This is our spring family portrait. The calf wandered into the photo.
Winter is peaceful on the farm because there’s nothing to do but keep the animals alive. It’s hard work, but it’s only a few hours a day. Summer is busy because all the fields are ready at different times—farmers cut hay many times in a season, farmers rotate the animals to graze different fields, and there are baby animals that have to grow and become independent by winter. But the rhythms of summer are predictable because everything is part of a system.
I say this as if I do any of it. I don’t, actually. But I help in emergencies.
The only time when things are in flux is right before planting the corn and right after harvesting the corn. We are in the before time.
There is excitement everywhere. The farmers watch for the signs to plant corn—the date isn’t how they decide. They look at what nature is doing and plant when the first violets open. Or when the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear.
The animals are excited that there is new grass to graze. And the kids are excited that it’s warm enough to explore alone—no risk of getting stuck in a snowdrift and freezing.
Farm families have lots of shoes. You need special shoes for snow, for slush, for mud, for running in the grass, and for planting in the grass. And then you need shoes for when you’re not on the farm. Most of the year, out-of-season shoes are in the barn. You can tell a farmhouse in spring because it’s got shoes for every season all together.
I’ve been saving this next picture for you. It’s the day I told my boys, “Kids in the city are done with winter boots. Wear shoes. Wear your city shoes so we can all look normal.”
I scream upstairs, “Did you guys hear me about the shoes? Let’s go! Get in the car!”
They yell back, “Okay! Okay! We heard you! No farm shoes in the city! We know! We know!”
We get to Madison for music lessons and here’s what they were wearing:
In the spring, to be a farmer is to build fences. We have about fifteen types of fences and each one serves a different purpose. A single electric wire keeps cattle from grazing the wrong field. But a goat is smart enough to go over or under the wire. Some fences are permanent, like the cattle lot for winter. Some fences are temporary, like my son’s genetic experiment where he bred the smallest pig and the largest pig.
In the spring farmers check all the fences to see if they made it though the winter. And they make new fences to prepare for all the baby animals coming.
Farmers are never sure which fencing will work. If you put up the most expensive fence every time then you can be sure the fence will work, but you won’t make any money. So farmers experiment with the fastest, cheapest fence that will do the job, and a smart farmer is always a little bit out of his fencing comfort zone in the spring.
Chickens experiment as well. In the spring they start laying eggs in weird places that look better than their regular places for laying eggs. So spring is a time when the kids have to experiment with their egg collecting routine to get to all the new places.
My spring is full of phone calls, of course. To give you an idea of how many coaching calls I’ve been doing, I just heard my sons fighting. The younger one said, “You’re a buttface!” And the older one said, “Yeah, well you’re never gonna have a fulfilling job!”
One of the phone calls is from a TV producer. I usually don’t tell you guys about the TV people who contact me because tons of them do, but nothing ever happens. Even when a reality TV crew filmed at our house, still nothing happened.
But this time there is a big-name writer on the project, and there is a big-name actress who is slated to play me. I’m not going to give names because I’m sort of hoping that this post slips under the radar of the TV people, because I want to tell you a secret.
They told me the TV show idea works because I’m like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer: I have the big career that women want.
And I thought, “What? Holy crap. That’s what they see in me?”
My reaction was to not post here for a month. I think I felt hopelessness, really. Like, there is no way I can keep being this for people. There is no way I can keep up the image that I’m a woman with a big career. And what if TV people don’t care about me when they discover I’m just a mom living on a farm?
But I need to do transitions, just like everyone else on the farm. I have the same lack of assurance that I’m wearing the right thing for where I am, and I have the same worries that I’m taking risks that won’t work.
It would be unlike me to write about the promise of spring without mentioning that spring is suicide season. There are a lot of theories about why spring has the most suicides, but the majority of the theories take into account the relationship between spring and loneliness.
My theory is that spring is a time of transition. Everything is in transition: nature, people, routines. It’s more pronounced in agricultural communities, but it’s in our DNA no matter where we live. If you hide from transition, then it’s lonely. And that’s what I’ve felt this past month, when I was not blogging.
Spring is a time to find out where you are and who you are and move toward where you are going. Avoiding that requires hiding which leads to depression. So I’m done hiding. I’m doing spring. Even though the only way I could admit that I’m not the powerhouse the TV people think I am is to put it in the middle of a too-long-to-read post.