For the first couple days after we brought Monika home - those days when it didn't stop raining (and then snowing) and the mud turned routine farm chores into navigational nightmares - post-partum house arrest didn't seem so bad. I was secretly a little glad I wasn't outside trudging through the slop and the snow.

With the return of real spring-like weather, though, I'm starting to feel cooped up. The sun is shining, teasing me; the yard is drying up. I watch from the kitchen window while the cows are outside, trying to identify who's in heat. Then, later a group of chickens will cluck past my window in the living room. They all seem to be beckoning me outside.

So, I finally made my first trip out to the barn since Monika was born. I wasn't planning to stay long - just long enough to bring Dan out for his evening nap. Part of our post-partum survival strategy involves Dan going out the barn with Glen for evening chores. It's a win-win situation that makes life with a newborn a lot easier. Dan gets his nap in and I get a chance to rest a little and put something together for supper.

I agreed to bring Dan out myself when Glen asked. I think Glen knew I needed a reason to escape the house. Plus, I wanted to see our new (used) straw chopper and lime spreader. Those two items had been on our wish list for a while and I'd been hearing endlessly about how much they'd lightened the workload. (Dan's pronunciation of 'straw chopper' is nearly perfect.)

Dan and I made it through the mud and into the barn. I turned Dan over to Glen's supervision and watched as Dan went to greet the baby calves. Glen is a lot more relaxed than I am when it comes to supervising Dan in the barn - he kept carting feed to the cows while Dan moved on to chasing one of the cats. "This is Daddy Daycare," he told me when I told him to keep an eye on Dan. I swear mothers are pre-programmed to worry - but maybe that's why the human race has survived all these years.

It wasn't long before Dan's cat escaped to a window sill. Seeing that he was temporarily unoccupied, Glen asked Dan if he wanted to scrape poop. Dan nodded vigorously and uttered his little "uh-huh". Glen handed Dan the shovel and he was off down the center aisle.

I couldn't believe my eyes. There was my little boy, scraping' poop. He had the square shovel, gripped at half-handle, and he was scraping poop into the gutter like he'd been doing it all his life. He scraped one little pile in, swung his shovel around and headed for the next pile. His first real job on the farm. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I still can't believe he's old enough to scrape poop. In the two weeks I've been absent from the barn he's grown into Daddy's little helper.

There was a time when we couldn't keep Dan occupied in the barn for more than half an hour - he didn't want to sit in the stroller, didn't want to play in the play pen, and letting him crawl around in the barn was not an option I was willing to exercise. Now, he's content to help (play) for hours while Glen does chores. And when he's good and tired, he climbs up into his stroller for a nap without a fuss, or so I'm told.

I have to admit: I'm a little jealous. I fought for months to strap Dan into his stroller because he just wasn't ready to have free reign of the barn - and now that those struggles are a thing of the past, I'm not out there to enjoy it. Glen comes in every night and replays the evening's events for me, painting for me, as best he can, a picture of our little boy's barn adventures and activities with his sidekick, Annie.

I only watched Dan scrape poop for a little while before my stitches told me I'd been on my feet too long, but Glen said Dan will scrape the walk for a good half hour before proclaiming "all done".

Back in the house with Monika, I'm reminded that it wasn't all that long ago that Dan was cradled in my arms, content to nurse most of the day away. Monika looks so much like Dan did when he was a newborn, it's hard not to imagine if scraping poop will one day be her first job in the barn.

As the sun begins its downhill departure for the day and the chickens start flocking to the coop, I decide it's time to go dust off the barn baby carrier and start making preparations for Monika's first trip to the barn.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 50 cows near Melrose, Minnesota with help from their two-year-old son, Dan. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.