Winter wonderland with worries

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This weekend, I witnessed two children in their snow boots, snow pants, warm jackets and mittens making a snowman in our front yard.

There was just a dusting of snow as they rolled the balls, getting them as big as they could push. They stacked the two balls and patted the snow, with the leaves from the ground sticking out to give the little snowman a camouflage look. They ran back to the milkhouse where I was washing the calf pails to ask if I had a carrot. When I brought the carrot from the house, along with a few caps from milk jugs to make eyes and a mouth, the boys were so excited to show me their creation. The arms were two thick sticks, placed perfectly in the side, and the carrot was the finishing touch to complete their masterpiece.

I had them pose for a photo with their sister and brother. It was a great photo of these kids, and I sent it to their father, Phil, who is a single dad and our herdsman. I knew he’d circulate the photo to the rest of the family.

The dog made his debut in the family photo. Moose is easily excited and was soon  running, jumping and barking to get the attention of the kids. Needless to say, we didn’t fully understand what he was barking about. But, it wasn’t long before he pulled off the snowman’s arm and brought it for the kids to throw for him, and he ate the carrot nose. We all laughed and threw the stick arm for a while, until Moose found another ball to throw. These will be memories for the kids to remember for years to come.

I mentioned that we will have big piles of snow as winter weather comes full force soon. As long as they have their snow gear, they can dig holes into the piles to make igloos. They thought back to last year, knowing there will be snow days when they stay home from school and also many opportunities to go sledding at the park just like last winter. They chattered and talked about how much fun it was going down the hill, but it wasn’t much fun walking up.

I was struck by the memories of my kids making snowmen and sledding on that same hill at the park. That was over 20 years ago. Four kids all talking and sharing their stories was a good way to help me feel more excited about winter and the holidays.

As they were playing in the snow, they were practicing their songs for their winter concerts for school. One was “Let’s Build a Snowman,” and another was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The words they sang were just a little off and made my heart warm knowing that they won’t always sing so freely. 

When I heard the anticipation in their voices about making a wish list for Santa, knowing that it is hard for a family with two parents to fill a wish list, I knew Phil will do his best. I remember the worries and sinking feelings about Christmas gifts and trying to make it special with a tight budget. Pressure from ads on the radio and our TV and phones can push us to put purchases on credit cards, only to fear the end result when the bill arrives later.

I know I am not the only one who dreads the longer nights, the cold feet, and the chapped hands and cheeks that come with working outside. Winter and the holiday season can be a real bummer for many old and young folks in farming and the rural communities. As years go by, many friends and family members have passed away, and the connections to others in small towns are difficult with cold weather and slippery roads. The fears of getting stuck in the ditch or even falling can lead to isolation. If you know of any neighbors who are possibly in need of some company or a ride somewhere, reach out and be the person who helps. You might be the only person that they have seen or spoken to for days. It will make winter much easier when someone is there to talk to and assist with a simple phone call.

Farm families working together can also experience depression and frustration with very little room to just simply get away for a break. Family problems, relationships, farm-related job stress and even substance abuse can increase during the holidays. Farming is even harder in winter, and our tipping point can be sooner. We all can use someone to talk to. It can be just a phone call away.

The Wisconsin Farm Center aims to increase access to resources for farmers and their families. If you are feeling suicidal, call 9-8-8. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression or just need a welcoming ear to talk to, call the 24/7 helpline at 888-901-2558.

It is free to talk to a trained individual who specializes in the problems of farmers and their families, and if you or your loved one would like to continue counseling, the Wisconsin Farm Center will be able to provide counseling vouchers.

Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.

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