Friday, January 13, 2017

Two Years In Review

Spring Planting 2016
Farm Notes. For almost two years I’ve neglected the thing that helped me to tell stories to my family, friends, and other readers I’ve never met about what was happening on our farm and my experiences with farm life through my city-girl perspective. But life happened these last two years and it’s still happening. Grad school continued and planting, harvest, planting, a baby, and harvest all happened since my last post. 

To write, for me, is to sit with my thoughts and experiences and to try to explain them as best as possible to my readers. I think deeply about what I want to say, how I want to say it, how it’s taken up by rural and urban readers and then finally commit my fingers to typing. Words and whole sentences are deleted as I re-read my writing, aiming for the best way to say what I want to say. Sometimes looking in on a life that I never dreamed of having can be difficult to write clearly about. There are so many thoughts. So many emotions. So many experiences I never thought I would ever have. And to have others read those thoughts makes one be cautious about what one thinks, writes, and commits to publishing for all to read. And it takes a lot of time, time I haven’t had for quite a while. 

Hay Baling Summer 2016
I spent a few hours yesterday writing a Farm Notes update that covered highlights these past two years. It was “light” and “fluffly” (two words I’d use to to critique surface writing-writing that doesn’t get to the grit of things). I looked through pictures, listed the highlights of planting and harvest seasons past, our life with kids and the arrival of our new baby. In farm news, there were lots of tractor rides, field meals, gardens planted, vegetables picked, and a trip to see the Panama Canal.  In family news there were sibling weddings, grandparents that passed, babies born, and vacations taken. Seasons came and went. But as I read over the post, it was dry, dull, and just a glance at what is at the heart of our experiences these past two years. So here, I will peal back the layers for you to see just for a moment what is underneath the surface. 

Welcome, Georgia Rosalina!
These two years have been the most challenging I have ever experienced. My PhD program pushed me to think in ways I’ve never thought before, often coming home in tears from the arrival of feelings and ideas sprung on me from class discussions and readings and a deep passion for what I believe and want to accomplish in my life and for others. Not many women with young children get PhDs. I don’t need to look up statistics to tell you that. No wonder. It’s hard. It’s late nights and early mornings. It’s discoveries of life and thoughts and people and society. It’s raw and it’s intense (and sometimes a lot to handle all at once). And it leaves little room for anything else. Classmates of mine without families or children can bury themselves in their work and charge ahead without much distraction. That is not the case for me. To survive, I have had to carve out separate physical, emotional, and intellectual space for it to live inside me and for me to continue to be a wife and mother that I want to be to my family. (Like right now, my daughter is pleading “Mama, help me,” in the background as she plays with legos. And I pause my fingers and thoughts, help her, and continue to write.) The space I’ve created allows me to separate my studies and my kids. Sometimes they overlap, and this past fall, I had to work on my first graduate exam with my baby on my lap or my foot rocking her carseat while she napped.
Working at Starbucks with Georgia!

I pride myself in what I’ve been able to accomplish, but I will not sacrifice my family. Close friends and family know that my new schedule has allowed me to be home more with my kids than I ever was before as a high school teacher. I can drop them off at school and pick them up; my first year of my graduate program I stayed home with them a few days a week when they were still in pre-school; I have volunteered in their classrooms and at their school; and I have had a chance to have a third baby and enjoy an entire semester snuggling her instead of heading back to work like I did at 12 weeks postpartum with my first two kids. As I start back to work next week after a semester off, I feel fortunate that my life and situation has allowed me to have the time I have had at home with my baby. And when I do begin teaching next week, it is only two days a week. The other days I can work from home or with the help of a babysitter and still get time to be home physically and emotionally with my kids. 

Not being at a job 9 hours or more a day, 5 days a week with grading on the weekends has also been a relief for me.
Playing at Granny's and Gramps'
Before I struggled to get anything done at home- there was little time for doing laundry, grocery shopping, and keeping the house clean. Visits to the farm during planting and harvest were a stress because they were always long nights after long days at work. Since I’m now home during the day more often, I have more time to take the kids out for farm visits, tractor rides, playing at various family farms, making and delivering field meals, going for parts runs (whenever the need arises), and having date nights in a truck with my farmer husband (whether it be for five minutes or a few hours). It has been a healthy change and transition. This part-time teacher, full-time student, and full-time mom gig has been good for us. 

Harvest 2016
However, life as a farmer’s wife continues to bring challenges during busy seasons. I read an article recently written by a farm mom/wife about her seasonal “freak-outs”.  I have those too, usually about a month into planting or harvest when being a “single”-mom and “farmer’s widow” gets tiring. The immense amount of responsibility of taking care of the house and the kids all on one’s own is wearing. Add graduate work, a pregnancy, and a newborn two weeks before harvest, and life gets, well, interesting. This sentiment, no matter a farm-wife’s situation, seems to be shared my many of my farm-wife friends. Being a mom is hard and tiring. Being a farm wife and mother is even harder. 

We attended the American Farm Bureau Convention in Phoenix over the weekend representing the state of Illinois in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Agriculture Achievement Award. While there, we attended learning sessions with other men and women who were representing their states for the same award. The caliber of farmers and ranchers in that room was amazing; all were leaders in their states and communities and were overall just awesome people. The common feeling shared by many women in the room, no matter how many kids they had, was the difficulty balancing life, farming, other jobs, kids, house work, and other responsibilities and relationships. Grant will be the first to tell you that during the busy seasons I’m the one at home supporting our family while he is in the field supporting our family. It takes work, balance, communication, dedication, patience, and great love. 

As you may have heard, we actually won the national award we went to the convention for. We won the Whole Thing! 

If you are wanting to learn about the award, you can read about it here: 

You can also view the video of the award announcement and Grant’s speech here (fast forward to 19 mins):

As I walked off the stage, and stood looking at the audience with tears in my eyes, the magnitude of this award hit me. It was not just for us. It was for our kids, family, friends, mentors, and communities that have supported us throughout our lives teaching us about leadership, passion, hard work, dedication, and love. It’s an award for all farmers and their families who work every day in their fields and communities. And it’s an award that recognizes the efforts of people like us who sacrifice a lot for a bigger cause especially during planting and harvest. Will this award make life easier for us? No. Will it solve the issue of my seasonal “freak-outs”? No. But what this award has done is solidify the reasons why we work so hard and why we will continue to be dedicated to our farm, our family, our friends, our passions, the organizations we are a part of, and to making things better than we found them. And for that, we are grateful and humbled.