I rolled our four-wheeler this morning. Okay, maybe “rolled” is a bit of an exaggeration—flopped is probably more accurate. Either way, it scared the you-know-what out of me.
The morning was off to a good start, with both kids sleeping past 6 a.m. Once they were up, we settled into our usual routine of diaper changes and bed making without incident. But as I tugged the duvet into place on our bed, I heard hooves on gravel. Yanking open the curtains, my heart sank as I watched cows meander down the driveway and through my yard. Cows that were supposed to be at the opposite end of our property.
“MOMMMMM!!” my son screeched. “Mom, do you see them? The cows are out! They’re eating your flowers!”
Without much thought, I sprinted outside, jumped on the four wheeler, and tried to head them off. But instead of running back toward the gate, they scattered. Defeated, I leapt up the front steps and grabbed my phone to call my husband.
“Did you leave the back gate open?” I wheezed.
Cattle bawled on his end of the phone, and I remembered he was busy today weaning the spring calves. “Um, what?” he said.
“The cows are in our yard, and you took all the dogs, and they just looked at me like I was an idiot when I tried to put them back in …”
He cut me off as I paused for a breath. “Cara, I’m swamped, and can’t get home. Shut the gate on the driveway and leave them out until I get home.”
“Fine.” I snapped before hanging up.
Grumbling, I ran out to shut the front gate before making breakfast for the kids. But when I opened the front door to take the trash out, I saw black angus rear ends sticking out of our hay barn. For a moment, I just stood and stared, pulled in two very different directions. If left alone, the cows would destroy this winter’s hay, and make a huge mess of our barn in the process. But giggles from inside reminded me of the trouble my kids can cause when left alone, too. My feet stuck like glue, I watched with horror as a cow stepped this close to a $500 electric fencer, and suddenly I was in motion. I dropped the bag of garbage on the porch and jumped on the four-wheeler again, determined to solve the problem myself.
After running them out of the barn, I tried again to get them back through the gate. But the cows blew by me at every opportunity. I drove faster and faster, dust churning up around me as I swerved and yelled; panicked and out of control. As I cranked the handlebars hard to the left, the machine flopped and chucked me in the dirt.
I ripped my right foot out from under the four-wheeler, and stood, dazed. My heart raced; my ears rang. I rubbed dirt and tears out of my eyes, brushing off as I ridiculed myself for being such an idiot. What would happen to my babies if I killed myself after leaving them unattended inside? How could I be so stupid?
Limping toward the house, I took a few deep breaths.
By the time my son was two weeks old, I figured out he preferred the Rock ‘n Play to the bassinet, and could tell you he liked the Miracle Blanket best of all the swaddles. I learned to change his diaper before night feedings if possible, and to nurse him with the lights off. Breastfeeding got easier for us both and my body stopped aching. Slowly but surely, we settled into a routine, each of us getting at least a little sleep.
It took trial and error to figure out how to care for my newborn son. I had to learn not to panic when he cried—to think about what it was he needed in the moment before reacting.
Was he hungry? Tired? Gassy? Did he just need to be held? As the weeks went on I acquainted myself with his needs, wants, and cries, and eventually, it became second nature to read his cues and act accordingly. When he smacked his lips and sucked on his fingers, I settled us both in the rocking chair for a nursing session. And when he arched his back and drew his knees up to his tummy, I gave him gas drops and bicycled his legs.
But on our first night home with him, I was too panicked and inexperienced to think clearly about what he needed. That night, I swaddled him before laying him down. Within seconds, he kicked up his feet and rolled onto his side. My heart racing, I grabbed two more swaddle blankets and sandwiched him between them just like the nurses in the hospital had. He stayed put this time, but I just sat on the bed watching him, terrified he would suffocate on the blankets if I slept.
Twenty minutes later, he was up again screaming. I fed him, burped him, and changed his diaper, while my uterus contracted and my nipples throbbed. But when I tried to put him down again, he wailed in protest.
My husband tried. I tried again. We took turns rocking him. I bounced with him, and walked with him, and sang to him. I cried, he cried, and then I cried some more. The more he fussed, the more we panicked.
“Try a binky!” I wailed to my husband.
“I think he’s hungry!” He retorted.
Nothing seemed to work. We panicked, and instead of coming up with a rational plan or trying something new, we shushed louder and rocked harder.
This morning, as I walked back to the house, I watched our mama cows lead their babies back to the hay barn. Standing on our front step, it dawned on me: They’re hungry, not bored.
Inside, I set the kids up with snacks and Daniel Tiger, making sure to secure my one-year-old in her high chair. Back outside, I drove the tractor out to the wrecked four-wheeler. I hooked up a chain, flopped it right-side-up, and steered it back to the house (slowly) before going back for the tractor. After searching in the shop, I found some rope to tie across the front of the hay barn to keep the cows out. Then I threw half a bale of hay in the bucket of the tractor before climbing into the driver’s seat. Heading toward the back pasture, I lured our herd of mama cows with the scent of hay and the familiar hum of the diesel engine. I dumped the hay on the ground, and watched as every single one of those dang cows moseyed through the gate they balked at earlier.
The gate chained behind me, I headed back toward the house, laughing a little at how easily I solved the problem in the end.
In those early days with a newborn, every cry sent my blood pressure sky-high. The books I read told me to study his cues and cries, but to me, they all sounded the same. If the rocking chair didn’t work, I tried the yoga ball, and if that failed too I started sweating and tried to nurse him. But in my sleep-deprived panic, sometimes I didn’t notice his diaper was wet. I often forgot that sometimes babies just need to be held.
Three years and two kids later, I still make mistakes, but I steer straight more often than I swerve. I can hear the difference between a hurt cry and a frustrated cry from all the way across the house, and I know that any tears around 9 a.m. mean it’s time for a snack.
Careening around on our four-wheeler this morning, I was every bit my panicked new mom self again. Desperate for control, driving erratically—swaying faster and singing louder when a diaper change would have done the trick.
Reflecting back on the events of this morning, it occurs to me that motherhood is a bit like driving our four-wheeler—it’s an enormous responsibility to be in the driver’s seat of something so big and powerful.
Guest post written by Cara Stolen. Cara is a ranch wife and work-at-home mama of two living in rural Washington state. She loves exceptionally early mornings, strong black coffee, and listening to her children giggle. You can find her hiding in her pantry sneaking chocolate chips by the handful, on Instagram. or on her blog.
Cara is part our Exhale community and this essay is a product of our Storytelling Workshop. For more information, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.