Chores, Chicken Memorials, and Children: Our First Summer in the Country

A summer that was both bursting at the seams with fullness, and at the same time all too short… I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, though.  Life should always leave you wanting to come back for more.

As I write this, we are on the last day of “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” summer vacation.  I know the calendar says September, but I’d really like another August.  Jumping on the trampoline until 9PM and then heading in for a rhubarb crisp night cap is all done.  Up and at ’em breakfasts and a big yellow school bus in our yard, bright and early, will be taking its place.

Two of my kids will be climbing up the big steps of the bus, leaving only two kids at home.  I’m feeling the usual ambivalence about school starting and summer ending.  I don’t know whether I want to cry or jump up and down with excitement.  Currently, it’s the former.  Over and over everyone tells new parents, “They grow up so fast,” and yet it still comes as an overwhelming surprise.  How do I have already have a first grader and a kindergartener?  Didn’t I just have our first baby just a few years ago?  Oh yeah, that’s all it takes.

Whether I like it or not, school is here.  Last week we headed to the school open house, where my daughter’s first grade teacher asked the customary ice breaker, “What did you do over summer vacation?” My daughter’s first response?  “CHORES.” At home my daughter later commented that she couldn’t wait for school again, because school is EASY, but the summertime means kids have to work ALL THE TIME.  The poor girl.  I didn’t realize I ran a slave labor camp over the summer.  I did allow the inmates to go swimming, play at parks, and get ice cream, though, on several occasions.  (Time off for good behavior, then back to the trenches.)

While at “summer work camp” our kids didn’t slave away making our new MN license plates, but they did proudly install them with the impact wrench.

Actually, this whole summer’s been a series of firsts for us, as the first summer in our new home and our first summer as a family in Minnesota.  We filled the last three months with new little discoveries, I watched our kids grow and develop, and we immersed ourselves in life in the country.

I’ve always loved exploring new places and discovering things I didn’t know were there.  In elementary school, I’d spend my Saturdays exploring the woods in the “back 40” of our farm, in the valleys that connect to the North Branch of the Whitewater River.

This summer had that same sort of exciting feeling of discovery.  We happily discovered the rhubarb patch behind the chicken house, discovered black cap raspberries in abundance on our land, discovered  the chicken house actually has a cement floor (and someday, we will scrape the floor clean to reveal it all), in the cement under the water hydrant we discovered the name of the little boy who used to live here, and we took in a kitten discovered in the windbreak.  On the bigger scale, we are in the midst of meeting a whole new social circle and getting to know the area around our new hometown, as well.

More than anything, though, what we did this summer was just soak in our first summer living life in the country.

We ate meal after meal on our new outside table, which I love all the more because it was free and comes with a great story.

Back in May, I prowled St. Charles during the City-Wide Clean Up with my kids (my always-willing bargain hunting companions).  That sunny afternoon we picked up ice cream from the Oasis and drove around in the van, licking cones and scoping out the cast-offs.  “Eeew!  Look at that old couch!  I bet a dog barfed on it.”  Such colorful children I have.

I then spotted a nice table out on a sidewalk.  I pulled over to take a look, wondering how many children I’d have to abandon to get the table in my van.

Almost instantly, two guys from across the street asked me if I wanted it.  Before I knew what was happening, they hoisted the table up, and carried it back across the street to where my van was parked.  And as I pulled the double stroller out of the back of the van to rearrange things, those two guys flipped the table over and grabbed tools out of a pickup to take off the table legs.  In no time flat, they had the table legs removed, and they were jockeying the table top and legs into my van.  Did I mention that these guys weren’t even the owners of the table, just people from across the street?

Within five minutes, I had a table for six tucked into my van, along with a double stroller and four kids.  It was an Indy 500 Pit Stop of the bargain-hunting world.  I pulled away after thanking them, absolutely dumbstruck and giggling to myself.  That’s small town life at its best, when two strangers willingly drop what they’re doing and help a mom load a table into her van for no other reason than to just be friendly.  Thank you again for the help, whoever you were.

That table, combined with some new wicker furniture from a Craig’s List find, combined to make a porch that’s seen some heavy-duty lounging this summer.  Sitting out on the porch with a blanket and watching rain pour down in a thunderstorm became a new favorite for our kids.  And I just realized the other day that I never even once sipped iced tea out there on a hot day.  I really need another summer to get that straightened out.

Life in the country wasn’t all about lounging this summer, though.  We also had a few real life lessons about animals. Over by the back fence, we have a homemade cemetery where the kids buried three chickens and the kitten.  They discovered first hand that little animals are fragile, and can’t take being squeezed too hard or accidentally locked out from water and shelter on a hot day.  Life is precious, fragile, and once its gone, it doesn’t come back.  When the first chick died, our kids learned the routine for a proper burial, digging a hole, placing the chick in the ground, and my six-year-old took it upon herself to deliver a lengthy eulogy and prayer.  We lost those animals all in July, and by the end of the month, they knew the routine, and even our three-year-old insisted on delivering a special prayer for the kitten.    

A happy day, when the baby chicks first arrived.

As valuable as those lessons about life and death are, I’m especially happy that we haven’t had any more “learning opportunities” since July.

On happier notes of farm life, we watched so many things grow and thrive this summer.  Our chickens that arrived as tiny little fluff balls earlier in the summer are now sassy teenagers of the chicken world.  Our sunflowers in the garden are triple the height of our amazed kids, towering over the nearby cornfield, and most importantly, towering over even the most ambitious garden weeds.

And of course, our kids all grew like crazy this summer.  No surprise to any parent, all the pants that sat dormant all summer are now worthless for the fall.  I watched grow spurts where a single small child ate a bratwurst and a half for supper and three eggs plus cereal for breakfast.  I saw our baby’s chubby thighs stretch out into longer legs and her feet jump a shoe size in two months.

Our baby enjoyed a lovely dog bowl foot soak while Spot got a drink on a hot summer day.

Taking it all in, from chores to chicken memorials to children, we had a summer that was both bursting at the seams with fullness, and at the same time all too short.  I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, though.  Life should always leave you wanting to come back for more.

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