Neither my husband nor I are dog people. We both grew up in families with dogs, as well as cats in abundance, but it just wasn’t our thing. And I may have been slightly relieved when I realized that we were kindred spirits in this, too. It made a lot of future decisions much easier. Like whether we would own a dog.
Cats are handy to have around the farm. They eat mice and gophers and don’t cost much to care for. They can go weeks at a time feasting upon the fields instead of Friskies. Our first kitties–Jeeves and Wooster–were given to us early in our marriage and we thoroughly enjoyed them and their antics. We missed Jeeves and his feline personality when he disappeared. And when Oofy finally replaced Wooster, we were sad that he wasn’t as social as his predecessors.
But we drew the line at dogs. A dog was fine for Dad and Mom to have on the farm, handy for keeping deer out of the garden and turkeys out of the grain. And dogs were fine for our neighbor to have, to keep her company and lick our toes during dinner. But we got our fill caring for them when she was gone. And a dog was fine for my brother to have, to help my brother learn some responsibility and entertain our kids when we went to visit. But our own dog was out of the question, for a hundred and one reasons that we’d be glad to enumerate if you ever suggested otherwise.
We neglected to pass the non-animal-lover gene on to our children, however. At least in their imagination. So perhaps we should have thought a bit more before reading them the Little House series in which the dog Jack plays such a big role. With an anti-social cat being the only pet on the premises (unless you count one and a half dozen even more anti-social chickens), our children’s imaginations have created their own substitutes. And while I am convinced that the noise level of these imaginary pets is quite near what would be if we had a real live puppy in the house, I count my blessings, because these puppies don’t eat a bit of food. And it’s a good thing, because each of our three children has their own!
Of course, one puppy looks to the naked eye like a wooden John Deere tractor on a string. But that’s just to those who haven’t found him tied up tight to a bed leg or a toy box and been told not to disturb the puppy. The other distinctly resembles a vintage pull toy with a clown driving a car. But that is forgotten when the string breaks and the puppy is rendered immobile, and all you hear are my oldest daughter’s cries, “My puppy! My puppy!” The third really and truly is a puppy pull toy. And you’d think perhaps it was what gave them the idea except that as I recall, the tractor was a puppy before the puppy came into the picture on little man’s first birthday.
When all three of our children are racing around the kitchen table pulling their puppies behind them, I’m tempted to invest in a kennel to contain the noise once in a while. Inevitability, they are exercising their puppies when the phone rings, and I have to yell above the din, “Make your puppies be quiet or take them to your room!”
But even though their strings do frequently get caught up in their wheels–er, legs–at least they don’t make messes on the floor or eat puppy chow at the same rate our kids eat oatmeal. And thankfully, my imagination is vivid enough to believe that our children enjoy their three little pull toys almost as much as they would a real live puppy. Almost.
And when they feel the need for livelier puppies than those little pull toys supply, they start playing each other’s puppies. With one child crawling around on all fours, barking to beat the band, and another child yelling, “Puppy! Come here!” –well, I wouldn’t want to rob them of their imaginary delights by supplying a real live puppy, would I?
You’re two years old and getting so big as you remind us so often. Everything is big to you. You want it big and you want more of it. Big tractors, big bulls, more hay bales. It’s a big world for our little farmer.
You might play with toy baby bulls, but if we ever mistakenly refer to you as our baby, you are quick to remind us “no baby!” But for not being a baby, you certainly are attached to what you sleep with at night. From the moment you were weaned, your milk cup became your security. We didn’t dare dream of putting you to bed without it. Mommy would find you fast asleep at night, holding tight to your milk cup with one arm, and often your water bottle with the other.
You learned to sign milk, but when you started saying it, the word sounded more like the physical action of milking than the white stuff itself. “Ump! Mo’h ump!” And lest Mommy get confused, “Dink!” means water, never milk, while “ump” means milk and never ever any other drink.
Then one night last winter, you needed more than just your cup of “ump.” You were standing in your crib, yelling for “Bull” who, of course, was hiding somewhere (probably under the couch where you get stuck retrieving your toys). When we finally found Bull, you could go to sleep. And thus began the tradition of sleeping with Bull — a hard, plastic, but thankfully not live bull. Soon Bull was joined by tractor and then trailer. And heaven help us if trailer came unhitched from tractor while you tried to fall asleep. The night time ritual had to practically begin all over.
When we took our three-week family vacation, we knew we did not dare leave Bull and tractor and trailer behind. I put them in a grocery bag and kept them hidden just to see if you’d ask for them that first night at the hotel. And of course, you did. So they stayed with your play pen, ready to pull out each night so you could have something of home and something to keep you company while you slept.
Home from our vacation, you got to celebrate your second birthday early, along with your big 8-year-old boy cousin. And your daddy gave you what became not only your favorite gift, but the only one you’d open — or sleep with! (Note to parents everywhere: always open the toys last.) It was a little version of Daddy’s big John Deere tractor and big New Holland hay baler. Complete with six little hay bales that each fit inside the baler.
I wasn’t going to let you sleep with the hay bales. Not when they were so small. But your crestfallen face changed my mind and you fell asleep to sweet dreams, with the tractor and baler on your pillow, hay bales scattered round you.
Now the bedtime call has became, “Moh! ‘ay bales! Moh! ‘ay bales!” Even though three are all we can ever find at once, considering little hay bales are a bit easier to lose than the big ones Daddy bales. And first thing in the morning, we’re awakened to the cry for whatever fell out of your crib in the night. “Daddy! ‘actor! Daddy! Baler!”
You’d almost think you were a farmer’s son or something. But we’ve decided that however stressful farming might be for big farmers, it’s ever so much more stressful for little farmers. Especially when your hay bales get lost so easily. And your brand new tractor breaks. You never do have all your tractors at once, either. There’s always one under a bed somewhere. Thankfully your Gators can pull your baler just as well, and one will often substitute for another, especially since Bull has gone MIA in been replaced by much softer but much bigger Bull, Bull (who isn’t really a bull), and Baby Bull. And whenever you do find that missing tractor, hay bale, or bull, your delight is always as abundant as the rejoicing over the lost sheep.
The problem is that between your tractor, baler, hay bales, bulls, and the ever-important cup of “ump”, I hardly have room in my arms to carry my little farmer! Because they do all have to get out of bed with you each morning, and come into Mommy and Daddy’s bed to snuggle awhile. There are days I wonder if I’m even snuggling you and your daddy or just the tractor and baler and bulls in between us! It’s amazing you don’t wake up more often than you do, with all the machinery and animals in your bed. I guess that’s just what comes of being a big little farmer like you.
Happy hay baling and sweet dreams, my son.
a big farmer’s wife and a big little farmer’s mommy
When I found out I was expecting you, I secretly hoped you would be a boy. Your daddy loves your sisters — his two little princesses. (He liked what a customer had told him: “Having girls always made my husband feel like a king!”) But I had a feeling a son would make him oh so proud.
And when I thought I saw something that last ultrasound, something that could perhaps indicate you were a boy — I hoped a little bit more. But I didn’t tell anyone. Because we love our girls and they would have been thrilled with another sister, too.
When you were born, my hope was rewarded: there was so much pride and love written on your daddy’s face. And according to reports, the news of the first grandson on my side of the family, the first in this generation to carry on the family name on your daddy’s side, made more than a few buttons pop.
I knew your daddy would be proud. I could picture the father-son bond that would form over farm work done together and everything John Deere green. But I was not prepared for the way you would capture my heart. I did not know the mother-son bond would run so deep, so instantaneously.
I love your sisters. They keep me laughing and keep me on my toes and I hope someday will keep the house clean for me. But in them, I also see so much of my own self mirrored back.
But there you were. The spitting image of your daddy. A miniature, blue-eyed version of the man I love more than life itself. And I found myself feeling extra protective of you. Not to mention just a bit extra lenient. All you have to do is look at me with those big blue eyes and I melt.
I know someday soon you’ll be too grown up to snuggle Momma anymore. I know you won’t always have to lean your head over to touch me several times a meal as you sigh, “Momma.” I know you won’t always be around the kitchen to say “Helper!” as you pull a chair up to the counter beside whatever I’m doing.
But I hope and pray you remain the tender and compassionate little man who shows such love and care for his sisters and his momma. I hope you are always as quick to say “I sorry” as you are right now. I pray you grow to become a man who is strong but kind, just like your daddy whom we both love so much.