on our injuries.

Like when we took turns sitting out for gym class during our eighth grade year, dangling our legs off the stage — him with his arm in a sling from taking a three-wheeler through a giant anthill, then me in boot from misjudging my landing off a small cliff to the lake on my birthday.

Then there was the broken finger from a run-in with a bull in a chute that had me flipping off the world while getting out of typing class and piano lessons. Add that to the broken foot in sixth grade and the broken arm in seventh grade and, you know, the recent cancer thing, and I take the title for more time spent in a cast. And more surgeries.

Not that it’s a contest or anything…

Anyway, we got to counting because we had our first experience taking one of our offspring to the emergency room last week. And while we’ve both been hurt pretty bad in our lives, none of that compared hearing our firstborn scream the scream and cry the cry. And nothing cuts a Zoom meeting short quite as quickly as rushing upstairs to find your husband with one hand digging in the first aid kit and the other holding a tiny chin together.

“We need to go to the hospital,” he said calmly while I ran through a quick cost estimate on what it would take to bubble wrap every corner in the house, leaving enough left for both daughters’ entire wardrobes.

And so off we went, dropping 3-year-old Rosie off at my sister’s along the way, much to her dismay. She wanted some blood and a trip to the ER, too (competitive in every way — another story for another day).

Yes, I guess it was about time we hit that parenting milestone. And little Edie came out of her chindive into the sharp corner of the stairs with a few chipped teeth and glued together like one of her art projects left on the kitchen table. Life’s good. Thank goodness.

And if scars don’t make us stronger, at least they give us a story or two. Judging by their genetic makeup and the fearless way our daughters fly through this world, they won’t be short on broken bone tallies and battle tales.

As for their father and me? Well, we’ll just be over here praying that they bounce better than us.

Yeah, that’s lipstick…not blood. Keeping it glamorous as usual.

How to give yourself a break

How to catch a 2-year-old in a lie
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How to catch a 2-year-old in a lie:

Buy powdered sugar doughnuts.
Tell her she can have only one.

Watch as she tries to convince you that she needs one while insisting the powdered sugar around her mouth is a result of the pancake… no, the pizza… she just ate.

It wasn’t a doughnut.

She did not already eat a doughnut.

She’ll take it to the grave.

How to make a 4-year-old mad:

Tell her there are doughnuts. Ask her if she wants one.

Then, when she doesn’t reply for hours, eat the last of them.

Guaranteed as soon as they’re gone, she will immediately want one.

She’ll never forgive you.

How to deal with a global pandemic:

Buy doughnuts.

Eat all the doughnuts.

Maybe this is terrible advice.

I’m pretty sure this is terrible advice, but man, are we all exhausted yet? And I wanted to sit down and dole out some sort of counsel, something to help guide you through this difficult time that keeps dragging on endlessly, testing our patience, our resiliency and our faith, but all I have today is doughnuts.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s relevant, because maybe that’s all you have today as well. And that’s OK. You don’t have to know what to do, you just have to do your best, and if your best is turning on the Disney Channel and zoning out to episodes of “Bluey” with your kids instead of doing the laundry or working together to clean up the baby doll nursery they’ve created out of the living room, then I’m going to give you a pass.

I’m going to give myself a pass, too, especially if it keeps me from scrolling through the news feed on my phone. Because yes, I need to stay informed, and yes, staying informed, to me, feels urgent and important. But it also makes me feel helpless and filled with anxiety and maybe, now that I think of it, full of grief.

Which is what I think we’re all experiencing, collectively, but in our own ways. On our own time. Grief at the loss of normalcy we once knew, for the experiences we’ve been robbed of and, most importantly, for those we’ve lost along the way.

And sometimes that grief looks like denial. Sometimes it looks like anger or sadness or fear or complete withdrawal.

Or picking fights with your husband for no real reason.

And sometimes it looks like a kitchen table full of arts and craft projects and a living room floor full of baby dolls and their strollers and diapers and three laundry baskets overflowing with unwashed clothes and an attention span of a gnat. Or a detour for doughnuts.

And that’s OK. Tomorrow, you might feel like green beans, a run and getting to that laundry.

Or maybe not.

Just take care.

And also, Husband, if you’re reading this, let’s try not yelling at the TV so much. Because now, every time a commercial comes on during “Bluey,” the 4-year-old tells the lady trying to sell us organic bread that she’s lying.

All right. I think that’s enough advice for the day.

If you need me, I probably won’t be doing laundry.

Every kid needs a tire swing

Every kid needs a tire swing
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We used to have a tire swing tied to the branch of a scrappy and tall oak tree that reached out over the steep banks of the small creek that runs through the ranch.

Mom could see it from the window above the kitchen sink, hanging on the other side of the fence that separated our mowed yard from the horse pasture that us kids regarded as the wilderness. When we could get a push or two from Dad between the work and the worry, there was nothing in the world that felt more like flying.

But mostly my little sister, or the neighbor girl and I, would take our turns on our way to the beaver dam to check on the frog population or to pull logs up over leaning trees to make secret forts and pretend we were living as grown ups in another time.

Even when I was just a kid, I thought that every kid should have a tire swing. The only thing that would have made it better was if we could let go to be dropped in the water on a hot day, the way I saw them do it on the country music videos. But the only time the water was high enough was in the years the snow turned to water fast and furious enough under an unexpectedly warm March day when we still wouldn’t dare put away our knit caps and coveralls, let alone strip down and jump in.

It didn’t matter to us, though — we were happy with any formation we could come up with that would make a big push out across the steep bank a little more dangerous — standing on the top, one-handed, no-handed, doubles, triples, a fast spin from your friend, a pullback and running leap on your own… and on and on until we were called inside or got distracted with another idea for how to make our own fun.

Remember those days? When time stretched out in front of us like a newly discovered trail, curiously winding instead of urgently ticking down on wristwatches and cellphones, screaming at us to hurry, reminding us there isn’t enough…

This fall, my husband spent several days behind the wheel of the backhoe, clearing out a tangle of fallen trees and underbrush to build a bigger driveway in front of the house, leaving behind a tall oak, gnarly and mangled, to stand magnificently on his own right outside our door. I always liked this tree, the way the twists of its branches told a story of perseverance, the way its trunk consumed ancient remnants of barbed wire, its bark determined enough to grow over the scars, revealing the secrets of a tree with a purpose beyond growing and shading and shedding its leaves.

But clearing the brush and weeds away really showed it off, ominous against a gray sky, inviting in the sun. Magical no matter what. It seemed both me and the tree loved the new landscaping plan.

But we weren’t the only ones. As soon as the dust cleared, my dad came over with a rope swing for the grandkids, and just like that the old man of a tree had a new purpose.

I watched my girls spin and squeal with their cousins under the shade of that oak. As the leaves cut loose in the breeze and spiraled to the earth around us, I laughed as I remembered the break of the rope all those years ago, and my little sister marching up to the house, tears in her eyes, to deliver the news (and request a trip to the hospital because the wind that got knocked out of her convinced her of internal damage).

And while my little sister was just fine, it was a big dramatic last trip on that swing. I was a teenager then and I realized it had probably been years since I had my last turn. I remember feeling a little sad about that…

We’re all grown-up now and so much has changed, so many things missed, pushed aside as memories we visit when we need them.

But I’m comforted knowing time hasn’t changed our minds. We all still agree every kid needs a tire swing, and a big push that feels like flying…

The carpet sea of lava

The carpet sea of lava
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I wonder if they’ll remember this, when their dad was a jungle gym and they were so small and wild, hanging off his arms like monkey bars, standing on the tops of his bent legs and leaping off into a carpet sea of lava without fear.

In the movies, they would slow this part down, the part where I sat on the floor of our bedroom in my pajamas, watching my young family roughhouse and play.

In the movie, they would play a suggestive song and hone in on my children’s big, wide-open laughs, pieces of their blond hair loose from pigtails and floating in the sunbeam from the crack in the curtains, his strong hands tossing them safely while they squeal. And my smile, too. You would see it, grateful but apprehensive about the turn our story’s taken.

And anxious to get back to complaining about the constant state of stickiness on our countertops the way people do when things are going along just fine enough that you get to be genuinely annoyed by crumbs and laundry and the light fixture that flickers and muddy little boots tracking in on floors that never stay clean, instead of so damn grateful for it all.

But this isn’t a movie — we can’t slow any of it down. And my soundtrack is the voices in my head going down rabbit holes and back again, panicking and then reassuring myself the way I’ve done when faced with tough news about the delicate health of my family members. I know how to find faith there, to center myself. But I’m not sure how to be the one who needs prayers.

For six months, I’ve been having a hard time getting my breath. Was it a cold I couldn’t shake. Asthma? Stress? Was it the reason for the headaches I couldn’t tame with Advil or a nap?

Last week, I found out why. A tumor blocking 90% of my tracheal and bronchial tract. A slow-moving cancer that has likely been growing in my body and spreading to my airway for years, just waiting to make its presence known when it became life-threatening enough to send us rushing to Rochester, Minn., to meet with the experts at one of the best hospitals in the country.

And so that’s what we did. We wrung our hands and clenched our teeth and took deep breaths and called our family and met with the experts and got a plan. And then my husband and I, we sat for three days in a hotel room waiting for the next step, unable to go anywhere to distract ourselves in a world that is all but entirely shut down.

So he laid down and I laid on his chest and we pretended we were on vacation and it was raining. We ordered in food and watched terrible television and woke up early on Monday morning and headed to Mayo Clinic where I hugged him goodbye, the doctors removed the tumor from my airway and I woke up to deep breaths again. Feeling good. Feeling just fine. Headed home.

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That part is over. The next step is going to be rougher, a surgery that we’ll learn more about in a few days, one that will have me in the hospital and away from my sticky counters and muddy floors for a while.

In my life as a writer, lessons seem to find me where I stand. Yesterday, my little sister wondered out loud why we need to keep being reminded, in these dramatic ways, to be grateful.

Is there something more I need to learn here? I don’t know yet. Do these things happen for a reason? Maybe.

But maybe they just happen and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. And there have been some divine interventions that have taken me out of the path of disaster on this journey so far, so I’m just going to work on the brave part.

I know I can be brave.

And I know I can be angry as well as grateful. Terrified and hopeful. Panicked and at peace. In my life, I’ve been all of those things at once already. I’ve had some good practice. But until now, I didn’t know the fear of not being able to be there for my children.

There’s no other option than the option of being OK, so I’m going to be OK.

Yes, in the movies, they would slow this all down, so maybe I can, a little bit, to be like my children — impervious to the worries of the world, dangling from jungle gym arms, too wild and held by too much love to fear the carpet sea of lava.

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The Wonder of Parenting

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The Wonder of Parenting
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When I was pregnant with my daughters, one of my favorite things to do at night was sit with my husband and wonder out loud who the person growing inside of me might become.

A boy or a girl, you think?

I wonder if she’ll have hair. Dark eyes?

The wondering was something I expected while we were waiting for the children’s arrival, but I didn’t realize how much wondering would continue as we work to raise them, and how it would go on to become our favorite subject of conversation.

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I think “wonder” is the key word here, because it’s all quite miraculous and mysterious, the whole process of raising these little humans. And for as much as I thought that our influence and style of parenting would mold and direct them, I’m learning that in so many more ways, these children were born to this world with their spirits and interests and challenges more fully determined than I could have imagined.

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Like, no matter how many pairs of overalls I have presented to my oldest daughter in her life as the practical choice for the barnyard, that little person was not born for overalls. She was born to wear a long, flowing dress, and grow her hair to match and run outside to climb fences, dig in the dirt and pick up all the frogs, bugs and slimy things she can get her hands on.

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And while she’s at it, she’s asking. All. The. Questions.

Because Edie is a fresh soul, new to this world and marveled by its wonders. She draws and twirls and remembers the words to every song and every book and can’t get enough of the beautiful things.

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And then Rosie arrived with her raspy little voice and laid-back attitude and I swear she’s been here before. Try to help her? Don’t you dare.

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Before she could walk, she was dancing on her knees, not willing to wait. Wake her up in the morning and the first thing she asks for is coffee. Tell her she can’t have it and she’s straight up mad, frustrated that she has to wait to grow up because she’s already developed a taste for it. In her last life.

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The girl has a history that’s longer than her two years with us. I think she might have been in a rock band.

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ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And my husband and I, we find it all completely fascinating. So much so that we spend conversations in the car or over morning coffee or between serving up another helping of slush burgers and telling them both for the 3,000th time to keep their little butts in their seats, wondering what we can do to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be.

And I’m not talking about creating these award-winning, genius, grade-skipping, super-athletic or super-artistic children. What we’re really interested in is how to help them create a life for themselves that is long on passion and wonder.

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I want to see them continue to light up for something throughout their entire lives, to have a hobby that fills them up, a few things that define them that they can be proud of and a story that they confidently own, even the parts that they mess up. Because if we do it right, they’ll know that we’ll love them anyway.

And in all of our conversations and wonder in the beginning phases of our parenthood journey, my husband and I haven’t come up with a specific strategy, except that we think it just might be as simple as being present — taking them along with us as we do the things we love so that they know what that looks like. And clapping when they twirl and letting them get dirty, and when it matters and maybe more importantly, when it doesn’t matter, just letting them be.

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Because, indisputably, they know who they are. They just need us there to nurture it, convince them to eat their broccoli and teach them some manners for crying out loud.

My husband said it best when he said he’s not as interested in what he can teach his children as much as he’s interested in what they can show him. And to that I say, “Amen.”

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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.

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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