Karen Bohnert

We get 18 summers with our children. Sometimes when I hear that, I think that is not enough. But, then there have been times when I honestly question how in the world will I make it through 18 whole summers with my kids at home.

We have four years left as a family of five, then our oldest son, Tyler, will graduate high school. Truthfully, some days this past year I have counted down until I have one less child to worry about. One less kid to get moving and out the door in the morning (although Tyler is my easy-riser). And, ultimately, one more kid launched onto solid footing.

Not too long ago, my husband, Scott, told me, “Slow down, K, these are the times we need to cherish. Someday you will wish for it all back.”

And, I know he is right. However, in the thick of the parenting fog, it is hard to see that someday we will want all of this back. There’s constant bickering and the constant reminders. I have lost count of how many times I have said, “Shut the doors, I don’t want flies in the house.” Or saying to them, “Did you walk your show heifers? Please wear socks with your boots. Wash off your boots after you are done working for the day.”

Seasons flow from one to the next instantaneously, and when I look up from the depth of the fog, I barely recognize my children. They have grown in more ways than one. The oldest one’s clothes don’t fit. His boots are nearly the same size as his father’s. Soon, he will need to shave. His voice is deeper, and he begs to have more independence. I tell you this because it seemed like yesterday I was trying to teach him to tie his shoes; it all happens in a blink of an eye.

I’ll admit, there were moments this past winter when I did a quick Google search, looking up the best military schools. For those of you in the same boat, I can recommend a good school. But, just when I find myself overwhelmed with Tyler, I look up and see him vaccinating dry cows, raking freestalls, and moving cattle to-and-from the milking parlor.

With the physical growth comes maturing and mental growth, and what I have learned is you take the good with the not-so-good. Take the moments of eye rolling and bickering and mumbles of how unfair life is, with the pint size, sweet God-loving good moments: the hugs before bed, the “How was your day, Mom?” and the “Thank you for letting me go on the class trip to Washington, D.C.” messages.

I fight back tears and know better than to ask for a selfie with him. Let’s be honest, both of those are so-not-cool when you are a 14-year-old boy. But, when he does something good, my heart balloons and so does my parenting confidence.

Yes, I have found out, like so many of you have, that if you don’t like the moods your kids are in, wait ten minutes, and they will change. Food, sleep, and fresh air help. Time together and time apart does, too. The hard part is deciphering when you need to pull them in and when you need to be in separate corners.

Some days I lock myself in the bathroom to soak up a few quiet moments to collect my thoughts. It generally occurs on Mondays, when Scott is super busy with herd health and mixing six loads of feed, milking our special needs group, and not really knowing what direction to go next.

So, I don’t call him to give me a pep talk, but I find myself in the corner of my house giving myself one. This will pass; breathe in and breathe out. Give the kids some much-needed down time. Give the kids a project.

It’s really hard to know which direction to go with them, but I trust my gut more times than not. Yes, I really feel like I’m winging it, clinging to lots of prayers that they will turn into productive, kind, driven adults.

Then, I look up and watch all three of them work together in harmony. One is bedding down the heifer barn, while another is throwing hay and the third is watering. I’d like to get my phone to take a photo, but instead, I don’t even think about blinking; I’m trying to capture the rare moments that someday I won’t get to witness.

Eighteen summers is all we get. I have four more with all five of us, and ten more until our youngest leaves for college. So, this summer, I have learned to adapt to a flexible schedule. I’m trying to enjoy the sunrises and the sunsets. The water fights that happen nearly every day at 4 p.m. while watering show heifers. The long walks to check on heifers out in pastures. The sweltering days of moving cattle and breaking that stubborn show cow to lead. Tossing straw bales on the hottest day of summer. The calm and coolness after a summer Midwest storm.

For now, I’m embracing it all: the messed-up laundry room, the flies, the endless grocery shopping, the dirty floors, and the belly aching. Soon, my house will be empty and I’ll find myself missing the chaos those three Jersey kids created.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 500-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.