Do you ever have to remind yourself that you chose this life? I knew exactly what I was getting into, and I still chose this. Some days, that little three-word phrase is the litany in my head that I have to repeat over and over again.
I chose this.
For example, it’s what I think of when I have to cancel plans at the last minute because someone else simply decided they didn’t want to milk. I chose this. Or when the calf you thought was finally feeling better just randomly dies with no warning. Or when the rest of your family is celebrating a milestone thirty minutes from your house, but you can’t go because you have to feed the calves and milk the cows. For some ridiculous reason, I chose this.
Moments like that tend to have me asking why. I knew what I was getting in to. Growing up, my dad missed most of our sports games and chorus concerts. I can’t ever remember a time he put us to bed. But I do, very specifically, remember the first time I wasn’t invited to something because everyone was tired of me cancelling at the last minute for the farm. I remember what it felt like to not only be struggling with normal teenager problems but also to feel the stress of making life or death decisions at the age of twelve. And yet, I still chose this.
It’s true, on the bad days, I have to remind myself over and over that I chose this. But on the good days, I wonder if this chose me.
At the end of the day, when I’m too exhausted to blink, there’s still a sense of pride and accomplishment in what I do. Yes, we’ve lost plenty of cows and calves over the years, but we’ve also saved plenty. No, my dad didn’t see many of my softball games. But I have a very clear picture in my head of the days I did see him walking down that hill toward the field while I watched from first base. I couldn’t even begin to count all the parties, dinners, and gatherings I’ve missed because of the farm. But I do remember the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself when my family and I worked together to bale and haul hundreds of round bales of hay from 10 miles across town before the storm hit.
Nobody loves their job or life every day. And on the days when I have to remind myself that I chose this life, I often forget why I chose it. But then I think about all the farms that have been forced to sell before they were ready. I bet, even on their best days, they remember why.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.