As I sit here in the early morning hours to write, I have my porch door wide open in an attempt to cool down the house. It amazes me how nature tries to prepare us for fall by giving us mornings that would have been bursting with sunlight a few weeks ago, but are now filled with darkness and crickets serenading each other. Yet we have daytimes that are hot and humid to push us to enjoy our last taste of summer before the cool fall winds come. This weather is a Godsend from the soggy weeks prior. It has helped dry most places out enough to get through with the chopper to make corn silage without any major calamities. This is also the season of changes in routine on the farm, driven by the start of school.
    Ira started sixth grade this fall, which means he graduated to the middle school. His class gets a taste of what it is like to move around the school for his classes and still have watchful homeroom teachers. He seems to enjoy this change, and the only thing he has complained about was that he signed up for choir, but does not like to sing at all. I reminded him about the times he has to sit on the poop tractor and fill trucks and rocks out to the radio. I got the preteen eye roll and a “Mom, that’s different.” I told him that nine weeks of singing probably will not be the end of the world. Ira’s in a tricky stage of life. He wants to be a kid and play in the sandbox for hours after school, and he is also mature enough to drive the skid steer and haul bedding up for the calves, sit on the poop tractor to pump manure and is a great help with the cows and Cora. The delicate balance of letting him have enough free time to play and relax, yet having him help and learn how his working helps everyone, is one I struggle with daily as a mother.
    Dane entered fourth grade, making him the oldest one of the brood in elementary school. He is in charge of making sure the proper kids get on the bus at night. There are generally a few extras tagging along. As much as Ira can adapt to change and move along smoothly, Dane is the polar opposite. He hates changes, even something as simple as taking a shower before he eats supper versus after or brushing his teeth at a different sink. He has forever been this way, and while it can be frustrating at times, I try to not upset the apple cart. He is the classic I-am-bored child, asking what he can do for fun, not work every five minutes in the barn. Cleaning waterers is an efficient cure for boredom. His claim to fame in the barn is his ability to maintain calm when Cora is screaming like a banshee. Dane can sit and rock her, never losing his cool, even as she is bellowing like a madwoman. He will sit next to her playpen, letting her curl her fingers around his hair while she sucks her thumb, all to keep her happy and content.
    Henry is in school at long last. Stacy and I held Henry and Finley back last fall; they needed one more year of full-time farming. It was the right choice. They were both excited for school this year. No tears were shed, and they are anxious to learn everything. They hop off the bus at the farm before noon Monday through Thursday. Per school rules, the driver cannot let them off until she sees someone wave to her. This is a struggle in time management which resulted in me running like a three-legged, boot-clad turkey from one barn to the house last week to retrieve them. Then it is into the house, throw off school clothes, on with barn clothes, grab a freezer pop, up to the barn where Cora can be free for a bit and play in the sand with them. In this hot weather, they are generally naked within five minutes and cry for the most mundane reasons. It is all part of the starting school package. It is exhausting to them to sit and learn all morning, so thank goodness for afternoons filled with playing and napping.
    Cora is a sponge, soaking up everything going on around her and regurgitating it in forms of grunt-filled explanations with finger pointing. She is going to be a big help in the next few years for making field meals with all her observation time. She is insistent that she hand Peter his breakfast sandwich daily, and then says bye-bye, giving him permission to go back to work and claps her hands with pride for herself. Her job every morning is to give Bull (12-year-old dog) his arthritis pills. She stands by the counter with her hand out until I give them to her then jabbers away and takes them to him. How this gigantic dog can be so gentle with his mouth full of teeth is a wonder. She loves all the boys around her and takes delight in fighting about possession of tractor and dirt piles. They tote her around, sit and play in the sand piles, push her on the swing and do not give in every time she squeals about something she thinks she needs.
    Much like the weather as it tries to change from one season to another, every day is a bit different despite my best efforts at keeping a routine. We start our days in sweatshirts and keep peeling off layers to get comfortable. I start each day as a mother with the hope I can keep all happy. We keep doing things all day long to try to achieve it. We keep going and learn to expect change and embrace it.
    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 (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), 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.