Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wearing Red

It's hard for me to wear the color red.

I like the color when it comes to decorating my house.

But to pull the color on over my head reminds me of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  It was a big deal to despise Nebraska during football season until they departed the Big 12.

Red reminds me of the KU Jayhawks.  It's still a big deal to loathe the Jayhawks during every, single sports season.

Red reminds of the Wathena Wildcats.  My high school's nemesis.  As a school, the Wathena Wildcats have long been consolidated with another small northeast Kansas town.  But I still detest them and their red Wildcats.

So putting on red to cheer for our town and our team - the Ellsworth Bearcats - pains me.

But a red, $4, clearance rack t-shirt caught my eye the other day.  A self-to-self pep talk ensued.

Okay, for $4 I can give it a try.  It'll be okay.

Not so long ago, I would have walked away from that $4 t-shirt.  Not so long ago, I still wasn't convinced I wanted to put down roots in the middle of Kansas.

Brent and I moved to Ellsworth after college because it fit our career choices.  He took the job as the Agriculture Extension Agent, and I tried my hand at economic development work.  We like to say we took the only two jobs open in town.

We saw the move as a good start to our life together.  And beyond getting married and getting out of our lousy rentals, we didn't have much of a plan.

A few years passed.  We were baptized into the working world - realizing how much we still had to learn.  We got married.  Got out of our lousy rentals.  Bought a home and brought home our first baby girl.  And we still didn't have a plan.

But sitting in the nursery, rocking my baby girl, I realized we needed a plan.

Maybe it was the hormones.  Maybe it was because it seemed like every other new momma had their own momma nearby to help.  Maybe it was my dad's encouragement to come home and help revive my flailing hometown.  Maybe it was because my brother had just moved home.

Whatever it was, I knew I wanted my family to be closer.  I wanted what I had growing up: Grandma and Grandpa at my ball games and 4H events, my aunts and uncles at birthday parties, an extended family close enough to call on when I needed help.

But the man I married, didn't feel the same pull.  He liked our compromise of living in the middle.

The battle of location lingered.  The "plan" never materialized.  Angst and tension settled in.

Three more babies came along.  Noah started school as part of the largest Kindergarten class to hit the district in years.  We lived in a neighborhood full of young families.  We had a network of friends, neighbors and co-workers that supported us whenever we asked for help.  We witnessed a rural revival of sorts - investments in jobs and new businesses unlike anything the town had seen in recent history.  We had opportunities for the kids to play soccer, and t-ball and take ballet lessons - without driving out of town.  We had everything we ever wanted for ourselves and for our young family - except having our own families nearby.

In the summer of 2012, the lack of a plan finally caught up with us.

Britta had just been born.  The county fair was days away from starting.  Brent's dad - a lifelong southwest Kansas farmer - was battling some health issues, facing retirement from the work he loved, and was asking for Brent's help.  And "that perfect little place in the country" went on the market.

I guess you could say it was time for a plan.

There was a lot of talking.  A lot of tears.  (Mine, of course.)  A lot of time spent analyzing the negatives and the positives of every option.

In the end, we chose us.  We chose our family.  We chose the middle.  The compromise.  That perfect little place in the country.

And I think we got it right.  In fact, I know we got it right.  I know it by the way I've watched the kids play and run on the farm.  I know it by the way I feel happier, settled, invested.  I know it because less than a year after our move, Brent had the opportunity to make a fantastic career change that let him have a home office and offer his expertise to a wider range of Kansas farmers.  I know it because we convinced my sister, Mary, to move here, too.  (Well, a charming cowboy maybe had something to do with that one.)  Still, I know we got it right.

I wore that red t-shirt the other day.  It wasn't quite the fit I was hoping for, but for $4, I'll make it work.  Maybe, just maybe, I can get comfortable wearing the color red.

The fam - from inside the barn shortly after our move to the farm.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Aim low and fire

My brother, his wife and their children - three of 'em ages 6, 2 and 1 - were coming for a weekend visit.

In planning for their visit and arranging extra beds and pillows and a place for the baby to sleep and five meals and dozens of snacks and three gallons of milk, it occurred to me, we might need an escape.

Seven kids.  Snow and cold outside.  Nothin' to do but wrestle, jump, run and dump oodles of totes of small toys in every room of the house.

We're gonna need a break.

Twenty short miles down the road is a great wildlife museum.  Towering robotic animals move and help young'uns (and big'uns) to understand natural history and wildlife habitats.  We'd only been one time before, so this would be perfect.  Plus, my six-year-old nephew has a thing for big, intimidating wildlife.

I pitched my idea at the supper table a few days before their visit.  The kids were on board.  And then there was Brent.

I refuse.  It's expensive and the animals aren't even real.  I'm staying right here.

He's the eternal pessimist.

But, we'll need something to do with all these kids, and it's a great experience for them.

I'm the eternal optimist.

It's a happy marriage.

I'm absolutely not going.

His resolve was palatable.

I didn't think.  I aimed low.  And I fired.

Going to high school basketball games and eating cheap Mexican food isn't giving your children experiences in the world.

He didn't fire back.  He was sunk.

Brent and I both had a rural Kansas childhood experience.  We were 4H and FFA members.  We raised and showed livestock.  We played and worked on the farm.  And the similarities stop there.

My Mom and Dad embraced the hard work that comes with a family farm lifestyle.  But they always had a way to make time for fun, time for a family vacation, time for a new restaurant or a museum or a festival or literature - both old and new.

None of these experiences were extravagant.  We couldn't afford that.  But our location, in northeast Kansas, accessible to the major metropolitan area of Kansas City, gave us a chance to see the world beyond our family farm.  My parents took great pride in making sure we understood we were swimming in a small pond. 

Brent's location - in southwest Kansas - left them isolated from much beyond the borders of their city.  Seven hours drive to Kansas City.  Six hours drive to Denver.  Isolated.

And his parents placed an even greater emphasis on farm work.  A family vacation meant taking 4H animals to a livestock show.  He didn't play high school sports.  He still hasn't seen the ocean. 

To him, going to high school basketball games and taking the kids out for a quick meal at the Mexican food joint is doing more than he ever experienced growing up.

Think before you speak, right Mom?

Together, we've living our lives and raising our family in the middle.  Literally.

When it was time to say goodbye to university life in Manhattan, we sought out the smaller, rural places in the middle of Kansas.  We landed in Ellsworth.  Half-way between northeast and southwest Kansas.  And we haven't left.

I fight to help our middle-of-Kansas kids understand what's beyond the borders of our county.

Brent strives to make sure they appreciate what's right here at home.

We're striving for a balance of kids who love their rural Kansas home, and kids who aren't afraid to conquer a world so much bigger than them.

It's exactly what I had in mind when I dreamed of raising a family.

We never made it to the wildlife museum.  My nephew firmly put his foot down.

I wanna stay here and play!

I didn't fire back this time.  The kids used the wildlife toys and set up a jungle in the basement.

It was a perfect compromise.