I was twenty-six years old, mother of a three and a half year old, a one and a half year old and a three month old. The days were crazy trying to keep up with the kids. Lots of days of just enjoying life and others of pulling out my hair wondering how I was going to manage it all. Then we heard of a private school whose teacher had pulled out at the last minute and decided not to move to the West Coast.
Money was tight. We didn’t know how we were going to make ends meet. After discussing it with my husband, Eric, who didn’t have a full-time job, we decided to at least look into the opportunity. The interview was a two-way street. Eric and I interviewed them, and they interviewed us. The school consisted of a multipurpose room for both cafeteria and gymnasium, a large open downstairs that housed the library, two classrooms (one for the Kindergarten through second grade, and the other the third through sixth or seventh grade), and an office. They needed someone to teach the older students. nine full-time students and one home school student who came in for the afternoon classes. Would I do it?
Seeing no job opportunities in the future for Eric, I agreed. We borrowed my father-in-law’s twenty-four foot travel trailer and moved it down to the school. A mom of one of the students exchanged tuition fees for babysitting my kids during the day. Recess and lunch breaks, I exchanged students for my children. I was able to continue breastfeeding my baby, and spend a little bit of time each day with the kids. Shortly after I accepted the position, Eric was given a temporary job, and then another, and another.
By December, my one month had stretched into three, and Eric was not around for the kids. He was planning on going on the shearing circuit that winter to Eastern Oregon and Washington. I gave my notice and said I needed to be with my family. We had exchanged the twenty-four foot travel trailer for eleven more feet in a thirty-five foot fifth wheel. With many mixed feelings I said goodbye to those students, several of whom I had taught how to read even though they were old enough to be in seventh grade. I had stuck out the extra months out of devotion to them. The students gave me going away gifts. The one I remember most was a bottle of Caress liquid soap, the white peach and orange blossom style.
The shearing circuit is an interesting culture. Each day we were up by 7:00 to fix breakfast in the small kitchen of the fifth wheel. By 7:45, Eric was out the door. I had time to clean up breakfast, then have a little calendar time with our now four year old and almost two year old. Then I spent the morning playing with the kids, reading books to them, and anything else to keep them busy. By noon, I had to have lunch on the table for when Eric walked in the door. At 12:30, he’d lay down for a short nap before heading back out to shear until 5:00. This routine would repeat itself until the sheep were shorn on that ranch. Then it was time to pack up the house, hook it up to the F150, and I’d follow along with at least two kids in the minivan. I memorized the back of the cream fifth wheel, the way the brown weave curtains swayed over the bumps, the idiosyncrasy of the lights, and the license plate.
Some jobs were longer than others. Some only lasted two days, while others were a full week or two. Since this was Eastern Oregon and Washington in January and February, it was snowy and cold. A fifth wheel is not designed for extreme weather. Many times, we added towels and blankets to the walls covering the windows to keep the heat in.
By February, we moved to a ranch in Washington. Up until this time, the most showers were in the small shower with an equally tiny hot water heater. Time to myself was during nap time while I tried to be quiet on my bed while the others slept in the living room on their beds. So, when we arrived at this ranch and heard they had a shower for workers, it was a godsend–unlimited hot water in a grown-up shower.
So, one late afternoon, when all the workers were still busy with the sheep, I bundled up the kids, one in a car seat, and the other two in their warm jackets, and headed to the bathroom in the barn. I was greeted by warm, moist air. A large open area much like a locker room complete with a wooden bench sat in front of the shower area. I settled the kids on the bench and the baby in the car seat on the ground. I gave them their toys to play with and moved to the shower. What luxury to relax for just a bit, somewhat kid free, and feel like a lady. The smell of that Caress soap blended with the humidity of the air. To this day, it is my favorite soap, and when I smell it, I am transported back to those days.
It is hard to realize that it was eighteen years ago. Those little ones are no longer little. They have grown up; the youngest two are in college now. So, what advice do I glean from this story? I say to take your time and enjoy your little ones. The time speeds by all to soon. Secondly, take time for yourself. Create moments where you are not just mom. Have a hobby that you can do in those few quiet moments when the kids sleep; create a job that you can do from home and gives you access to the outside world. I found I could read, crochet, write, quilt, cross-stitch, and many more things in those nap times. I learned to be content in the moment. I created art around me–whether in a dinner placed on the table, a table decoration gathered with the kids, or creating an inviting place for Eric to come home to. If you are in those never ending years of toddlers, take a deep breath, relax, and carve out a moment to yourself. Even the littlest time can refresh your soul and give you the strength to carry one.