Not too long ago, I was inside sipping some ice tea and reading a book, when I paused, looked outside my kitchen window, and smiled. My 10-year-old son, Jacob, was mowing the grass with our beat-up, old John Deere riding mower. He would mow, and then it would die, and he would start the mower again. With every small bump Jacob hit, his rear end would come off the seat, setting the sensor off and shutting the mower down. This happened over and over again. The job took my youngest son nearly two hours, but Jacob was so proud when he came inside and said, "Got the grass mowed, Mom!"
These are the days that can be chalked up as really good days. That night before bed, I asked Jacob what the best part of his day was. He replied, "That's a no brainer, mowing grass!" I kissed him goodnight with my heart blooming.
Or, maybe the best day ever for a farm kid is baling straw. For me, honestly, it is one of my least favorite jobs. My Jersey kids, though, share a different opinion, and that pleases their father. It is a job that requires all hands on deck underneath the hot July sun. The kids felt needed and proud of their job titles — one tethered, one baled, and the youngest one was riding racks to help unload the small squares. The next day, he was driving the truck and trailer around the field so his father could gather the bales. I reminded myself, "Don't fret over how much straw comes in the house, be thankful you have kids willing to help outside." They all came home that day hungry, tired, and happy.
And, just when I start to feel bad my kids don't have a pool to lounge in or that we haven't all gone on a family vacation, I see how they make ordinary days, well, extraordinary. Earlier this summer, I observed Jacob and Cassie taking some old silage plastic and inventing a fun slip-and-slide activity. More than once, I've watched our oldest son and his friend riding four-wheelers, smiling wide, as they kick a little dust up. And when Scott suggests a game of kickball, all the kids circle up and have fun. These are the moments when I quietly thank God, because while moments like these are rare, they are treasured immensely.
Friends, these are the memories the kids will remember for a lifetime. I never went on a big family vacation growing up, but I can still recall my father playing baseball with us girls in the front yard before milking cows in the evening. Or there were the times after we would throw some hay off a trailer to cows out on pasture when he would say, "Race ya, K!" I would run as fast as I could go on foot, and my dad would smile wide, occasionally speeding up the tractor.
The key as farm parents is that we must open our eyes wide, pause occasionally, and try to bottle up all the memories being made on family dairy farms. They'll be cherished for a lifetime.
Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.