Wednesday, April 1, 2020


a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.

Also, a situation where you have a burning desire to try every recipe you’ve ever encountered.

Like everyone across America, I’ve been cooking much more in the last two weeks. My previous routine included cooking a large meal on Sunday and Monday evenings, then Cody would take flight on Tuesday, and the kids and I would live on leftovers until Friday when Cody would return. The COVID-19 travel ban has changed all of that. I’ve cracked open cookbooks I’ve not used in five years. I am so thankful for the local Hagerstown IGA; they’ve consistently had everything I’ve needed.

The increased appetite also stems from a group of eight college sorority sisters who are terrific cooks. We often swap stories of desperation when trying to visit with the UPS man who won’t make eye contact because you’re still in yesterday’s mascara, and husbands we’ve been married to for years, but are just now revealing that they don’t like Miracle Whip. Who knew? Talk about sleeping next to a stranger.

Our sisterhood group also swaps recipes. Between all of us, we have 18 children that line our dining room tables morning, noon and night. Also, ten times throughout the day for snacks.

One is a ranch wife in California; her recipes include a lot of fresh food and wine. Three are farm wives in Illinois and Indiana; they’re really into crockpot meals and things you can prepare at 11:00 PM the night before, then bake the next day. One is a pharmacist in Illinois; her recipes always include the calorie count and nutritional facts (gross). One is a marketing big-wig for John Deere; her menu usually includes meals that can be enjoyed on-the-go in a tractor or combine cab. Friend number seven is an engineer for August Storck; she figures out how to get Werther’s Originals on your grocery shelf. Her recipes will rot your teeth.

My recipes always include beef. 

Being a good and supportive friend, I work very hard to try each recipe the girls send out. We had five-course meals three nights last week. I’ve made dessert more in the last two weeks than I have in the last 35 years. My jeans are begging for me to eat a spinach salad, but I can usually shut them up with another Werther’s caramel brownie.

Our kids still don’t know how to practice social distancing, so I have yet to go to the bathroom alone. They’re also really into sharing food right now. If I hear, “Mommy, close you eyes an’ open you mouth,” one more time, I’ll probably put myself in legit quarantine. Maybe in Mexico. 

Because of this new routine, I also get stuck eating cold oatmeal at 9:00 AM that someone abandoned because they found a book to read, half-eaten chicken tenders at 1:30 PM after I get them down for a nap and grapes drenched in ketchup at 8:30 PM when I’m finally cleaning up the kitchen for the day. I don’t know the calorie count on crumbled chocolate chip cookies I’ve consumed, but it has to be around the 10,000 range. We don’t waste cookies in this house. 

I’m so thankful for the recent beautiful weather we’ve had so we can get outside to work, play and burn a few calories. On Saturday and kids and I went to town and walked four miles before the rain moved in. I felt great about the exercise and the fresh air we each enjoyed. So, we stopped by The Dairy and ordered cheeseburgers to celebrate. 

I wanted to lose 10 pounds this year. 

Only 13 left to go. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thanks, COVID-19

My husband, who typically travels the great plains weekly from January 15 – April 15, has been issued a flight travel ban through May and frankly, I’m not handling it well. 

He wants to talk. 
He wants to be included in meals. 
He wants me to run the headgate while he breeds cows. 
He wants to begin watching a movie at 8:00 PM, oblivious to the fact that I prefer to be in bed before 9:00. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for bringing Cody back home early so we unexpectedly have a full dining room table this season. 

The COVID-19 virus situation has transpired into a much bigger issue than initially thought. I never dreamed a bat in Wuhan would inspire me to find what lies on the bottom of our deep freezer (beef soup bones from 2013 when we bought the farm). 

Thanks, COVID-19, for reminding me how fortunate we are to have a freezer full of food for our family. 

My role as an agricultural communicator has been kicked into high gear as we work to tell the public on radio, web and in print that our work as your local farmer-owned cooperative is essential and we will continue to operate as long as we legally can. We have homes to heat, first responder fleets to fuel and a 2020 crop to get into the ground so we can supply the global food chain. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for giving me professional purpose outside of the home, while I write to remind the 300 folks who work for Harvest Land Co-op that the work they do daily is absolutely essential to the rest of our community. 

Late last week Cody went to Lafayette to pick up beef embryos, so the kids and I went into town for a walk. When I was expecting Cyrus in 2018, Caroline and I walked the same route through town multiple times a week. We haven’t been back since he was born. 

It was fascinating that we’d pass a house – or even a dog statue on Sycamore Street – and Caroline would remember it from two years ago. She remembered big hills on Parkway Drive where I inevitably get winded (I’m not even 6 months pregnant this time) and she was quick to point out her beloved veterinarian’s house on Washington. It is foolish of us to think children aren’t paying attention.

On this particular walk, we entered West Lawn Cemetery and that really changed our exercise routine. I figured if the official instruction was to stay further than 6 feet from the rest of the public, a cemetery was surely safe ground. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

I saw gals I went to high school with. Caroline saw pre-school buddies. We saw old family friends who hadn’t even met Cyrus, yet. And also strangers so eager to say hello. It was sincerely the most joyful time I’ve ever spent in a cemetery. 

Then came the questions from the 3 ½-year-old:

  • If people are in heaven, why did you put rocks on them? To keep them in there?
  • Why does that one have an angel on it?
  • Look, Mommy! A rock puppy! Is the puppy in there?
  • Is this where Great-Grandma lives?
  • Why haven’t they taken down the Christmas tree?
  • Does Santa live in heaven, and that’s why we never see him?

Thanks, COVID-19, for presenting these moments where I have an opportunity to (try to) explain heaven to our children. 

I don’t take lightly the number of people who are economically affected by this pandemic. Homebuilders, daycare workers, restaurateurs, beauticians, bartenders, teachers, librarians, those in food service and retail, the list goes on. The financial loss that will affect nearly every American due to this outbreak could linger for years.

Thanks, COVID-19, for teaching us a lot. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for teaching us to break bread again. 
We sit down around the same table and share a meal, as intended. We have a brief (how fast can brother inhale his supper these days?) conversation about the day and likely about tomorrow, too. We connect. Wifi not included. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for removing so much distraction. 
Thanks for allowing us to read a book, thoughtfully prepare for a garden, make an intentional grocery list, learn from our devotions without rush, read a book to our grandchildren. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for keeping us home. 
Quarantined together, against a culture that tells us to be anywhere but within the walls of the family home. Thanks for reminding us who will be there, under the same roof, when nothing else in the world seems to make sense. 

This will change how we do business, eat, lead families, live. 
There is a tremendous opportunity to learn before us. 
A tremendous opportunity to learn, and I hope it isn’t only to wash your hands regularly. 

But if it is: Please make sure you utilize the full 20 seconds. And use the brush. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Succession Plan

Last week I had the privilege of organizing an event for the local farmer-owned cooperative where we welcomed Jolene Brown, a nationally known spokesperson for American agriculture and champion for teaching others how to create a succession plan for the family farm. Basically, she spent the day making us laugh and coaching us through ways to avoid an argument about land values on the way to the funeral home. 

It may sound funny, but it is not. 

Succession plans are difficult things to talk about for farm families. Partly because we are the kind of people who have a to-do list that doesn’t grant any free time for dying, so we seem to think we never will. 

But also, our roots, and even identity, are found in the ground on which we work daily. Most in agriculture are born in the same area their ancestors were, and now make a living off the same land. This land. Those barns. That farm. This house with the unlevel floors, drafty windows and seventh stair that creaks: It isn’t something we want to let go of. So, we tend to have a hard time doing so. 

The event was certainly eye-opening for me. Though we’re in our thirties and hope to live another 70 years, I learned that now is the time to get to work on a succession plan. Of course, it’s easy to give all your stuff away when you don’t have much. The most expensive things we own are eating hay just south of the house as I pen this. 

Nonetheless, would the kids know what we want to be done with things should something happen? Would they know what cows their grandpa in Kansas might want on his ranch, compared to what could be sold? What about the hot-tempered cow with the split ear, 18A, would they know what sale barn to call first to haul her away? More importantly, what would they do with the 12 antique doors I’ve collected and stored in the barn for “rainy day projects?” Probably the burn pile. 

A succession plan will take higher priority as the children grow and we learn their personalities. Today, they love the farm life so much, I have to bribe them out of the barn and into the house with popsicles, even on 15-degree days. But will they still want this lifestyle in twenty-five years? Or will they prefer we sell the farm, the land, and the cattle and they take an inheritance check so they can invest in a condo in New York City or Nashville? It isn’t a question we’ll ask lightly when the time comes. 

But for now, we can only focus on building strong kids who are able to make that choice when the time comes. 

Two weeks ago, I had a really trying day on the farm, while Cody worked in Montana. I found a sick calf that needed attention because of the swing in the weather. I had two active kids at my side, without lunch or naps. And our vet was running terribly late – at no fault of her own. She was dealing with a prolapse on another farm (What’s the old saying? If everyone threw our problems into a pile, we’d be quick to grab our own back). After being outside in the wet February snow for two hours, we got our calf work done and I let the vet know I’d handle the rest, which included getting the pair off pasture for the night and into the barn. Our amazing vet had more stops to make.

I was tired. I had mud down in my boots and my socks were soaked. My gloves were lost somewhere between the barn lot and the north calf shed. The kids and I got into the house at 4:00 PM and I still hadn’t fed my children lunch. But our kids watched us work until the cattle were taken care of and saw that we did what was right for our farm, our cattle, their future. 

I hope they never forget that. I hope they do the same in thirty years. I hope they are an example for the next generation. I hope they work hard, whatever they’re working at. I hope they are stewards and stockmen. 

I also hope they forget the day that mom never fed them, but spent two hours bedding calving pens and treating a sick calf.

Perhaps our succession plan should be more about raising good kids who value work, rather than the current market values of beef cattle. Perhaps I should worry more about if they understand the importance of please and thank you, rather than the price per acre of pasture in Indiana. Perhaps I should not think about who will want what when we’re gone, and focus more on what we’re giving our children today: Patience? Affection? Days spent exploring in the sunshine?

What about you? Do you have a plan for your family should life go on without you? But more importantly, are you passing on the values today that will afford them success in days and years to come, whether you’re here or not?

I left the succession plan event feeling pride in how the day went and with a to-do list a mile long. For instance, has our will been updated since Cyrus was born? Good question. Do our children understand that the greatest thing we want to pass on to them is love for people, life and Jesus? 

I think I’ll wrap this up here and go get to work on that. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Of Soap and Shells

My grandma passed away more than two months ago, and I still find myself waking and wondering if I can fit a trip across the state line to see her on that day. She left a void that will never be filled. 

Throughout the years Grandma gave me many things that I’ll forever hold close to my heart. Her cowboy boots, Granddad’s cowboy boots, and old love letters between the two of them written in the 1940s. Since her passing, our large family has worked to clean out her homestead, each family combing through years of memories, collectibles and “stuff”. 

Three generations have gone through closets, looked under beds and cleaned off bookshelves. We’ve taken oak dressers, beloved toys from our childhood, photos of champion Holstein heifers from the 1960s and record players with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys still in the play position.

I took shells and soap. 

One day the kids and I drove to Grandma’s and began sorting through things that we might want to keep forever. In Granddad’s old room, Caroline dug eagerly (we were on a treasure hunt of sorts) through a filing cabinet and found a bag of seashells. She was elated; I was confused. 

My grandparents were not regular vacationers because they had livestock. When hundreds of animals depend on you for their food (or, their milking twice a day), you do not often leave. You can’t often leave. But there were occasions when Granddad would come in from the barn and tell Grandma to pack a bag, they were going on a trip tomorrow. Sometimes they went to Virginia to visit Charlie Potter, a man they ran cattle with on the rolling green hills of the Shenandoah Valley. Once they drove to western Nebraska and showed up on the ranch house steps of a college friend of mine, only because they wanted to see how farming was different in Nebraska compared to Ohio. And apparently, at least once they went to a beach.

I was surprised to find seashells amongst farm paperwork in a filing cabinet, but I was relieved. 

Because seashells meant he – and grandma – took a break from the work of the farm to enjoy themselves. Seashells meant that he traveled far enough to see new land and meet new people that would become a part of his life’s story. Seashells meant that at some point he rested in between the hundreds of decisions it takes to operate a farm, and maybe even put his feet in the ocean. I hope he at least took off his boots. 

That afternoon, I also took soap. 

I have a habit of taking the unopened hotel soaps (lotions, shampoos, coffee…..what is wrong with me?) home with me when I travel. I figure if the Wagon Wheel Inn outside Lusk, Wyoming offered the goodies, I might as well return home with a souvenir. I get this habit honestly, and while cleaning out Grandma’s house I also found a bathroom drawer (maybe two) full of hotel soaps. Pony Soldier Motor Inn, Urbana-Lincoln Hotel, and one bar that didn’t have a name, but did advertise “wall to wall carpet” and a “24 hour switchboard” – whatever that is. Each ancient bar represents places she’d been, while out on a great voyage off the farm. She kept those soaps, and now I will, too. 

To me, these petite hotel soaps represent the exploration of unfamiliar places where she need not cook for the family and hired help or wash milkers. She simply had to be open to the road, likely interpreting the map, and ready for the next adventure. At some point in her 89 years, these soaps represent her courage to leave the farm – and trust me, it takes courage to leave the care of your livestock up to someone else – and see another part of this beautiful country. Even if they did sleep at the Pony Soldier Motor Inn.

Grandma and Granddad left many legacies, but today I think about the lesson they’ve taught in soap and shells. 

No matter how hard you work, how little quit you have in you, or how hard you find it to disconnect – everyone deserves to rest. To step away. To take a break. To explore. Maybe it is a morning walk in the fresh snow when you can’t seem to focus on graduate school studies. Maybe it is a Sunday afternoon drive to see someone you miss. Maybe it is getting back to a hobby you’ve abandoned because life keeps you too busy. Or perhaps, it’s a cross-country adventure just to discover new land and unfamiliar faces. 


The work will be here when you get back, but experiences don’t wait.

And if you do find a place that has something worth packing home, do so. You never when those tokens will serve an entirely new purpose. 

In writing this, our daughter asked what the tiny bars of soap were. I told her they were part of her inheritance. She appeared confused, but hopefully one day she'll get it. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Draining the Bunk

In 48 hours we have gone from a purebred cattle operation to a full-blown mud ranch. 

It really is amazing what 3+ inches of rain can do to a place in such a short amount of time. Nothing looks pleasant, everything is brown, and everyone moves slower than normal – humans included.

The mud doesn’t bother the kids, of course, until they’re face down in it. Otherwise, they appreciate puddles and endless brown paints to smear on the side of vehicles. 

I buckled them into the Kubota last evening to do chores and began filling buckets of feed from the bin. Because of the depth of the mud, I opted to carry buckets everywhere rather than attempt to drive an ATV through it. I let the kids know I was going to start carrying buckets and they could watch but they were not to go anywhere. This instruction was easier before Caroline learned how to undo seatbelts on her and her brother. 

I got about twenty yards into a lot when the mud got really bad; soupy, deep, bad. My pace slowed as every step was harder to lift my leg out of. I suddenly heard a strange noise coming from back in the barn lot. I stopped in my tracks and listened – it was Caroline, but what was she screaming?

“Gooooo Mommy! Don’t get your feet stuck!” Over and over again. I had my own personal cheerleader for MudFest 2020. That somehow made me stronger. 

Fifteen minutes later we moved over to the next lot where we feed our steers. I began carrying the buckets to the metal feed bunk and arrived to find it had standing water in it. The drain holes on each end of the bunk were plugged by sediment; remnants of feed, hay chaff, or mud that one of the stock had flipped into the feeder. I removed my glove and ran my hand along the inside of the bunk, finding the plugged hole. As soon as I cleared the blockage, brown water began draining from the bunk. The rain was still coming down steadily while I was draining this water, but I wanted to ensure it drained completely before putting anymore feed into the wet bunk, as cattle don’t like to drink their dinner. I stood in the rain and let it unload while the kids watched from afar. 

In those long minutes (maybe four, but it felt much longer), I thought about the things that take up space in life that need to go away so something better can fill it. 

Our house, especially after the holidays, has become a point of stress for me. Because I have a terribly hard time tossing anything related to our children, we now have double the toys any two kids could play with. We have books we haven’t read in months, but I can’t toss them because they bring back a special memory of two sets of footie pajamas on my exhausted lap. We have art brought home from Sunday school where Jesus’ head is missing because someone was curious and teething, and I cannot put that piece of paper in the trash. Don’t get me started on tiny tractors with only two tires remaining.

Then I thought about how I spend my time. I should probably cut out Facebook, but then how would I know what my second cousin twice removed had for supper? I should probably cut out Pinterest, but then how would I find hundreds of recipes for the four open containers of dry mustard I have in my kitchen cupboard?

What about you? 

Is there anything in your life, filling so much space or your precious time, that the things that bring you peace can’t fit in? Maybe it is clutter, knick-knacks you never even dust, clothes you’ve not worn in a year, or shoes that hurt your feet. Maybe it is time-wasters such as apps that consume your time and attention, taking you away from life happening right in front of you. Or perhaps, even, it is simply people who drain you, rather than fill you up. 

It’s ok to pull the plug on anything that is filling your bunk that shouldn’t be there. Could now be the time to finally make room for what truly belongs?

Of course, I pen this with a stack of Country Living magazines dating back to 2016, the year I had Caroline. I have saved them with great intention to “get back to them when things slow down.” 

When I have more time. 

Who am I kidding? I’m writing a newspaper column from a cattle pen in the pouring rain.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Draft

Well, I survived the holidays, but two poinsettias and my jeans did not. 

I pen this on January 4th. How can two plants die and that many pounds be gained in such a short period, you ask? Come to the farm and I'll coach you. We've been living on cheeseball, black coffee and FFA fruit for 15 days. Turns out, poinsettias hate black coffee. And children under 4 only eat the bacon off cheeseball. Then Mom is left to clean up the rest. 

I love a challenge.

Things really began going south when I was washing the bacon grease off a pan and felt wind blowing through my hair. The kids were playing in the living room and Cody was leafing through an Angus Journal in his chair. He was supposed to be watching the children.

"Everybody STOP" I yelled. "Someone has left a door or window open," I continued while drying my hands on a dishtowel. I have a genetic advantage that allows me to feel minimal drafts of air move through areas where they should not. 

I once toured the White House at Christmas in 2007 and let the tour guide know the Map Room had a draft coming from the most northwest wall. That sure cut my tour short, but I do hope it saved Barack Obama a few bucks after he moved in. 

As it turns out, I was right about someone in my family leaving a door open. 

I turned away from the kitchen sink to find my beautiful, tiny, biting 1 1/2-year-old toe-head son standing (STANDING!) in the refrigerator with the door wide open. He was holding the middle shelf with his left hand, waving his right hand to the top shelf, trying to reach the blueberries. 

Of all things he had the audacity to waste energy on, he picked blueberries? There were buckeyes made by my mother two inches to the right. Rookie mistake. One day he'll learn. 

Of course, after quickly removing him from the Frigidaire, swatting his diaper-padded bottom in the same way one might swat a fly which had a pet name, I escorted that little boy into the living room. Then I really let his dad have it. 

I may have mentioned things such as:
You had one job. 
Cyrus not only left the room, but he also found chaos in another. 
He was STANDING IN the refrigerator. 
He was probably there for 15 minutes, I don't really know, I was busy washing dishes. 
We’re so lucky he didn’t open all the salad dressings and spray V8 in every direction!
What if he would have gotten a concussion?

After my tirade, I looked at my beloved husband. 

Boy, has he got some nerve. He calmly responded with, "If it is any consolation, I sold our grain bin on Facebook 5 minutes ago. At the price we hoped for." 

I have never wanted to kiss and kill someone at the same time, until this moment. 

That night I put both kids in fleece footie pajamas, covered them in handmade quilts and wiped noses that were not running. I checked them for hypothermia-like symptoms, fed them only milk that had been warmed and asked both if they'd like to sleep in their favorite toboggan. 

They both declined. They’re tough as nails, to brave the 69-degree second floor. 

Once they were both soundly asleep, I checked the second-floor windows for a draft, and found none. I went downstairs and checked under the bathroom sink because my feet get chilly while starting coffee in the morning, behind the clothes dryer because I don’t trust an external vent that large and every west window. All appeared well sealed. The new year draft did, in fact, only come from an open refrigerator door from a curious toddler. How do you cure curiosity and hunger from a toddler in order to preserve the heating of a farmhouse? I guess I need to read to him more often and I’ll probably go make another cheeseball after I wrap this up.  

I suppose I could just up the thermostat, but that costs too much money. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas with Children

Having children has really changed the Christmas game. Before becoming a mother, I’d turn our home into a scene out of a Norman Rockwell print. At the time of this writing, I still have a Thanksgiving wreath hanging on our backdoor. 

My indoor decorations are minimal this year because I’m still pulling foam winter berries from last year out of Cyrus’ mouth. I cannot figure out where he is finding them. Probably the register now that he’s learned how to remove the grate. Additionally, the bottom three feet of the tree is bare because he has an incredible reach for a 1 ½-year-old. The thing is awfully top-heavy, but when I found a red glitter bulb floating in the toilet, I knew something had to change. 

Caroline has really put a festive spin on her daily questions. Last week she asked the following: 

  • Is there a baby in Santa’s belly?
  • Does Mrs. Claus go to the grocery when he delivers presents?
  • What kind of animal is the Grinch?
  • Should Cyrus get no presents since he pee-peed the bed again?
  • Should I just get Cyrus’ presents?
  • If Jesus was born in a barn did he smell like a cow when he came out?
The list goes on.

I tell the kids every evening before bed that they need to pick up their toys, so Santa doesn’t trip on them if he shows up tonight. Caroline continues to convince me that “we’ve still got time” while she climbs the stairs, toys still scattered across the living room floor. One day she’ll be a mom and will understand the pain of stepping on a pocket tractor in the 2:00 am darkness. 

 Because there are so many toys packed into this old farmhouse, we’re keeping our Christmas buying to a minimum this year. One toy, one book, one outfit and a new plate/bowl set for each. If you see our kids between now and the 25th, please don’t tell them. As these things are purchased, I’ve had a heck of a time hiding them throughout an old house without closets. And I’ve reached the age that I’m afraid I’m never going to find the Christmas presents I’ve hidden. Cody asked last week why there was a new pair of footie pajamas folded and placed in his farm filing cabinet. I told him because that’s the last place Cyrus will ever look. He just shook his head and went back to the barn. 

We went to see Santa last week and that was a real treat. Cyrus went right to the jolly old elf, sat on his lap and proceeded to take Santa’s hat off, with the hair attached. Talk about traumatic childhood experiences. I jumped inside the wintery scene and tried to get it back on the man before any other children saw the situation. Caroline, watching this unfold, instantly clammed up and wouldn’t mutter a word to Santa when she got her turn. She didn’t mention the horse, puppy, or Barbie dream house she’s bent my ear about for the last month. We proceeded to get both kids on his lap for a photo and I think it would have been easier to baptize a cat. While we were trying to get both of them to smile - or even look in the general direction of the camera – Santa’s helper elf reminded us that we couldn’t use cell phones to snap a shot. Professional pictures only with the mall Santa. $29 later, we have a 5x7 and six wallets to commemorate one of the worst experiences of their lives to this point. 

Christmas with children is a thousand times better than without. The magic, anticipation, and spirit of the season only get better with time. Hopefully, mall Santas do, too. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kitchen Table Conversation

We recently spent Saturday playing hard with cousins who live on the east side of Indianapolis. Our two children, ages one and three, are still great nappers for the most part. When they both forfeited an afternoon nap, I knew the bedtime routine would need modification to meet my selfish, personal needs:

1)    Feeding four pens of cattle four different feed regiments
2)    Checking said cattle eyes, noses and stools
3)    Getting frozen clothes off the line
4)    Loading the dishwasher
5)    Unpacking the travel bag and washing any cloth casualties (we’re in the thick of potty training – day 334)
6)    Rest in general

I carried Cyrus into the house, and he remained asleep, warm and ready for bed. Cyrus, who has fallen down the farmhouse steps twice and keeps his cheeks packed full of windowsill insects, is so surprisingly pleasant and easy at this stage. 

I carried Caroline in the house from the cold car, and as we reached the patio she asked through the cold darkness, “What’s for supper?”

I looked at the clock on the microwave. It was only 5:45. It was dark. She was tired. I was tired. I decided to use daylight saving time to my advantage. So I did what any optimistic, exhausted mom would have: I lied. 

“Honey. It’s the middle of the night. You slept through dinner. It is time for bed.”

“But I don’t remember dinner,” she responded, slumped over my shoulder. “And I’m hungry.” I knew then: If the kid talks about hunger in her sleep, it’s probably real. 

I sat her down at the dining room table and put a slice of leftover homemade pizza on her favorite plate and warmed it in the mircrowave. By the time I delivered it to her, she was wide-eyed, and far too curious.

This is a sampling of the questions Caroline asked over half-warm-day-old-pizza:

1)    Why can’t Cyrus have my pizza?
2)    Have you ever choked? 
3)    Are pepperoni and macaroni sisters?
4)    Does Dolla Genna (Dollar General) have horses?
5)    Can I have Amish horse?
6)    Why so many trucks go by in the middle of the night? (it was maybe 6:00 PM at this point) Where they going?
7)    Why does (cousin) have shineys on her teeth?
8)    Can I have them? 
9)    Am I pretty?
10)  Is Cyrus pretty?
11)  Whys he cry so much?
12)  Why didn’t you brush your hair today?
13)  Why don’t birds have teeth?

I sat there and watched her get marinara sauce in her hair, eating pizza and talking to me at the kitchen table like she was twelve. My mind flashed to a decade ahead when I will likely beg for my daughter to talk to me “in the middle of the night”. 

That’s why I didn’t shut her down or encourage her to hurry up and eat. I simply sat and listened. I studied her. I answered her curious questions to the best of my ability. 

That kitchen table conversation reminded me of the many precious conversations I had with my grandmother over the years. For some reason, I found it easier to sit at her kitchen table and talk to her about frustrating careers, disappointing relationships or life in general than anywhere else in the world. She was no counselor – things to her were very black and white – but she always got the full story out of me. Something about that picture window overlooking the farm and her listening ears kept me talking over the years. We consistently got to the heart of the matter and I always left there with clarity and knowing I had been heard.

So, I continued to listen to our three-year-old and answer questions. She thought she was experiencing a special privilege staying “up all night” having pizza with just mommy, but she had no idea how precious that leftover dinner conversation was to me.

That night, my daughter reiterated a lesson my grandmother taught me during my formative years: It is remarkable the things people will tell you if you simply sit back, shut up, and listen. Perhaps the toughest part of this act is simply shutting up.