Travel & Adventure

Baby on a Plane

I love to travel. I also have a baby. This last summer, I didn’t get to do much traveling, although that wasn’t the baby’s fault completely. My husband is working hard at building his new business and we just didn’t have a lot of extra time.

The point is, we realized we had a plane ticket voucher that was about to expire in September and we thought, why not just take our baby on a plane? We chose North Carolina, where my oldest brother lives, as our destination, booked the tickets, packed a couple suitcases, and headed out.

It was a good decision.

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Yes, it was a little bit difficult lugging around a car seat and stroller so that we’d be able to transport him safely when we got to North Carolina. Yes, it was a pain taking the extra time to have breastmilk examined by security; although, it was kind of neat having our baby as an excuse to break the liquid rule. I don’t know why. It just made me feel like a bad mama-jama. Privileges, am I right?

But, it was also neat having our carry-on bags checked for free by the nice lady at the gate who took one look at us struggling to dig out our boarding passes while one of us held the baby and the other was trying to fold up the stroller, so she asked if wanted our bags checked for free to our final destination. Why yes. Yes we do.

I was sure that our happy and charming baby might even score us some first-class seats, and, although that didn’t happen, he did charm all of our neighbors on the plane with his non-stop smiles after they all looked at us in terror when they first sat next to us. Because we were those people with the baby on the plane. I’ve looked at them in terror myself in the past. And we didn’t bring goodie bags for everyone around us to apologize in advance for his potential crying. (If you haven’t seen that online, it’s a thing!) While I’m not opposed to a little bribery and buttering up, let’s be honest here – we barely even made it to the airport in time. Goodie bags are beyond my level of organization when I’m getting up at 3 a.m.

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We had a wonderful long weekend in North Carolina. My brother was a great host and our baby was a champ. He got to spend time with his cousins; we went to museums, to breweries (where he charmed a table full of ladies with more smiles), and on a two-mile hike. He tagged along cheerfully everywhere we went. He conquered all four flights with a couple naps and a lot of milk.

Technically, he’s been on a plane before.  In fact, when my husband and I went on our “babymoon” last Christmas to Mexico, it was on the plane that I first felt him kick. At first I thought I might be imagining the tiny flutter that I felt, but as the flutters continued, by the end of the trip I just knew it was him.

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I guess he likes traveling too.

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Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Teachers. Colleagues. Siblings.

Once upon a time, in 2009, I started my first year of teaching in a little western North Dakota town. Shortly after, my younger brother Tommy decided he was going to be a teacher too. A few years later, our last brother Joey also declared that he was going to become a teacher.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we all taught together at the same school?” one of us joked.

Fast forward to 2016: Tommy and I both accepted positions at the same school last year, which was pretty awesome and which I wrote about at the time. Then, this year, I held my breath as Joey graduated from college and looked around for jobs, because there happened to be one open here. I hoped he would apply, and he did. Then, I held my breath hoping that he would get offered the job. He did. Then, I kept my fingers crossed that he would accept.

After considering whether he really wanted to become an adult yet, he did.

Granted, Joey is in a different building in our district than Tommy and myself, which put a slight damper on the whole thing, but when I showed up at the first day of back-to-school district workshops and had two brothers there in the same room, I thought that was pretty neat.

Who would have thought that the joke someone made years ago would come true?

The three of us were quite a trio growing up. I, the older sister, took on the role of second mother to them, which included anything from changing diapers, getting them dressed, and making Malt-O-Meal, to downright bossing them around. Danny, the brother right behind me, flitted in and out of our tight-knit circle of three, but he was close to my age and he didn’t need a second mother. He was more often with our two older brothers, playing army guys and video games and sports. Tommy and Joey, though, were young enough to actually enjoy my interfering in their lives. They were game for all the pretending I came up with; they made forts with me, they pretended to be puppies or kitties or whatever I could get them enthused about that day – at Christmas, it was reindeer- and they played along with my invented games on the trampoline.

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I take the blame for all of the dressing up they were “forced” to do, by the way.

As we all grew older, I drove them to baseball games and art lessons and the swimming pool. We worked together, hoeing trees and moving grain trucks and picking up groceries for my mom from the big towns. When my dad went on an endless number of road trips to meetings and auctions, we often tagged along – my little brothers, as a way for my dad to give my mom a break, and me, as a way for my dad to ensure that my little brothers would actually be watched over on these trips. I was officially their chauffeur, their 4-H leader, often their cook when my mom was busy, and their supervisor. Someone had to make sure they were earning their keep around the house, darn it.

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In 2016, things are different. They’re not the “little” boys anymore. We are now not only siblings, but colleagues. Co-workers. Friends – which, then again, is still the same as it’s always been. Having two brothers in the district is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, one that we can look back on fondly and tell our kids about someday. And that’s not the whole of it: our brother Danny has been a basketball coach in the district for several years. Last year, he and Tommy coached together, and they actually look so much alike that some of their own players couldn’t even distinguish them from each other. Furthermore, Tommy’s wife Olivia works in one of the school libraries. That’s right: Five of us with the same last name have worked in this small district in recent years.

And yet, they keep hiring us….

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But seriously, how great is that?

Musings, North Dakota Living

A Different Summer and a Full Heart

Just like that, summer – and therefore my maternity leave – is almost over. In a little over a week, the little guy will go to full time daycare, I will start my eighth year of teaching, and we will settle into a routine that we haven’t had to deal with yet.

It’s been a different summer for me. When I return to school next week, I will get the inevitable question, “Did you do anything fun this summer?” In the past, my answers would have included adventurous responses like, Oh yes, I went to Ireland and Scotland with a couple girlfriends, or, My husband and I went on a last-minute trip to Boston, or, I went backpacking in Glacier National Park with my brother and his friends. And so on.

But this summer, I’ve had a different kind of adventure: I’ve been learning how to be a mom. A sign in little guy’s nursery aptly says, “You are our greatest adventure.” In the old days, I might have scoffed at the idea that an adventure would consist of staying home with a baby and trying to get things done in 10- or 20-minute spurts, between feedings and changings and walks with the stroller. But really, isn’t an “adventure” something that is new, exciting, and scares us a bit? In that case, having a baby is definitely an adventure. It’s arguably one of the most fun ones, too.

My summer is also different because I’m not helping with harvest much. For the first time in almost 20 years, I’m not packing morning lunches and rushing out to combine as we push to get as much harvest done as possible before half of the “help” has to go back to school. Being a new mom this summer, I’ve been let off the hook. It turns out new babies are one of the (very) few things that actually take precedence over harvest. That’s just an understood fact in my family, even though most of us are now grown-ups. Had my husband and I set our wedding during harvest, I’m not completely sure half of my family would have shown up. Luckily, I’m not that dumb.

It’s been kind of nice having one less demand, I must admit. For one thing, I actually get to watch some of the summer Olympics. For another, I get to think about school BEFORE the first day of school. (Not that I’m doing much more than thinking.) But when my husband walked in the other night with the familiar smell of combine cab lingering on his shirt, I felt a little bummed out to be missing it. I’ve written many times before about my love for harvest. I love the excitement and comraderie. Also, like teaching, nothing in harvest is guaranteed except that it’s bound to get interesting. For example, your combine might start a field on fire and burn down 500 acres. You might lose your combine brakes while careening down a hill toward a bull standing in the middle of the gravel road, thinking man, hitting a bull with my combine is a crappy way to go, for at least one of us. You might even have poop thrown at your combine windshield as a “joke” by one of your siblings.

Hint: two of these things happened to me. The other one happened to one of my brothers.

Last night, I brought hamburgers out to the field for the guys. Of course, I brought  the little man along, so he got his first taste of a family tradition – supper in the field.

That was pretty neat.

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And today, when my dad mentioned he would like some help before the possible rains come tomorrow, I decided to leave the little guy with husband and combine for a couple hours. It was good getting back in that cab and settling down to watch the reel spin, barley stalks falling like waves into the header. It was good being out there listening to the familiar hums and rattles of the combine. It was good seeing my dad across the field in his combine, and my brother dropping off another truck to fill.

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All of that was pretty neat too.

Tonight I’m back at home sitting with my little guy on the couch. We’re watching Olympic swimming. And my heart is full with this new “adventure” next to me kicking his legs to beat the band, and with the memories of all my old adventures, and with this summer that flew by way too fast, and with harvest traditions, and with my upcoming school year…

and with the fact that my baby just peed all over the wall next to the couch. That’s what I get for writing instead of replacing his diaper right away. Must have been inspired by all that splashing in the Olympic pool.

Good thing he’s cute!

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Musings, North Dakota Living

A Girl and Her Horse

Sometimes in July, when I am driving through the badlands and the long rays of the setting sun are splaying out over the landscape, a memory comes flooding back to me. It’s a memory of a young girl and a chocolate chestnut Morgan horse, a young girl and a horse who loved each other. At least, the girl very much loved the horse, and she was convinced the horse loved her back.

That girl, of course, was me. This horse came into my life when I was young and tender and obsessed with all things horse. I had an entire bookshelf filled with books like Black BeautyMisty of Chincoteague, My Friend Flicka, and Thunderhead. I had a crate full of “Grand Champion” brand toy horses with names like Firefly, Winnie, Midnight, and Buck. (And yes, I think I could still tell you all their names if I pulled them off the shelf in my old bedroom.) I had a board game called “Herd Your Horses.” If no one would play with me, I would study the game cards that taught young horse enthusiasts about breeds, markings, and colors. I had one reference book about horses that I read many times from cover to cover. (Usually, I skipped the informative but rather shocking section about breeding. The ways we learn, eh?)

In real life, I had grown up riding rather unruly real-life horses from time to time, horses belonging to my Grandpa or maybe an aunt or uncle. These horses and ponies had names like Copper, Pepper, Alexander, and Squirt. But when I was 10, my dad decided we should have our own horses again, as it had been many years since we’d had any. He looked around and settled on a three-year-old, strong-willed sorrel quarter horse named Jackson.

Jackson was a lot of horse for a 10-year-old girl, and after one particularly nasty fall that involved a five-gallon pail, a bareback gallop, and my dad landing on top of me, I was done with him. I wouldn’t ride anymore. So the next summer, my dad, in an attempt to get me riding again, looked around again. This time, he found the perfect horse: A gentle Morgan horse named Kenny. It was a match made in heaven. He was older than Jackson and smaller, and I fell in love instantly. Most importantly, he was mine; my dad bought him specifically for me.

I’m not quite sure why I’m not smiling here, but it’s my earliest picture with Kenny:

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Here we are a little older (my dad is on Jackson):

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I could write on and on about the memories I have of that horse, memories of trail rides, cattle drives, parades, and one week at a horse camp in Bottineau. We spent eight blissful summers together.

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It should have been more, but you see, 14 years ago this week our time together was cut short. The first real tragedy of my young life happened on a beautiful July day like many of the days we’ve been having this month.

Rather than tell you the story from my 31-year-old self, I thought maybe my 17-year-old self could tell it, because recently I came across an essay I had written that fall after I returned to school for my senior year of high school. Our assignment for English class was to write about an “autobiographical incident,” and of course, still grieving, I wrote about Kenny. Here it is:

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The shrill ring of the telephone cut through the doldrums of household chores on a warm summer afternoon. It was July 25, 2002. I answered and was somewhat relieved to hear my mom’s voice, as she and my dad were supposed to arrive home more than three hours earlier. The relief only lasted a moment. “Rachel?” she began. “I’m afraid I have some bad news… We’ve had a bit of an accident with Kenny.” With those words, I felt as though I had taken a kick to the stomach, and my carefree and happy summer was thrown into a turmoil of tears and heartache.

Kenny was my horse. I remember the day my dad brought him home. He was 10 years old; I was 11 and afraid of horses ever since a bad fall from our spirited quarter horse the year before. But something about the gentle chocolate chestnut horse standing in our yard drew me to him, and from the moment I sat in that saddle, I knew I had found “my” horse. Everyone loved him, because he was perfect. He was gentle and honest, but he had a spirited, slightly mischievous side. We often raced with my cousins in the midst of laughter and flying manes and tails. Kenny didn’t like to lose a race, but even if he did, he was still the best horse in my view.

The summers we spent together were magical. We chased cows, climbed buttes, and raced through tree rows at top speed. He alone was privy to many of my secrets, problems, and fears. I had days that I didn’t feel like riding, but once I got in the saddle everything was good again. But that Thursday in July changed everything.

My parents had gone riding on the Maah Daah Hey Trail of the Badlands that morning. The terrain was rough as they attempted to make their way back, so Mom decided it was best to get off Kenny and lead him. Thats when the accident happened: Kenny’s back feet slipped from a ledge, and in his attempt to scramble back up, the ledge collapsed and he fell about 13 feet off the embankment, landing on his back. He couldn’t get up; his back legs were useless. He lay quietly in the gully as my parents waited for a vet, who said there might be a chance that Kenny would be ok.

After I hung up the phone, I tried to keep myself busy. I finished my chores with tears spilling out of my eyes. I put on a brave face and went to my brother’s baseball game to wait for my dad to arrive with the news. When he finally pulled up to the baseball diamond, I raced over to his suburban, but when I saw his face every hope that I had was dashed. My dad had tears in his eyes. I had never even seen him cry until that day. All he said was, “I’m sorry, Rachel, I’m so sorry.” They buried Kenny where he fell.

Of course I was so thankful that my mom was not harmed in the fall, and I do not hold it against my parents because they would never mean for something like that to happen. But after that, my carefree summer was over. I still feel empty when I remember that when I go back to the farm next year, he won’t be there waiting for me. I know a horse is “just a pet,” but Kenny was more than that to me. He had worked his way into my heart, where there is now a huge horse-sized hole. I feel sad when I see his halter hanging in the garage. I will never forget those brown eyes or that white crooked stripe running down his face.

I know that, despite the sadness I feel now, someday the pain will ease. In its place will be regret that I couldn’t spend 15 more summers with him. Even more, in its place will be beautiful, happy memories. Memories of one of the best friends I have ever known in my short life, and memories of a girl and her horse, forever a part of her heart and soul. 

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Gosh, a bit of a tear-jerker eh?

Eventually, the sadness did fade away, and my parents found another young Morgan horse for sale. I named him Chico, and we’ve spent many summers together since then, having a blast doing many of the same things together Kenny and I did. We’ve both slowed down in recent years, but I still love the creak of a leather saddle and the view of a July sunset from the back of the horse.

Although I don’t think about Kenny too often anymore, sometimes my mind travels back – back to those vulnerable years in my life, when, in my innocent and imaginative mind, my best friend really was a chestnut Morgan horse named Kenny. And mostly I smile at those memories. But I might feel just a little sad sometimes, too.

This week, I remember that girl and her horse.

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Musings

A New Reality

Some days, I can’t believe this little guy is actually here and is actually mine.

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Although he was due mid-May, he let me know he was on his way on April 26, almost 3 weeks early, when I woke up to contractions at 4 a.m. and snow out the window (of course, because we had to drive an hour and a half to the hospital, so why wouldn’t it snow?) I wasn’t ready for this, naturally. I had things to do. I didn’t have my sub plans done for the rest of the school year. I didn’t have my hospital bag packed. We didn’t have the carseat out of the box, much less installed, and we hadn’t even taken our childbirth class yet, for goodness sake! I even tried to go to work that morning because surely, this baby wouldn’t be coming when Mom isn’t ready. Luckily, husband didn’t let me.

Baby didn’t care about any of that. No, he basically said, to heck with all of your plans Mom, and entered the world as cute as a button at 4:13 p.m., almost exactly 12 hours after my contractions started and 24 hours after I left school the day before, completely clueless as to what was about to happen to my life.

In 24 hours, I went from trying to encourage 140 students, 139 of whom are taller than me, to care about things like where to put a semicolon and why they should appreciate Lord of the Flies (which can be a pretty tough sell, I’ll be honest) to trying to keep one tiny 6-pound human alive. I’m really not sure which of the two is more difficult.

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“Baby Kasen,” as his small cousins refer to him, has been here for two and a half months now. For two and a half months, reality as I knew it before has flipped upside down. Last summer, I was doing things like tooling around Ireland and Scotland with a couple girlfriends, picking out cute swimsuits at Target, and trying to decide which lake activity to do next during family week at the lake. This summer, I’m watching a LOT of Netflix while I’m stuck nursing him on the couch, obsessively Googling various types of baby gear, and although we did make it to the lake, between feedings and trying to safeguard my baby from his very well-meaning but overzealous cousins, I didn’t make it out on the water more than a few times.

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What I am sure of, though, is that life has never been so great. For months, as my bump grew bigger and bigger, I listened to well-wishers warn me about this new reality I was about to experience. They said things like “Enjoy sleep now – you will never sleep again!” (Who actually sleeps all that great while super pregnant?!) and “Enjoy your free time now – you will never have free time again!” and “Enjoy [fill in the blank] now – you will never [fill in the blank] again!” I know these well-wishers meant, well, well, but by the time little man showed up, I was terrified. I really like sleep, for example. Like REALLY. Just ask my family. I started putting myself to bed in kindergarten because my parents sometimes wouldn’t get around to it soon enough. I also really like free time. And lots of other fill-in-the-blanks. Part of the reason I was in denial on April 26 is because I really didn’t want my current reality to end.

But looking back, I wish more people would have said things like, “Life is about to get awesome. You might be tired, but believe me Mama, it will be worth it. It will be so worth it.”

THAT would be nice to hear when you’re waddling around with a sore back and a strange melon-sized blob inside you that digs into your hip so hard sometimes during class that you have to grip the podium and gasp as a roomful of teenagers stares at you.

Because here is the thing about my new reality: I do sometimes miss the ability to jump in my car and go where I please, and I’ve been peed and pooped on quite a bit, and not every moment is a cake walk. Case in point: He literally had his diaper off for SIX SECONDS before this happened:

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Being a new mom is a learning curve, all right. Never trust a naked baby.

But honestly, when I do get in my car to go somewhere, I love bringing little man along. Hanging out with a tiny human that I actually carried and delivered into this world, who is a spitting image of his handsome dad, is pretty darn neat. And when he smiles at me, none of those fill-in-the-blanks that I’m now “missing out” on now matter at all.

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This new reality is worth it.

 

“Did my heart love ’til now?” – William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

 

Musings

Roots and Roads

After a little hiatus, this blog is getting a facelift.

When I started Boomtown Diaries, it was 2012 and the oil boom was in its heyday. I was teaching and single, living on my family’s farm and trying to navigate my 20s, the dating world, and the craziness that the oil boom brought with it. The quiet towns and countryside that I knew growing up were gone, and every day it seemed new oil rigs were going up and new things were happening, both good and bad.

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I love to write and wanted a way to record what I was experiencing, so I started the blog Boomtown Diaries to tell some of those stories.

Four years later, things have changed. The oil boom is a bust. There are various speculations about how long the bust will last, and if and when the boom will come back, and what will happen to the price of oil, but one thing is for sure: Things have slowed down around here, along with our state’s economy. To be honest, it comes with a bit of a sigh of relief. Our communities have room to breathe, to catch up on infrastructure, and to finally gather themselves, whether or not the boom comes back in full force.

Personally, things have changed for me as well. I am still teaching, but I changed my single status in 2014 after my long adventure to Asia.

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And this year came the biggest change of all when I became a mother to my little guy, Kasen, in April.

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With all of these changes, there are still so many things to write about in western North Dakota, whether it is updates on the slowdown in oil, mishaps on the farm, the new high school our community opened this spring, the latest recipe my husband or I am trying out, or a trip down to the badlands.

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So in this post, I introduce my new blog to you: Roots and Roads. Roots, because my family has deep roots to this place, North Dakota, that give a sense of connection and tradition and history. Roads, because they are the connectors between us and adventure, us and experiences, us and other people, and us and memories. Think of all the roads we use every day: the dirt roads that we live on, the highways that take us to work and to church and to town on Saturday night, the interstate that takes us west to adventures, and that trail that we drive down when we need a little solitude. Roads, both literal and symbolic, expand our lives and give us the freedom that we crave.

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This blog will hopefully capture that necessary balance in life between the roots that ground us, no matter where we are from, and the roads that take us everywhere.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Growing Up with Five Brothers

As I mentioned before, we found out a couple months ago that our coming little one is a boy. This does not surprise me at all. I’ve always had an abundance of men in my life. I’ve had two grandpas, both hard-working and respectable farmers, my dad, five brothers,  seven fine uncles, and so many male cousins it’s not worth counting them all. Now, of course, I also have my husband, and soon will have another little man to add in to the mix.

He’ll fit right in.

That’s not to say I haven’t had special women in my life as well – I have, including my mom and grandma, who have become two of my best friends as I’ve grown up, along with aunts, (fewer) female cousins, and now, sisters-in-law, but the women in my life have generally been pretty outnumbered.

In my family, I was third in line out of six. I like to tell my brothers that that’s how I know our parents really wanted me — by the time I came along, they already had two boys, and they wanted a girl, so obviously I was a pretty big deal, right? That, and my grandma had made a pink baby blanket for my oldest brother just in case he was a girl. He wasn’t, so she saved it for the next baby. He wasn’t a girl either. So, my pink baby blanket (which I still have, and which is not in very good shape anymore), is actually older than my oldest brother. Good thing I came along so Grandma could finally give it to someone!

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Only 14 months after my arrival, my parents were surprised with the arrival of another boy. Then a few years later, another boy, and finally at the end, yet another. I was old enough to have memories of the births of the last two, and believe me, they did not arrive without some major disappointment on my part. I mean, I had prayed for a sister earnestly at age 5 and again at age 8 while we awaited their arrivals. How could God not answer my prayers when I prayed SO HARD? I wouldn’t even hold the second-to-last brother for a solid month. But, by the last one, I just decided to accept the fact that my little playmates might be boys, and they might not like playing dress-up as much as I did, but they were pretty cute and I did like them a lot. If I was so used to brothers, what was one or two more?

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That’s not to say I didn’t try to make the little ones fit into my world, though. Here is evidence, courtesy of my youngest brother and our cousin:

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(They say I “forced” them into such things, but I think they loved the attention I lavished on them all the time.)

Growing up, the six of us siblings were pretty good friends. Oh, we had our fights, like any siblings. We caused trouble for our parents as well, I’m sure, considering I have memories of lining up for “family” spankings given by my dad. (Now that’s a bonding experience for siblings if there ever was one.) However, the fights and even the spankings were generally few and far between, and the friendships between us only grew stronger as we grew up. Especially when we moved to the farm for the summers, we weren’t around our school friends anymore, and nothing forces family time like working together on a farm all day every day.

When I tell people I have five brothers, I usually get one of two reactions: 1) “Oh, you poor thing! You must have been picked on all the time!” or 2) “You must be so spoiled!” Well, both are true to an extent, but both are also not completely true. As for the first response – “you poor thing” – it’s true, I was often the brunt of teasing and pranks, especially from the two brothers that loved to tease, Andy and Danny. A sister, after all, is the perfect target with all of those emotional reactions. I can’t count the number of times I had one of them try to steal my diary, listen in on my phone calls over the landline (no cell phones back then, remember?), or wait for me to come home, hiding behind some obstacle with an air-soft gun and waiting to use me as target practice for those little plastic BBs.

Once in high school, I was typing on MSN messenger with my cousin, which was all the rage at the time. Our conversation, of course, was about boys. I thought I heard a noise behind me, but I couldn’t see anything when I turned around. But when I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, I turned around again and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. I noticed a pair of binoculars pointed at my computer screen over the back of the couch with a blanket over top. “I see you!” I screamed into the darkness. Unfortunately, it was too late – the guilty brother, who happened to be Danny, ran away gleefully while shouting which boy I liked at the top of his lungs. I often thought during those moments that if I just had a sister, I wouldn’t have so many of these problems. Right?

Was I spoiled, too, being the only girl with all these boys? Oh, maybe a little. My dad always says, “Boys are special, but every dad needs at least one daughter,” and I know he might have a little bit of a soft spot for me. But lest you think I was too spoiled, just see the previous two paragraphs above. I also maintain that not only can I drive a combine as well as any of them, but I’ve also done more hours of housework in my life than all of them combined. Somehow I was the only one who “knew how” to do the dishes and clean the bathrooms. That’s what they would use as an excuse, anyway. I remember one brother saying, “But Rachel does such a better job at the dishes! She should do it!” It’s true, I DID do a better job — so I did them, muttering under my breath the entire time.

There is a third result of growing up with five brothers, too: I have thought often that I sometimes had no idea how to be a girl. There was no female drama in my house growing up. Just a lot of wrestling, army toys, and guns. There was no one to steal clothes from, or practice braiding hair with, or any of the other girl stuff that sisters learn from each other. I didn’t notice so much when I was little, but as I grew older and realized just how much goes into being a girl – the makeup and the hair and the housework and the drama and the other stuff that comes with turning into a woman – I had many a moment of wondering just why I had to be the only girl in the middle of all these carefree brothers. They seemed like they had it a lot easier.

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Those tough adolescent years are behind me, though, and these days I’m perfectly ok being me, woman and all. As for all those boys, now turned into men, I’m grateful for growing up surrounded by them. What woman doesn’t need more good men in her life? I’m proud of the five of them and the dads and husbands and workers they have turned into. While none of us are perfect, and we’re all figuring out life in our own way, I know our strong family ties have done nothing but good things for all of us. Close siblings make the best friends, and I am lucky enough to have five of them.

I really could have done without the plastic BB attacks, though.