The calendar page turned to September and the big yellow bus came down the road. Three excited, nervous, and happy boys stood giggling and fidgeting in front of the zinnias only to pacify their worried, thrilled, and scared mom as she snapped customary first day of school pictures. The mom hugged them, smooshed obnoxious mom kisses onto their cheeks, and scooted them onto the bus with last minute reminders of how to behave and to have a great day, and took a deep breath. The littlest, a spunky two and a half year old girl was still sound asleep upstairs. And the mom thought—and then there was one. Only one to keep track of in the barn today, only one to feed lunch, only one to pack barn snacks for, and only one to make me smile.
    It was a bittersweet observation.
    Ira is now in seventh grade, and is as obsessed with bow-hunting as many of his adolescent counterparts are with Minecraft and girls. He checks for deer in the morning, gets out the binoculars in the afternoon. Sneaks up to look out the attic window for a better view in the evening, has his hunting days marked on the calendar, and watches hunting videos any spare moment. He became an integral part of the farm this summer. He packed silage for all of third crop, can help in the parlor for a few-hours shift, and is my go-to guy if I need a skid steer job done. I’ve also promoted him to sorting cows with me – a job that he is in the learning stages of, but mastering quickly. He still likes to direct sandbox play according to his specifications, and run amuck with the little boys, but is starting to show some maturity and strength. He had to pack the pile after school two days this week for fourth crop, and though it’s like pushing a cement block out the door to get him to move—once outside, he does a good job, impressing himself and the chopping crew.
    Dane entered fifth grade, and is my chief babysitter. Cora loves her brothers dearly, but it’s Dane who she gravitates towards. He will tote her around, sit and play or read, and is the most attentive brother if I need to run out and do something. When he wasn’t keeping track of her this summer, he was running around with Oliver, conducting intense scientific experiments on grasshoppers, or mowing lawn. He’s also very much my child when it comes to reading. If he has a book in his hand, he is oblivious to present day happenings as he enters the world of Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods. He will help with baking in the kitchen, take the boys for a walk, and hang out laundry. He’s adding more barn skills to his repertoire, and according to Ira is never working enough. Yet, he is a great help in one of the most difficult jobs—Cora containment.
    Henry took the leap into Kindergarten this fall, one of the biggest adjustments in school life as far as I’m concerned. He went from napping daily to no naps. Playing outside most of the day to having to sit, listen, and behave. The exhaustion and volatile temperament that follow my boys during those first weeks of school is miserable for all. Pair this with farming life, and the instability of chore time, and uffda. He curled up with a kitten in the cozy chair in our vet room after the first day of school and slept for an hour. Kindergarten is hard work. He has been the chief teacher for Cora, as she learned the art of farming in the sandbox this summer. That mostly means her learning not to wreck the bunkers and roads, or take certain tractors. I already miss our naptime book reading with Henry and Finley as they begin to learn to read for themselves in school.
    And then there is my littlest one, Cora. She is watching everything, repeating everyone, and is like having a play-by-play sports broadcaster attached to my hip. She has a few cows that she can recognize on the spot and it blows my mind. We had a tiff last week as I carried her through the dry cow pen searching for cows to move. “Mom, that’s Dia!,” she exclaimed. Without looking up, I told her Dia couldn’t be in this pen, she belongs in transition. She was insistent. I ignored. Until I walked into Dia’s oversized butt as we rounded the corner. She was right. I should have known better. Cora is fast, fiery, and fills the barn with smiles. All the employees love to greet her in the morning, and she chatters away about cows. She kicks her boots off to run the feed alleys, and there are days when she’s wearing far less than that. She’s in her glory when she’s covered in dirt, sand, and food—making her a true pint-size, pigtail-sporting “Pigpen”.
    I will admit, I was more ready for them to return to school than usual this year. They were starting to become annoyed with each other faster, and tempers were flaring, mine included. Though, on the flip side, I worry about how I am going to keep track of a speedy Cora when only my eyes are on that task. I also fret about school and all of the busyness it brings, along with the schedule changes. I already miss their help, and lunch time is a bit quieter with only one child. It’s the first time in years that I only have one little one in the barn with me for all of morning chores. Cora and I will get along fine, and I’m sure the boys will do well in school. In the meantime, I’m going to soak up all the alone time with Cora that I can get. As soon as I blink, she’ll be jumping on that big yellow bus, too.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.