Karen Bohnert
School’s out for summer. Music to every kid’s heart, I’m sure. Or at least my trio were elated when the school bell rang for the last time and the doors opened wide. Although, the meaning of summer vacation differs immensely between farm kids and nonfarm kids.

Many nonfarm kids turn into nocturnal animals during summer break, or so I have learned. Staying up past midnight, sleeping in until noon or later. A life that I have honestly never known. My late father used to tell me when I would argue with my high school curfew, “nothing important happens after midnight.”

So, I really do struggle with why some of my friends allow their kids to stay up so late. With longer hours of sunshine on our backs, I get that summer schedules become lax and bedtimes easily get pushed back. But when you throw in a farming lifestyle, routine is not only recommended, it is essential.

Now a week into our summer break, I’m happy to report I’ve survived. Days start early and end much later, or at least for me they do. I’m sure many of you can relate. I’m not a morning person, but I am up by 5 a.m. to work. The house is silent, birds are chirping, and the sound of diesel engines motivate me to get moving.

An hour later, I lace up my shoes and head down the road for either a jog or a walk. The cool, crisp air welcomes me to the only 60 minutes I will get to myself, and honestly I enjoy every second of it. When I get back to the farm, I’m greeted by our farm pup, Jordy. I don’t take him with me, as he needs to learn to stay within the farm perimeter. Again, this time is all about me!

I then wake up my kids to chore. The older two have learned to work together, which really just means divide and conquer, a concept I’m okay with. One tends to cleaning out old bedding and adding new for their summer show heifers and watering 75 calves up at the dairy, while the other waters and feeds show heifers.

My youngest, Jacob, feeds Jordy, while always having a ball in his hand, playing more than working, and occasionally helping feed show heifers. He really is more about entertainment and less about work, although he did recently ask me when he can start receiving a paycheck. I responded by saying, “When you actually work, Jacob!” The oldest two, now 13 and almost 11, know that with age, I expect they can do more, and Mom gets to do less.

Truthfully, minus the occasional bickering, especially on really hot days, I love watching them work while I make breakfast. With streaks of sun rays and corn swaying from a slight breeze, I’m simply reminded how blessed we are as a dairy farm family.

The kids’ summer project is six show heifers, and they are required to go out and handle bedding, watering, and feeding five times a day. Walking heifers happens once or twice a day. Of course, this is sandwiched in between basketball camp and 4-H meetings and a serious four-square match happening in our driveway with friends.

My summer budget increases in spades — or at least my fuel and grocery bill does, as I make more trips to town (a measly 4 miles away) and feed many more mouths. I’m very happy to be the landing spot for some town kids; the more the merrier because let’s be honest, a buddy makes working on the farm that much better.

My work, whether it stems from our farm or from my writing, happens for an hour or two, or, on a lucky day, three hours at a time. I learn to switch gears from Mom overseeing kids’ chores and activities to chef for the kids and their team of friends or for the crew working in our fields.

I also go from payroll to farm budgets to helping Scott with one quick project. Those requests generally come during the late afternoon. “I have one project I could use some help with,” which turns into a three- hour project that has my mind racing to think how we can combine two hours’ worth of chores into one, so we can squeeze in dinner and showers, so we all can get to bed at a decent time and rise again to do it all over again the next day.

No denying, our life is busy. I like to call it organized chaos, and I have to say that summer months illustrate this all too well. Last night, my cup was running on empty. Around 8:30 p.m., Scott asked me to help with a quick project — that for once was quick. But instead of rushing back to the house, I parked the Gator down the road, and Scott was sitting shotgun next to me. In the silence of the late evening, we just stopped to look at the view. In the midst of a crazy busy week, Scott’s calloused hand grabbed mine and my heart instantly felt happy.

In that moment, I was reminded that you know you live a good life when you wake up with a purpose and go to bed grateful.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 450-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.