The day of my 41st birthday, Peter had an employee meeting scheduled. This means the B team has to cover the parlor: me and the children. We aren’t speedy, but we get the cows milked. As the boys and I were milking along, Stacy and Cora were decorating my cake. Cora was chief creative director on this project, and Stacy went along with her directions. A two-layer heart-shaped chocolate cake with blueberry filling was covered in pink swirly frosting, graced with a warthog (Pumbaa, for Disney fans) and a Snow White figurine. Her decorating didn’t stop there. Colorful fondant peonies, butterflies, turtles and snakes were found all over the cake. Cora was elated with her masterpiece.
    “Just how your cake should be,” I was informed, having never thought of having a warthog on any cake, much less my own. It was a labor of love, and it was beautiful. They snuck into the breakroom at the farm, and I was retrieved from the parlor. All of the employees sung me “Feliz Cumpleaños” (“Happy Birthday to You” in Spanish). Pictures were snapped amid the smiles and laughter from the guys as they saw all the creativity that went into the cake, and it was the perfect little birthday gathering.
    Unloading hay in 90-plus degree weather is only bearable if you are working with people who have a sense of humor. Unloading hay with your children in 90-plus degree weather is an absolute riot. I think we threw jokes and smart comments around as much as the hay bales. Dane, Stacy and Peter were sweating bullets in the haymow. I had Ira and Oliver on the wagon, occasionally Henry and Finley as well. Cora wanted to help in the worst way, but crying about someone touching your bale doesn’t fly when we are trying to keep the flow going. She was voted off the wagon. On one hand, it was humorous watching them crawl up the mound of bales and envisioning myself 30 years ago doing that very job. On the other, it was such a feeling of accomplishment and pride to do a job such as this with my offspring. We challenged ourselves to keep at least four bales on the elevator at any given time; we couldn’t have the mow crew slacking, you know. The boys all pushed themselves, and this mom knows how to land a bale on the elevator. It was a sweat-dripping afternoon to be certain, but there is something about the sweat you build when throwing small squares that makes you feel satisfied like no other.
    On our second day of unloading hay in the sweltering heat, Peter informed the young crew of rock pickers that they had to pick rocks after our second load. He waited for the customary round of moans and groans before telling them that after picking rocks we could have a picnic lunch and they could play in the creek. The smiles returned in short order. They grabbed rock picking buckets and crayfish catching nets and loaded up to go. Cora and I did chores and made open-faced sandwiches, lemonade and grabbed apples to take for their picnic. We were greeted with dirt-covered hands and berry-stained faces. The pickers may have found more berries than rocks on the last round. After they inhaled their food, they all bounded off toward the creek to splash water at each other and find the biggest crayfish. Squeals of laughter and fright (sometimes water gets splashed, sometimes crayfish fly) echoed across the valley.
    Two days after my birthday, Stacy and I were moving cows from the pen directly behind the parlor. I turned and, out of the corner of my eye, saw a freshened heifer had taken a wrong turn and wedged herself into a man pass before entering the parlor. There was no yelling, no frantic movements; only calm, calculated ones. Peter doused her with watered down soap to help her slide out, and then the teamwork of four men and one woman popped her out of her prison. They wore smiles as they worked together so seamlessly. The smiles turned into satisfied grins as she popped out, took a left and wandered into her stall proper like.
    The comradery, the laughter shared over birthday cake and a break in the chores made it all that much easier to approach a problem with smiles and calm versus a frantic, nervous reaction. The bonds created when celebrating or playing together do so much for farm morale. Taking that time away from working is more than worth it. Perhaps on the next sweltering day, take a root beer float break for the whole farm. I bet a 10-minute break for everyone will boost spirits all around.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.