(Not-So-)Tiny Teachers

As of this writing, my kids are 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4. Before this project is done and published, each will have another birthday, making them 13, 11, 9, 7, and 5. For some reason those numbers sound much larger and older than their current ages and I find myself taken aback by the thought of them all being that big. But big they are, as evidenced by our Mother’s Day photo from this year. Harrison is within six-to-twelve months of passing me in height and Wilson still seems on track to beat us all, Ben included! But what I see most when I look at their unique but so obviously related handful of faces are not just the physical changes they are experiencing, but the mental and emotional lessons these (not-so-)tiny teachers of mine continue to give me. 

Harrison: my first teacher of what it means to be a mother. He will always be my guinea pig — the one I am learning with and perhaps making the most mistakes with simply because he hits each milestone first. I am literally forever not really knowing what I’m doing with him as he grows and goes, so to attempt to list all he has taught me would fill 100 books all on its own. But perhaps the greatest lesson he continues to demonstrate to me is how to stay true and loyal to what one enjoys while letting the words, opinions, and shenanigans of others slide right off the back. HD tunes out the noise and inspires me to do the same.

Raegan: my mini-me to the 10th degree, this girl. She reminds me what it means to radiate care and responsibility and how one can do both with ease and grace in so many forms and settings. She keeps me connected to my own childhood passion of reading obsessively and taking great pleasure and pride in doing so. But above all, RL teaches me what it means to be courageous. To take on new challenges and activities, yes, but also to face old fears and worries with a chin held high, a deep breath taken, and a good song to keep the spirit buoyed when it feels low. RL inspires me to be bold and brave through it all. 

Lincoln: my one who is perhaps most unlike me in terms of taking after his dad more than his mom. He is my always moving, always playing, always active guy – the one who can turn any moment into a game or a competition and will pick up any sport and play his heart out while doing it. He has taught me about passion and enthusiasm both in his loyalty to his favorite teams and players as well as with his heart that has bleed baseball for years. LT also has a great passion for his people and he teaches me constantly about how to be a fierce friend and how important moments of connection are. Even though he’s almost always in constant motion, he gives the best squeezes and is a darn good couch cuddler, too. LT inspires me to get out there and DO, to practice, and to play. 

Truman: my one who charms them all. This kid has been working it from the day he was born and I am no exception to the power of his big blond head and giant blue eyes. He teaches me to reconsider, to try again, to be silly and laugh about the word “poop” or “fart” even when I’m not in the mood. He is the one who helps my head and heart understand what it is like to be so little while observing such bigness all around you and both wanting to catch up to that but embodying such youth and tenderness at the same time. He demonstrates juxtaposition with his cries for help and independence, his big hugs and his running out of the room when he doesn’t want to stop or hear “no” one more time, his go-go-go and his need for rest and recovery. TJ inspires me to feel all the feels and to enjoy the heck out of the giggles when they come. 

Wilson: my one I never knew I needed. If I’d had my way, I would have had two boys and two girls and been Done with babies. But that’s not how it went and I decided that maybe I wasn’t done and that maybe we’d get another girl if we tried another time, and oh my goodness, I can’t imagine life any other way even though Wilson was a ball of teachings from the moment she emerged. From First Sight she taught me to rely on prayer more than I ever had in my life, but also modern medicine and doctors, too. Since then she’s taught me to be grateful for the small things that are sometimes the

big things and that there is always time and room for one more “huggy” and “kissy.” WA inspires me to wear what feels good, dance to my own tune, and love, Love, LOVE along the way. 

To my five greatest examples of what it means to grow and be in this world – thank you for teaching and inspiring me. 

*Post 8/52.

Pink Rock and Prairie Sky

At the time of this writing, I’ve lived “in town” for 15.5 years. Actually, more like 22ish years if you count the back and forth of college life and then living in Lincoln, NE for two years of grad school, but I’m counting the annual calendar changes of City Life from the time Ben and I got married which is getting pretty darn close to 16 at this point. 

All that said, I still marvel at the fact that running to the grocery store for something I need for a recipe can actually happen without 30 minutes of driving plus whatever time I would need in the actual store. I find it mind blowing (and sometimes anxiety-inducing) that my kids can walk to their friends’ houses or the park or even church or sports practices because that was never-ever an option for me growing up on our small family farm, 8ish miles outside of Yankton, South Dakota. I had to have rides to everything, be it by bus to school, or in my dad’s pickup or mom’s Jeep (and later Dodge minivan) – I wasn’t getting to any of my activities or lessons without a grownup to take me there (which they gladly did all year round, all the live-long day sometimes, it seemed). 

Our house was on the top of a small hill, just north of Mission Hill, a tiny little blip on the map that did at least have a post office, but not much else beyond a grain elevator and a couple churches (because even the smallest of towns in the Midwest seem to have more than one church!). Our road was paved as was the old highway that we drove into town; the new one they constructed south of the James River was double laned and divided but the one we drove was just a two-way road often patched and covered in pink rock each summer to make up for the brutal SoDak winters.

Surrounding us in mile sections were lots of fields, a handful of houses/farms/barns scattered about, a grove or line of trees to accompany each homeplace, and of course, gravel roads. I learned how to drive on those gravel roads and it was both terrifying and probably fortifying, too, to navigate them as a teen.  

We had neighbors just across the road from us (which was sort of rare in our area) where two kids lived but both were older than us. My brother had a good friend the same age as him who lived up the road and to the east a bit on the next gravel road who also had a little brother, and because our moms were walking friends and the boys did lots of activities together, I remember them being my most frequent playmates, and some of our closest neighbors, along with the family directly across from our place. Of course now I live in city-limits and have neighbors on all sides of me and for blocks and blocks in each direction, but that’s one part of country life that I miss the most – the space to have, one, privacy, and two, see the dang sky and prairie with nothing but nature (and maybe a tractor) in my line of sight. 

When I think of what we considered our “neighborhood” growing up, the term “neighbor” applied to anyone within a mile-radius of our house (and probably beyond, if I’m being honest). Those big square miles of gravel+paved roads bound us all together; we each understood what it was like to live without many other people or conveniences nearby. And I spent a lot of time on those roads, both in vehicles and on bike and foot, as a younger kid, but even as a teenager, too. One super helpful feature of growing up on a grid like that is when you are also a cross country runner and you know each corner marks another mile, which makes training/logging distance pretty simple.  The ditches were less, friendly, however as they were pretty steep in places and you just never knew what kind of critter might come out of one (be it deer, raccoon, maybe a possum, gopher, or a snake – you know, standard prairie wildlife).

Perhaps the biggest imprint my original neighborhood left on me was my obsession with the prairie sky. I was the kid who would follow her dad out to look at the churning sky as it turned green and a severe thunderstorm came barreling our way. I was the one looking up at the ever-changing clouds in fair skies, too, daydreaming and looking for shapes, patterns, and yes – indications of weather headed our way. I was the one in awe of the sunset time and time again as it burned and blazed away the end of another day. And I have carried all of that with me my entire life, so much so that I eventually named a business after the sky, and still manage to find the most peace when I am out there under its vastness and its beauty without so many trees, power lines, houses, and buildings to get in my way of basking in that prairie sky. 

*Post 7/52

Oh, Placerville

Even though my family never moved schools or houses in the time I was growing up on the farm, we did journey our way through several different churches at different stages of my life. The middle school years brought us to the U.C.C. Congregational Church in Yankton because it was time for my confirmation classes to start, and for some reason, I did not want to do that at our then church home. My parents went along with this and we made the change, in plenty of me to, yes, get confirmed, but also to start attending summer church camps at Placerville in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

After my first week spent there as a middle schooler, I was hooked and went every summer (and sometimes back in the fall or winter for youth retreats) from then on all the way through high school. It was a literal across-the-state trip to get to the camp, which almost always involved riding the brown bus with no AC and probably no seat belts as we journeyed from one small town to another to each designated parking lot to pick up more campers along the way. Of course, any Placerville camper will tell you that the most intense part of that ride came in the last 10-15 minutes while winding up, down, and seemingly around and around the old mining road that lead from the highway to the camp grounds themselves; I probably thought we were going to die at least once a summer on that road, it was so narrow and twisty! 

But the road was also worth it because Placerville became a home away from home for me, and to this day remains a place that lives in my heart as a formative and special space for the person I am today and the faith I carry with me in this world. 

At Placerville I made friendships that transcended time and distance and would pick up on a dime when we’d come together for our week of camp the following year (aided by some letter writing back in the day because, honest to goodness, this was before it was commonplace for everyone to have their own email address). I also bonded with mentors and counselors who showed me what it meant to lead with love and grace – lessons I carried with me when I became a counselor myself and was in charge of my own little cabin of Jr./Sr. high girls the summer after my senior year of high school. 

At Placerville I learned to see God in nature. I loved the pine-scented air of the Hills and the extra cold creek water of the little stream that bubbled its way through the camp grounds. I watched squirrels explore the rock outcroppings and trees each morning during our daily outdoor quiet/prayer time. I tested my strength and endurance hiking the Hills (not to mention trust on one particularly scary hike in which we got lost/got a little too close to an approaching thunderstorm). And like those squirrels, I found my joy in climbing those same rocks to settle in for some contemplation and observation of the beautiful world around me, so much so that I had a friend take a picture of me doing it – twice! lol 

Placerville pushed me to share my heart and talents, both in writing and in performance. It also encouraged me to get more active with my church and community at home, which I did through participating in youth group and leading our Sr. High youth through various trips and service projects throughout my years there prior to leaving for college. Camp also was one of the first places where I learned to be a person completely removed from my life at home (even though I would totally ask my friends to send postcards so I would get mail during my week away), which is a life skill all its own. 

Even though it has been over twenty years since I’ve been a camper or a counselor there, I still recognize and give thanks for the connection Placerville gave me to a loving God and the joy that can come from celebrating relationships with spirit, self, and others, especially when surrounded by the majesty of nature. 

*Post 6/52

Orchard Odd Jobs

Like many a young girl, my first official paying gig was babysitting for some neighbor kids, but my first actual paycheck-paying job was at an orchard just a few miles west of our farm called Garrity’s Prairie Gardens. I was able to start working there before other places like food establishments and stores in part because of the work itself as well as the fact that it was just seasonal employment that centered on the various fruits and products grown and produced there on site, which was perfect for my 14-yr-old self at the time.

Of course apples were a main draw for many to Garrity’s but they also had several seasons throughout the early spring and summer, before the fall apples were ready, including strawberries that folks could either pick on their own or that employees would also pick for easy purchase; they also grew raspberries and produced a whole wealth of jams, jellies, pies, etc. in the small store building located on the grounds.

When I look back on it now, I realize how many odd jobs were rolled into this one job as I touched just about every aspect of the orchard at one point or another during my time there, including being a babysitter/driver for the owner’s young child and his summer activities. When I wasn’t on those random duties, the two tasks I remember the most were picking raspberries and working in the store/kitchen.

The raspberry patch, unlike the large strawberry field that lined the main drive onto the property, was smaller and to the back of the grounds. Tucked behind the house and some rows of apple trees, the raspberries were more for us to pick than the public, and pick I did, scratchy though they were. I know from our own small strawberry patch in our current garden that those berries are similar in the unpleasantness that comes with getting down low and sticking your arms in amongst the itchy leaves, but as a teen, I was probably more annoyed with the early hours to beat the heat than I was the physical discomfort of bending and stooping to look for the ripe fruit that could be plucked and later hauled into the sorting facility. True to form, I know I liked the quiet this particular part of the job and all told it probably went faster than I would have liked given the chaos of some of my other odds and ends at the orchard.

Being in the bustling and warm main building meant everything from kitchen duties like pitting cherries for pies and apple prep to semi-mindless, repetitive jobs like folding gift boxes and putting label stickers on jars for the various fruit-based products they produced. A lot of cleaning, both in the sink and of the surroundings, took place, too, as did some costumer service helping folks as they came in to purchase whatever trinket or homemade good they were after on that day.

Minimum wage at the time was $4.25 so it’s possible that I didn’t exactly make much more than gas money during my time at Garrity’s but it certainly broke the mold in terms of being a very unique first place of employment.

*Post 5/52.

Four Times the Luck

I was fortunate enough to know all of my grandparents until my adulthood. I was also lucky enough for three of them to get to meet my husband and two of them to meet our children (all but Wilson, that is). It is possible I could write a full book about each one of my grandparents, but I’ll do what I can, instead, to speak to the four of them in this one short piece.

Growing up, my dad’s parents were geographically closest to us. My dad farmed with his dad and uncle (who was like a bonus 5th grandparent to my brother and I) so it makes sense that we saw them all the time. Grandma and Grandpa Moore babysat for us a lot either while our parents were busy with work or dealing with the fields or livestock but also routinely on Saturday nights when Mom and Dad were active in their weekly bowling league in town. We’d fall asleep on the couch after being fed supper and playing games or Nintendo and maybe watching some TV, or in my case, rearranging my grandma’s kitchen cupboards because, no joke, I loved to do that and Grandma Gert loved to let me, odd little duck that I was with that.

Grandpa Tim (also called Timmy but real name Donald, which I didn’t know until I was at least eight or nine years old and was snooping on his desk and wondering who the heck the letters addressed to Donald were for) sometimes had to be our stand-in ride from school, especially if we got sick or a parent couldn’t be the one to come get us. I remember him always having both a can of Skol and a pack of Trident gum in his pickup but can’t remember now how long it was before he quit chewing altogether. He never gave up coffee, though, which he would drink in our kitchen with my dad and my Great Uncle Bill as they shot the breeze, played the “Pin” game (grabbing someone’s shirt and saying “Pin!” first) and discussed politics, farming, and, of course, the weather. Grandpa had some health scares shortly before my wedding and I remember being so worried that he wouldn’t be able to attend, so having him there that day was extra special to me. Although his twin brother Bill (often called Willy – you’ll notice a big trend of nicknames for this generation in this post that I now see greatly mirrors the nicknames we use for our own children) got to meet baby Harrison, Timmy never got that chance.

Grandma Gert was a night nurse for as long as I could remember so her schedule was more hit and miss but she loved to have us over to spend time together and play both in the farm house (I remember all three of their houses so well) and on the grounds. She “hid” candy in her pantry but I always knew just where to find the stash of Twix bars and other various goodies that always seemed to be on hand. As we got older, she kept working well past the age of the retirement, I think in part just so she could have mad money to give the grandkids when they came by to visit. I loved going to sit with them and chat at the dining room table, just like “the boys” used to with my dad at our kitchen island, and almost every time, Grandma would pull on my sleeve or beckon me away from the table at some point to ask me if I needed some gas money to get back to school while shoving a handful of $20 bills in my hand. Gertie met all four of my oldest kids and loved getting to see them each time we visited SoDak over the years.

My mom’s folks lived about 3.5 hours away from us in Pierre, SD, which is roughly the distance my own parents lived from their grandkids until my mom bought a house here after Wilson’s birth. Beyond holiday visits, we saw the Jansen grandparents the most during the summer when my school-teaching mom was off and could take us up to spend time on the Missouri River which was basically synonymous with my Grandpa Cliff who loved to boat and fish on it. Similar to the Moore’s houses, I could write in length about the Jansen home and its location in Pierre which was just above Hilger’s Gulch (but we called it The Gully), a favorite walking, sledding, and night-worm hunting spot of ours over the years.

Grandpa Cliff was always coming up with new ways to entertain the grandkids on and off the water/beach, including everything from a boat-cushion-turned-stair-toboggan to a ski-rope-turned-tree-trapeze which, in hindsight, probably gave his own children plenty of near heartaches as they watched us fling ourselves about under his watch. Cliffy loved to play cards which he often did with both a cigarette and a Budweiser in hand. To this day, I catch a whiff of tobacco sometimes that reminds me of him although I couldn’t tell you his preferred brand of smokes. He loved honkey tonk, old school country music, and would dance with us in the finished basement of their house that we played endless games of hide and seek in as kids – poker, too. Clifford got to meet four of my five kids and his spirit seems to live on in Truman who is blue-eyed, ornery, and shirt-adverse, just like Grandpa always was. I, too, carry Cliff with me as his middle name, Raymond, became mine, Rae (and later informed the spelling of Raegan’s first name).

Grandma Orph was the one I got the least amount of time with, as she died when I was just a sophomore in college. I remember so much about her from her clothes to what it felt like to squish up next to her to read a story as a kid or go for a walk through The Gully on a breezy SoDak day. I also remember the exasperation in her voice when she would say, “Oh, Cliff!” which she had plenty of cause to do over the years. I would have loved to have had her at my wedding or for her to have met any of my children, as it was the family she birthed that I was trying to copy (with a sister and a brother for each kid; it just took us five instead of four tries to make that happen). It’s hard to believe that Orpha’s been gone half my life and that we never got to discuss motherhood together as I think my own spirit emulates hers a lot and it would be such a gift to have one of those conversations with her now. Knowing she was a journal keeper also feels so familiar to myself and I wonder how much of her lives on in me with this very act of writing that I cherish so much.

Although it’s been almost four years since I lost my last two grandparents, I still maintain the luck I had to be their first-born grandkid (yep; both sides!) and to know them all as well as I did for as long as I did. Not many people can say such a thing and I know each one of them has informed who I am as a person in this world. 

*Post 4 of 52.

DC Bookends

The very first big trip I took, that I was old enough not only to remember but also to do without my parents, was to our nation’s capitol, as part of a program called Close Up/Washington, DC when I was in 6th grade. Ironically, DC is the most recent trip I took as an adult, too, when I traveled there with the ACLU of Nebraska to protest the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the SCOTUS. That trip was in 2018; since then, I could blame lack of travel on COVID Life these last two years, but also, Mom Life has kept me pretty home bound in general itself, so who’s to say I would have gone anywhere more recently, even if I could have?

That first trip, way back in 1994, was something kids from many states did at the time (and is a program that the internet tells me still exists), which was travel with teachers, chaperones, and other kids of a certain age range to tour the nation’s capital. We went over Easter weekend, so as not to miss so many days of school, and flew in for a whirlwind schedule of museums, monuments, and tours. It was such a whirlwind, in fact, that my memory of it is spotty beyond some flashes of social moments with the other kids in my group, in particular from my school and some older boys we thought were cute, and a handful of especially impactful sights of DC that we saw on our race through the city. This highlight reel included the Vietnam Wall, the newly (at-the-time) opened Holocaust Museum, the Iwo Jima Memorial (I was mesmerized by how the flag seem to raise to stand as our tour buses drove around the statue), and the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, which, to this day remains one of the most powerful ceremonies I have ever witnessed.

I don’t know what inspired this trip, if it was something I begged for or something my parents suggested to me, but I know it was a long-standing option for kids in Yankton to go and I can only guess how many of us go to do that over the years which is pretty rare for kids from SoDak to have seen at that time. The world is a different place now and even with the pandemic, travel seems more likely although I can’t quite wrap my head around sending my own sixth grader off on such a trip, even though I know he’d love to go.

In complete opposite fashion in terms of itineraries, my most recent travel/most recent trip to DC involved absolutely zero tourist spots. I mean, I saw some monuments off in the distance as we rode in the Uber from the airport to our hotel, and I kind of got a glimpse of the Supreme Court building as we walked to the Russell Senate Building to meet with the staffs of our two Nebraska senators, but that was it. While others in my group did a bit more out and about in the city, both for pleasure and for protest, I was in energy protection mode and didn’t want to stray far from our hotel or head out into the city on my own. However, in a similar fashion to my first visit, my second time in DC was also a whirlwind, with a very short time frame and a lot of intense action packed into my few days there, albeit of an entirely different kind.

Writing this has made me realize, I need to go back to DC and once I am there, I need to take my time exploring the city and its history. It’s no surprise that our kids have been asking to visit DC for some time now and I do think our family needs to experience that together – B and I and the five not-so-little presidents – I just don’t quite know how or when we will do that (or how we would keep that trip from also being a whirlwind, since it seems that most things we do falls into that category). Of course the other irony here is that as I write this, we approach yet another Easter weekend which clearly won’t involve travel of any such great lengths, but the bookend nature of the story and the destination continues.

*Post #3 out of 52.


We’re a week into April already and in case you didn’t know, it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I know this because I am a survivor and the very first place I shared publicly about my assault was on this blog eight years ago this very month. This is also the place where I shared my “Why I Didn’t Report” post when the Kavanaugh hearings were happening and where I wrote about my trip with other survivors to D.C. to protest his confirmation a little over three-and-a-half years ago. So it is both fitting and an ironic kick in the pants to be coming to the blog now with a trigger compelling me to write.

To be clear, the situation I was drawn into recently was not sexual in nature and wasn’t directed at me; however it involved someone entwined with my heart and the main takeaway that I will share here is that one person’s word against another’s was not enough to be believed.

Witnessing this happen shook me and sent me on a spiral that eventually made me realize, this is my very own fear – that if I confronted my own assaulter, he would simply say he didn’t do it and because there would be no evidence or proof, that would be it. His denial would in fact deny me the dignity and respect of belief. Clearly I have some work in therapy to do on this, for my own self, but so, too, do we as a society, because we still aren’t in a place where a person’s word of “This. Happened.” is enough to warrant even an apology much less ownership if the other person flat out denies us. Trust me, I realize I’m coming from a place of trauma and trauma spiral right now, but I don’t think I’m out of line for thinking this way.

So here’s my April SAAM charge to you: think about why one person’s word gets to negate a situation but one person’s word isn’t enough to confirm it. Think about how important belief can be to survivors or even people in situations that don’t involve sexual violence but rather power struggles and an overstep of authority because the same theory and question apply there, too.

One final note: I have no plans to disclose details about the situation I referenced here. I shared what I did to explain where my head and heart are right now and I hope that this month of all months, folks can take a moment to consider how we might start to change these dynamics. If you need more information on supporting survivors or getting support yourself, please consider this resource.

Both Things Can Be True

At its heart, this has always been a parenting blog and a personal blog. Both things can be true.

However, as the years have gone by, it has been harder to know what I should share here about my kids. They have their own struggles that equate to stories that I could tell here both for my own remembering and for the connection this provides with other parents and people. But, also, those are their stories, so are they really mine to share at all? I mean, I share a lot of my own shit here but that’s because it is my shit and I’m a grown up making that decision for myself, so that’s pretty different than me telling their sh!t to the world for them.

That said, things still happen in our life that are also both things – their stories as individuals and mine as their parent. Both things can be true. But what does that mean for my writing and how I relate these milestones, lessons, and takeaways? I guess I’m still navigating that, and in true Jenni form, I’m doing so via writing.

We had an incident lately that I want to share here about more than one thing being true but I’ll warn you right now – it’s going to be a little vague because I am trying to do honor my kids’ privacy in sharing this.

I’ll start with documenting, because it is helpful for my own reminding as much as anything, that sometimes my kids get along really well and are each other’s best cheerleaders. With all the bickering I referee on a daily basis, witnessing them cheering each on, being excited/nervous (Glennon calls this “scited” for scared and excited) for one another, and celebrating each others’ accomplishments would warrant a blog post all on its own – it’s that monumental. But within this same vague scenario, we had some individual wins that I want to celebration (word choice intentional – still one of my favorite toddlerisms from HD on his 3rd birthday).

During this particular group activity, two of my kids were offered a chance to split and go with an older group during a breakout session. OK, that’s great. Except that pretty soon it was obvious that it wasn’t and overwhelm on one of their faces was obvious, even from a distance. But you know what said child did? Spoke to the group leader, said they needed to join the other group, and then proceeded to walk themselves to that group instead, even though there was obvious self-imposed shame and embarrassment happening. It’s possible that said child’s mother called out, “It’s OK that you don’t know!” as they walked by – just saying.

The other child stayed with the older group and I was impressed by that too because I knew a lot of information that was going over their head was being discussed. Just like recognizing limits and honoring them can be brave, so too can be the act of sticking with something and trying it, even when you don’t know what’s going on. Both things can be true.

On the way home, I told them both how proud I was of these very different, very brave choices. And when the one who stayed and tried later told me that they thought my comment to their sibling meant I thought they should have left, too, I got right down at eye level and said, “I understand how you could have heard it that way. I hope you also heard what I said to you about your choice.” And then I thanked that child for telling me because that too was brave.

So this is me, recording (for myself and others and for my parenting self and other parents) that sometimes shit goes really right even when it is going wrong in the situation. Both things can be true. And sometimes we get a glimmer that our kids are hearing us and learning from us and, my God, do we need to honor such times because this is both the best and the hardest job.

Both things can be true.

A little trend happening here with photos that aren’t connected to the post except that you do get to see my five beautifully brave babies in it.

Mornings at the Farm

Getting kids ready and out the door for school is a hectic job. Our mornings here are part choreographed dance, part intense negotiations (mostly regarding coats and shorts wearing), part Control Tower instructions for the day’s flight plan, and part Administrative Assistant duties making sure everyone has all the things for that particular day, if we can remember which particular day it is. Because Ben is getting ready for his own day at school, most of the morning (and sick kid) duties fall to me. The same was true when I was a kid but in reverse as my mom was teaching and my dad was working from home (a.k.a. farming).

A lot of my childhood memories of time with my dad stem from these before school times. Growing up in the country, my brother and I rode the bus to and from school in the town seven miles away from our farm. Interacting with buses and bus drivers is a whole different ball game as a parent which I just learned last year when Truman got preschool busing privileges because of his speech IEP (our school district only buses for special cases like that). Even though you are given a window of time for pick up and drop off, the schedule inevitably gets off on more days than not. Because I never wanted to be the reason our driver was waiting, Trumy (and Wilsy) and I spent a lot of time watching from our front door so we would be ready to send him out to the bus as soon as it pulled to a stop in front of our house.

At the farm, this was a trickier situation based on landscaping alone. Our farm house sat back from the road at least a half block of distance and we had a grove of trees to the north (which is the direction the bus came from) so unless we were out at the end of the driveway, we couldn’t see if the bus was almost there or not. I remember plenty of times having my dad holler, “The bus is here!!!” causing my brother and I to fly out the front door, down the porch steps, and sprint across the yard and gravel to the waiting bus doors.

Sometimes we wouldn’t spy the bus in time and one of us would see those doors closing as the bus pulled away, headed to the next stop before we could even get to the porch. When that happened, my dad would toss us in the Jeep and drive us to the next stop or wherever we could catch the bus which it seems like we always did because I don’t remember him ever having to drive us all the way to town.

In winter, the Jeep or a pickup was sometimes our warming station, when Dad would drive us out to the end of the driveway to wait with us instead of us just standing there in the frigid SoDak air. We’d jump out and climb aboard the bus and he’d back down the driveway and go about his day which most likely included a stop in the kitchen to have another cup of coffee or four (the man can drink coffee at all hours of the day and always has).

If that day happened to be a sick day for one of us, though, it was often my Dad who would take us to the doctor or set us up with a “nest” in the living room. For the record, we still use this term today in my family and the kids know to ask for a nest (sheet over the couch with blankets and pillows from their bed/ones that can be washed) when they don’t feel good. We grew up in the era and location, though, of having three TV channels, so a lot of Sesame Street and PBS was watched on those days, along with my Dad’s favorite morning show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee!  Between watching and snoozing on the couch, he would bring dry cereal to eat or baby applesauce and sometimes Mac and Cheese – whatever comfort food sounded good at the time. As we got older, he’d make sure we got our make up work from school and could work on it in bits and pieces until we returned to class. 

There was a great deal of routine and consistency with my dad even though anyone who knows farming knows just about anything can happen on any given day. He was always busy on the farm and was often headed out to the barn or some field or the machine shed, but he was never far from home or us, even when he was occupied with work. Because I was so used to him always being there, a memory sticks out from a time when he went to take a phone call or check on something and I had to get on the bus by myself without saying “goodbye” to him and I was so not OK with that. I have no idea how old I was but I do remember being distraught over not getting that proper send off from him.

While I am fairly certain this game existed before the sad bus departure day, one way my dad built a routine goodbye was with a competition to see which one of use could remember to say, “Love you, said it first!” first. We’ve played this game ever since both in person and over the phone. Whoever can say that exact phrase first when a conversation is wrapping up wins and the other person fakes indignation and tries to win the next time we talk. 

Whatever the origin story of the game, my dad was always there to get us out the door, set up a nest, or play a little game to remind us that even in the midst of hectic farm life, he was there to see us off and also offer us comfort when we needed to rest. 

And because I need to snag some photos from the farm yet, my stash is fairly limited, so instead I have an image of us dancing at his brother’s wedding reception:

*this is Post No.2 from my year-long Writing Challenge.

Stuffed to the Brim *Post #1

Looking at the abundance of stuffies in my current life as a mom, it’s no wonder that my kids have collected so many because thinking back on my own childhood, I realize that I was also stuffed animal obsessed. The collection was so big that I needed one of those corner net dealies to hold them all because there was no way my bed could contain me and them. 

The net itself was fantastic because it had a special edging to it, like a braided/embroidered belt, that was double sided with three colors (red/orange/yellow) on one side and three more (blue, green, purple, I’m assuming) on the other, with sailing rings in the corners for easy flipping to match whichever colors I wanted to display. Of course, seeing the net wasn’t always easy because over time I stuffed it (pun intended) absolutely full with stuffies (not a term I used then but now, yes). I ordered a similar contraption for our playroom but the quality was not near as great as my old one and it definitely didn’t have the special swag edging either. 

Although pretty much each one lived in the net, not every stuffed animal that came into my life got a name. I remember a pretty wide range of cuddlers that fall into both the named/unnamed categories: 

*the light brown teddy bear with a blue beanie that also wore some fancy clothes like a vest and bowtie that I clearly snuggled a lot because the way I remember it now is with the hair fairly matted down from years of kid hand/arm exposure. This one was featured in photos, including a Christmas card when I was a young toddler. 

*a giant bear that I stole/got from Grandma Gert’s named Maurice (maybe he was my aunt Tammy’s? Gertie’s? I don’t know, but I remember his name was embroidered on his red stocking cap attached to his big, brown, fuzzy head, at least until I eventually cut the strings and removed the hat).

*my Care Bear named Sunshine who I adored even though the color yellow has never been my favorite; the song “You Are My Sunshine” had to play into this bear’s place in my heart. 

*a Pound Puppy named Peanut who I kept near and dear for ages.

*the white Popple that had either blue or rainbow colored hair on it’s belly and maybe feet/head, who I loved to transform from creature to ball shape, even after the white fur got all gray-ish and a bit scuzzy.

*the green GloWarm that didn’t have a name but continued to light up its cheeks for what seemed liked years past when it should have been possible for it to still work.

*a koala puppet that I got from Alana, my Australian pen-pal that Uncle Terry connected me with in grade school.

*Beanie Babies – not that I ever collected them with a passion but I received several over the years, including later in high school when I got a tiger that represented my future college’s mascot.

If I ever latched on to one of these stuffed animals in particular, like my own kids have with their (limit four) Sleep Friends, I don’t remember that. I don’t recall ever needing to have one particular stuffie to be able to sleep or one that had to travel with me to visit grandparents, etc.; in my mind, it was more of a rotation of them that I played with, with some particular favorites standing out like Sunshine Bear. 

What sticks out most in my mind is that by high school, that corner net was full to the brim and I worked to load them in such a way that displayed their various little and large faces, unless I was in a big rush to clean and just tossed them up like basketballs that were meant to stay in the net, not come crashing back down on my head. That makes my connection to them sound a bit callous but all of these soft toys clearly had a soft spot in my heart and were a big part of my life as the collection grew along with me over the years. 

*This is part of a year-long writing challenge that will get me from 40-41 with weekly writing prompts that I will share here; seeing as my writing has tapered off in the last year, this is a great way to reboot.