Real Life on The Ranch
We had the opportunity to host Joy Prouty of Wildflowers photography last week to help us capture our life on the ranch. We wanted to be able to show our customers what life is like for the animals (and people!) on a family-run ranch on a daily basis. She fit right into the hustle with her sweet 4-month old blue eyed baby boy strapped to her chest and it was such a special day for us to remember this time in our life!
Her photography style and belief is that you get the most real life by living beside a family for 24 hours for what she calls a Harvest Session to catch the ordinary and extraordinary moments in everyday life. She is so genuine and heartfelt, it felt like being with an old friend and it was a treat just to have her here on the ranch. She really got to know each of us and saw the personalities and unique qualities of each our girls so well, even in that short time.
She asked me to write a little about our girls and life on the ranch related to how we parent them, noticing that our girls are fairly independent for their age because of our lifestyle and that they each have very different personalities that we relate to in different ways. It was a little out of my comfort zone to write this, I'm more of a documenter than a feelings writer! And I'd never really thought about our parenting style more than just winging-it-with-what-works day to day, but I guess ranch life does lead to some unique parenting by necessity (maybe a little too free range and unstructured for some!) but I tried to write a little bit about raising free range kids and each of our four Marys with their different personalities.... so here goes.
When Joy asked me to make a list of the sweet gestures I did with my girls so she could make sure to capture them in our Harvest Session, it made me stop and think about it (and almost worry for a minute! Do I have those?!) I realized I'm not one of those cuddle up and read with your kids every night moms - and they aren't needing me to be either. I don't bond with them the best over snuggles and quiet moments, as much as I do in other ways. My best time with my girls is when we are working together, side-by-side learning and doing things together. And our four daughters all have very different personalities and interests so how we work together and find our special moments of one-on-one time manifests in different ways with each one. We also live a lifestyle that requires them to work with us on a daily basis; moving cattle or collecting 250 eggs a day, branding and castrating calves, helping a momma sheep or a pig deliver her babies or feeding 72 bales of hay off the back of a feed truck. They learn a lot through these experiences and we honestly couldn't do it without them. I think some of our parenting is born from a desire for them to be independent and to be problem solvers... and some of it is born out of necessity living on a working ranch!
Our eldest, MaryFrances or Francie, is 8 years old and much like myself, we are both strong willed 'oldest children' who like to think big and makes things happen. When she has a whim to change everyone's sleeping arrangements in our tiny house, I have to push aside the "oh geez this is going to be so much work" thoughts and let her do it. I try to say yes whenever it's a creative idea or something she is passionate about in the moment, before that moment passes. When she says she wants to start an egg selling business or a dog washing station and I respond "great idea, maybe next week" and her eyes fall and she says carefully "well I was actually thinking today"... I have to remember those moments in my childhood where I wanted to do something similar and couldn't imagine WAITING (as oldest children we also lack the patience gene together :) so I switch gears and tell her ok. My mom always let me execute my crazy ideas and I'm so glad that she did! I really try to do the same with Francie even though sometimes I don't feel like I have the time to devote to it to help her, or clean up the aftermath, so she has learned to figure out how to make it happen on her own.
It isn't always easy to say yes, especially when I have 10 other things on my chore list that can't wait (like feeding animals!) so I guide her to get started in her project or idea and remind her that if it leaves a mess in it's wake, I won't be as willing to say yes next time. But I think my un-involvement in helping her every step of the way fosters a sense of empowerment for her and lets her know she can do anything she wants to in life as long as she takes responsibility for it, including talking her mother or whoever is going to tell her "maybe later" into letting her just do it now! And I'm usually pleasantly surprised with how well she creates something new and does clean up the mess (at least 90% of it :)
Our second daughter, MaryMarjorie or Maisie, is 6 and an old soul who can be quiet and reserved, but even as Joy keenly observed in the time she was here with us - Maisie is very intentional and sincere and careful about what she says and who she opens up to. She loves babies and babies love her (Smith tagging along was the highlight of the session for her). She is artistic and thoughtful and has a caring heart for animals and animal husbandry. She sleeps most nights on the couch so she can hear my husband's coffee maker go off in the morning to jump up, put her chaps, boots and cowgirl hat on and head out to help him with morning chores. She'll stay out for hours in the hot sun helping Brian put in 400 feet of water lines, priming each piece of PVC pipe herself. She'll jump in the truck when she hears there is a problem that needs attention before we even know she's in there and she'll sit patiently and wait if it's too dangerous for her to help out. But if it's not, she's right there in the mix. Last week we were docking tails and castrating lambs and she did a lot of them all by herself, something most grown men wouldn't attempt!
She makes me slow down and listen to what she has to say, sometimes in a whisper so much that I have to stop what I'm doing to really listen. She will ride around with Brian on my four-wheeler doing chores all day and then hop in with me and sit in the middle seat right next to me. We get our one-on-one time working together feeding and watering animals or caring for a sick animal. I sometimes take it for granted how much of a help she is but am reminded often when I turn around needing something while we are feeding chickens or birthing pigs or moving cows and there is Maisie knowing exactly what needs to be done and making it happen and she always remembers what we need to follow up on. I have to take time to appreciate her for that or it might go unnoticed because of her quiet, unassuming ways.
Our third daughter, MaryJane or Janie, is in that in between spot between wild child and still wanting to be a baby. She is still home with us while big sisters are in school and is not so thrilled with the idea of Kindergarten next year. She knows she has a pretty good gig at home - she sleeps in until 9:30am, plays with her baby dolls and her pony and gets to tell her little sister what to do all day. She has a huge imagination and is always setting up some game or make believe world in the trees or on the pastures while we work. She is great with the bottle feeder lambs and calves we always seem to have at the house (or IN the house) and has a wise understanding of life and death as we lose some of the baby animals that she has cared for or slept next to all night long. She can be a big help when she wants to focus on it and usually does best when it's just her helping. She has some new found independence with a little kid sized quad she can operate fully on her own and she'll walk the 1/4 mile down the the shop, strap on her helmet and drive around the barns until the thing runs out of gas, waving and honking the horn with a proud smile to anyone she passes.
With Janie, I have to put aside my tendencies to ask her to mature faster than she wants to. She still sleeps with a binky at night sometimes (when she can find one!) and after we did what we thought parents were supposed to do and took it away at 2 years old. She found an old one and the habit kicked back in at 3. Now she's 5 and you know what, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that she'll give that thing up when she is ready! I asked her what she thought about it and she said "Mom I know I have to give it away someday, but for now it just makes me SO happy." Can't argue with that. I love that Janie goes in between playing "the mom" in her game of house and bossing everyone around to curling up in my lap for a nap. We just try to swing those emotions with her and let her be whatever and whoever makes her happy.
My youngest, MaryTeresa or Tessa (aka Tiny), is a spitfire and the quintessential youngest of the family. She is three years old and still requires "uppies" from mom or dad when we go anywhere off the ranch around new people (and when I think back to Francie at this age she was already a big sister twice over and we would never think of carrying her!) But the baby eats up her role as the youngest. She tell jokes and holds snakes and has no fear of ranch life and all the dirt and wildlife that comes with it. She is a budding comedian and loves to use big words and recite funny things she hears. Tessa was better known as "Tiny" for most of her life up until now but has just recently declared she's not Tiny she's big and prefers to be called Tessa Kate. She keeps us on our toes and still finds her way into our bed most nights.
Tessa is the most strong willed and has taken the most patience from my husband and I on follow through. When we ask her to do a simple chore like put her PJ's in the laundry basket, she will often just say "nope" or "um that's Ok, I don't want to." (excuse me three year old?!) or she'll get in a little tiff with her sister, and we have to take the time to get her to come around - which can often end up with a few minutes on "the sister step" where they sit until they can both explain why their feelings were hurt or they acted out, say sorry with kind words and hug. This is the hardest for Tessa but she's getting there :) She is very sweet when she wants to be and will often stop you and say "Ummmmm can I just tell you some-thin? I think you are FANTASTIC." We think you are pretty fantastic too Tess.
Sisterhood is a pretty special thing and my girls are lucky they have each other. There are often times we have to deal with cows that got out or a birth that needs assistance or a broken water pipe and they have to take care of themselves while we are working. They learn to rely on each other for help making dinner or rice krispie treats or just for company - and they have to work things out if they have an issue between them. I think it helps that they are so close together in age to have such a strong bond this young. My sister, Ann, is 8 years younger than me (with 2 boys in between) and my best friend now that we are grown up but was always more of my baby doll than my friend. My girls are fascinated by our age difference and always ask me how old I was when she was born or was in kindergarten or their age, they can't believe I could have been her babysitter. I hope my girls are always this close whether they are in fancy party dresses or covered in mud... or both! ; )
We try not to listen to whining or tattling or bickering if they come to us with a "my sister did or didn't do this to me" complaint - mostly because there isn't a lot of extra time to engage in this kind of thing. We try to tell them "I'm sorry, that isn't something I can help you with, you'll need to talk to that sister about that." and we try to get them to work out their issues themselves (saves us valuable time in playing referee but also lets them figure out how to do this in life.) If they are really having trouble resolving an issue, they ask us for "some tools" to help work it out with a sister and we can give them some words to use with that particular sister to get them back on track without letting either party hear the satisfaction or hurt of being told on.
I think they also have to get along pretty well because of our cozy living quarters! They usually all sleep in the same bed, since we only had room for one double mattress in our ranch house when we moved here! I built them these triple bunks so they could each have a little space to call their own, and they now have little nooks they call their rooms in the attic we finished off, but they still end up piled together in the same bed most nights (or on a chair in the living room or the floor on a window seat cushion somewhere! They are all night owls and sometimes Brian and I fall asleep before they do and find them sleeping somewhere in the morning, which has made for a moment of panic when we can't find someone once or twice!)
Our family motto (my husband coined) and the girls remind each other of often is:
...and be patient. And don't race people on the stairs."
(Tessa added the last part :)
We don't know what we are doing any more than any other parents out there but a lot of our parenting comes from necessity and the fact we lead a busy life working on our ranch from sun up to sun down, 7 days a week. There are no shortcuts or breaks when you are caring for so many animals. We don't have extra time to indulge them and we need them to be contributing members of our family operation. They have to be independent to help us make this all work! They will tell you "we don't eat our dinner until we feed all of our animals dinner" and I think they learn a lot about service to others and responsibility from knowing this, even though it's not easy. I hope they continue to grow as independent thinkers and problem solvers as we watch them grow into young women, just hopefully not any sooner than they have to!
And I feel very fortunate to have this guy by my side for this adventure - parenthood and ranching and everything in between. He is the patient one, the wise one, the hardest worker I know and I don't know what I would do without him. :)
to see more of Joy's work visit her website : http://wildflowersphotos.com/