The Pleasant Farm

Life & Family

Dear (4-Year-Old) Tyson May 22, 2017

Filed under: My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 8:49 pm
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Dear (Four Year Old) Tyson,

A terrible, terrible thing happened today.  You laid down with Daddy for your nap and he couldn’t get you to sleep.  So I lay down with you, telling you that you needed to nap, and I also failed.  I used to tell you that someday when you’re 4 years old, you won’t have to take a nap anymore (but I purposely haven’t been adding that recently, with your birthday on your brain).  And I have never told you that Trent actually gave up on his afternoon nap the week before he turned 4.   But here we are, a day before your birthday, and it seems like BOOM!  You really are older.


I read my letter to you from when you turned 3 and much of what I wrote is the same: you are ornery and feisty, and you have a way of making people laugh.  But in the last year, you’ve had many experiences and grown so much.  There have been a couple (alright, a few) trips to the ER, surgery for a broken arm, staples in your noggin, and somehow only one ambulance trip.  You started preschool and won over the teachers’ hearts, not by being loving like your big brother, but by being so full of spunk & spark.  And reading your past letter was a reminder of another hurdle we cleared in the past 362 days: you did get potty-trained!

You still like farming more than trains, even though Trent tries to convince you to love trains as much as he does.  Your favorite birthday gift last year was a planter, and the favorite so far this year is a drill.  Our whole house is officially planted in corn and beans.

Your middle name should be Noise.  If you aren’t making noise, you’re up to something even worse.  And no matter how many times we try to turn down the volume of your voice, you’re always a dozen decibels above anyone else in a conversation.

I thought your brother would be more of an enemy than an ally by now, but luckily that’s not the case.  Not including Daddy, Trent is still your favorite person.  If you can’t see him or hear him, you start looking for him.  One of the sweetest things ever was watching you give him a big hug goodbye when we dropped him off for preschool this whole last year, as if you were going to be apart for a great length of time.  Most things that you do require an acknowledgment or accolade from him: “Do you like this Trent?”  “And I did it by myself, right Trent?”  “Trent, you gotta come see this!”

So we go forth into the land of a four-year-old.  I’m hoping naps haven’t completely abandoned your schedule.  I’ll continue to live for your quiet moments on my lap when there’s nowhere for you to be running to and no one to holler at, and I’m reminded to seek out those moments a little more.  You’ll probably be wrapped up in you Paw Patrol blanket, with your fingers around the tag on your froggy lovey, and you just might resemble a sweet little boy who I have spent the last four years falling in love with.

In the next year, we will have a lot of changes but we will ride the waves as a family.  Between Daddy’s new job and schedule, Trent starting kindergarten, and you possibly giving up naps (Lord help me), we will have to make it a daily reminder to do everything as a team.  I can’t wait to see you do swimming lessons for the first time and move onto the next year of preschool.  You will get lots of ride-time in the tractor, probably get yourself hurt in some way or another, and continue being a living, breathing spark that ignites smiles in others.

I love you so much and I’m beyond proud to be your mommy.  I will always be there to kiss your boo-boos (or ride next to you in the ambulance or help hold the post-surgery popsicle).  And when people comment “He’s just so sweet!”, I might smirk and roll my eyes a little but I know better than anyone else all the sweetness you’re burying under that loud, tough-guy, rambunctious façade (that is known to occasionally grunt “Men eat meat!”).


But if you decide to keep naps for a little while longer, I want you to know that would be great.

Happy 4th birthday, Tyson Steven!

Love forever and ever,



Bright Beacon of Light April 19, 2017

Filed under: Pictures to Share — Jess Z. @ 10:06 am
Tags: ,

Writing is often a way for me to sort through my thoughts and try to make sense of life.  It’s also a way for me to document events and feelings so that once time has made my memory fuzzy (and it doesn’t take much time) and my emotions have dulled, I can better recall how life felt at that particular moment.  This is especially why I write letters to my boys, who can’t comprehend much of what goes on at this point in their lives; unless you consider the fact that Thomas is the #1 engine to be significant.  But while I enjoy writing, I also have a deep appreciation for good writing.  So with permission, I want to share a speech here that was written by Todd’s EMS Chief, J. Brian Wilson.

On Monday night, April 17, the team who was involved with that memorable morning last month was recognized at the Highland City Council meeting.  This team consisted of 2 paramedics, 4 police officers, and the often unrecognized telecommunicator responsible for answering 911 calls then sorting and disseminating crucial information.  There, Chief Wilson delivered this speech and I’d like to share it now, for anyone else who isn’t tired of hearing about these amazing first responders and that fateful rescue.



“Good evening Mr. Mayor and members of the City Council.

As you are aware, we are here tonight to honor these public safety professionals for their courage and selfless efforts that led to saving an infant from the frigid waters of Silver Lake on the morning of March 16, 2017.

When we recall the events of those early morning hours, we quickly realize just how much worse that terrible tragedy could have been.  Yet we are here tonight, honoring this group of first responders, whose combined efforts provided a bright beacon of light during an otherwise dark day.



Everything fell into place perfectly that morning, from a witness who saw the vehicle go into the water and called 911, to the timely dispatch of police, fire, and EMS units, to a shortened response time of units already on the street, to a well-trained team of professional first responders dedicated to public safety.  Although he didn’t know it, little Julian Campbell had every possible advantage going his way.

Like any championship team, each member of this team played a crucial role in the ultimate outcome that we all hoped for: that being the saving of a human life.  Without each one of them, the outcome could have been far different.

Also like any championship team, this team had a most valuable player, who both risked and contributed a little bit more to this happy outcome.



Although we recognize them here tonight for this high profile success story, this group, and others like them, do not consider their actions unusual.  Nor do they consider themselves heroes.

They are used to providing high-quality service to complete strangers each and every day, often at great personal risk.  This is what they are trained for.  This is what they do.  To them, this was all in a day’s work.



They have been very gracious and appreciative of the many honors bestowed upon them.  Yet, I can assure you, their motivations lie solely with the safety of our public, irrespective of media coverage of personal accolades.

Thank you.”



Watching the Go! St. Louis Marathon April 14, 2017

Filed under: Random,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 9:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Let’s admit it… running a marathon (that’s 26.2 miles for those not quite sure what level of crazy I’m referencing) is NUTS.  People who run half-marathons regularly for fun also seem unstable to me.  But watching these events is actually kind of… fun.


First of all, I was surrounded by thousands of people anxious about the race.  We’re talking ginormous lines for porta-potties (anxiety is released as bowel movements, dontcha know).  But I was cool as a cucumber, meandering away from where I left Todd to find his starting corral, while meeting hundreds of people rushing towards the starting line.  Maybe they didn’t leave themselves quite enough time to make it to the porta-potty?

So while those thousands of people lined up to start the early morning race, I started walking to my first stop– St. Louis Bread Company.  Because I needed my breakfast fuel for this spectator business!

After my breakfast stop, I found my first perch for waiting.  It ended up being just past the 5-mile mark and I was plenty early.  I had printed a course map and outlined estimated times that I thought Todd should hit each mile based on an 8-minute mile, leaving space to update my estimates based on real time.  So with my extra time, I set up our Bluetooth radio to some Pandora jams, picked out my first poster (“Smile!  You paid for this!”), and finished sipping my caramel latte.


The first runners came by and I couldn’t help but think “Whatever.  You’re only running the half.”  The orange numbers designated the 13.1-milers, while the green numbers designated the true crazies running the full marathon.  I didn’t have to wait too much longer to get my first glimpse of Todd in the race.  I stuck around a little longer after he passed because I finally got to cheer on some runners who thought my sign was just hilarious.  Then it was off to my next stop.


During my jog to the next stop, let me just say– those runners were lucky they didn’t have to run up that part of Chouteau.  Annnnnnnnd I was lucky I wasn’t running any freaking race.

I had hoped to get race updates sent to my phone, but we somehow missed signing up for that option correctly.  Luckily, Todd continued to prove how un-human he is and he actually texted me most of his mile markers.  I made it to my next perch without too much extra time (I guess I spent too much time humoring the racers who laughed at my last sign, or took too long jogging up Chouteau) and updated the mile estimates on my map.  This stop was right before the 10-mile mark, where the half marathon racers continued straight towards their finish line and the marathon runners turned to get further away from the finish.  I held my sign that read “Harder!  Faster!  Stronger!  (That’s what she said)” but I was on the side of the street closer to all the marathoners making their turn, and they were a serious bunch.


Off I walked from there, heading towards the 16-mile mark where the runners would come out of running to and from Tower Grove Park, but before their trip to Forest Park.  My running legs weren’t opposed to jogging, but my shoulders were against it as the backpack started to feel heavier.  So I walked, carrying the radio connected to Pandora from my phone.   The “Running (Radio Mix) Radio” channel was a hit, because I got a lot of appreciation for the music from the runners.  I knew to pack snacks, water, and my posters but I will never watch another race without that Bluetooth radio.

Here I broke out this poster:


A handful of runners validated this as motivation so I like to think I helped them with their goals.  Ha!  And of course Todd came through like he hadn’t reached a struggle yet.


My next stop was super easy– I crossed the street.  That marked where the runners came out of Forest Park to head back to downtown, at mile 21.  I got to cheer on the speedy people looking at only having 5 miles to go, as well as the normal people hitting that 16-mile mark on the other side.  But after Todd ran by, saying “I’ve got a 7:08 pace”, I knew I was running out of time to see him finish.


The last part of my plan was to hop on the MetroLink to beat Todd to the finish line.  Long story short (long, frustrating, impatient story short), that part of my plan failed.  I actually didn’t even see him finish his first marathon.  Luckily, I’ve got people in all sorts of surprising places so I do have some pics documenting his last mile.  And I’ve learned that if I try to see him in the farthest places on the course, I need to come up with some other mode of transportation to get me back.  Possibly a jet or bullet train.  Oh— and I need to assume that he might actually start running faster at the end and screw up all of my estimates.

So are you going to watch a marathon?  Wear your running shoes.  Find a roomy but comfy backpack.  Google or Pinterest for the funniest and most motivating posters, and I highly recommend a Bluetooth radio.  Pack yourself a snack and some water.  And you will most definitely need a well-charged smartphone to keep yourself on the course, find the nearest MetroLink station, or at least find a latte.

And let’s not forget– be prepared to feel uplifted and encouraged.  Watching these “crazy” people reaching for their goals will make you feel a part of something much bigger than just being a spectator.


Next up: qualify for Boston???  I’ve got some posters I haven’t busted out yet!


Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero), March 17, 2017

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 5:47 pm
Tags: , ,


Dear Trent & Tyson,

Whoa.  To say the last two days have been a whirlwind would be a ginormous understatement.  I don’t know how much you can understand at your ages, so in true form, I’d like to write you a letter that just might stay with you forever.  And maybe someday you’ll have a better realization of what the recent events have meant for your daddy… and for you.


Here’s a nutshell, since I plan to include all the official reports in your scrapbooks for this year.  Your daddy was working on the ambulance (we visited him earlier that day; you played hide-and-seek and weren’t ready to go home for naps when I was) and got a call at 5:30 the next morning, before his shift would have ended at 7.  A car was seen driving into Silver Lake, and the ambulance crews and fire department were dispatched along with the police officers.  Your daddy spent the ride out to the scene emptying his pockets: phone, wallet, chapstick, keys.  Because he was ready to go in if he had to.

The police officers on scene verified that there was in fact a car in the water, headlights on.  So while Daddy’s partner handled the scene and radio traffic on land, Daddy jumped into the 46-degree water with just his pants on (oh yeah, and the air temperature was in the 20’s).  When he got to the car, he found an unresponsive 3-month-old baby boy, pulled him out of the vehicle and got onto the roof.  There, he performed CPR, wishing and praying the fire department was nearly on scene to rush to their assistance with cold water suits in a boat.  But, when he found out they’d been delayed by a train, he did what he had to do—jumped back into the water, swimming backwards while holding that baby above the water, and handed him over to his partner and the police officers on the shore.  That baby has already been released from the hospital in great health.

So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of people who are excited over the fact that your daddy very honestly saved that baby’s life.  He was given the terrible circumstances of darkness and cold, oh yeah and being in a lake, and managed to literally save a life.  Turns out, the story has spread quite like wildfire.  Trent answered the door yesterday to a very well known news reporter from St. Louis, while Tyson stood smiling in his underwear.  Then we found out it had even made the Washington Post and led a congressman to give a speech and order a flag to be flown over the U.S. Capitol today.  Is this all really happening?  I don’t even know yet what tomorrow will bring!


You are his sons.  Those are the shoes you will spend your lives trying to fill.  What do I want you to know?

I want you to know that before most people have a huge success, there’s so much work and commitment that goes into it first that people don’t even realize.  Yes, your dad did a very heroic thing yesterday.  But he loves his job, and makes sure he is always prepared for the worst of circumstances by studying and learning from those around him.  He also takes his fitness level very seriously, not by bragging about how many pull-ups he’s done or miles he’s logged on his last run, but by proving that he’s not only willing to put himself in a risky situation but physically strong enough to almost guarantee a positive outcome (because let’s be honest, there’s no guarantees).  He always makes sure to work as a team, the first to say that he didn’t want to do any interviews unless his partner was there with him.  He’s more prepared than most for the unexpected, which is why anyone in this little town who knows him also knew “it had to be Todd” when they heard there was a local paramedic who performed heroic actions during an unfortunate situation.  Because yes—of course it was Todd.  Not because he worked a miracle— he prepares himself daily to perform the most difficult tasks in difficult situations— but because he miraculously was in the right place at the right time, with the right skills and strength to see the incident through.

So know this.  You don’t have to pull an unresponsive baby out of a submerged car and then resuscitate the baby to be a hero.  You have to find something you’re passionate about, work hard daily to be the best at that job, and be prepared to be under-recognized for your efforts.  Maybe even for years.  And when people don’t always see how hard you work or note your dedication, do it all over again the next day anyway.

Always remember to keep your team close to you.  Keep up the good communication and always have each other’s backs.

Ignore the people who criticize you, whether it’s because they don’t understand your level of commitment or if it might be because they don’t think they could measure up.  Their opinions are not of any importance, nor should they change the direction of your goals.


Our community, the reporters, and everyone else who hears this story are calling Daddy a hero.  And he’s saying “I’m not a hero, I was just doing my job.”  So do you want to follow in your daddy’s footsteps?  Be a rockstar at your job, whatever may be your passion, every stinking day.  And when all that hard work pays off with a big reward, be so humble and modest to truthfully say you were just performing for what you’ve prepared for.  You might be a farmer, or a teacher or architect or engineer or train engineer, you might be a construction worker or firefighter or banker—work hard, prepare for every situation, and then be a hero.

And you will be filling those very large shoes, filled by a man who loves you so very much and is an amazing role model of selflessness, bravery, and strength.





Dear (Stay Young) Trent & Tyson January 8, 2017

Filed under: My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 9:08 pm
Tags: , ,

Dear Trent & Tyson,

Man, are you guys annoying.  One of you can’t even put on your own shoes yet, and I have to remind you to use the potty or you’ll end up having an accident.  The other one of you insists on having everything cut up before you eat it, as if it’s a terrible thing to pick up a piece of pizza with your hands & take a bite.  Neither of you can get yourselves completely buckled or unbuckled from the car seats, which means I have to weather the elements to do it for you.  And it’s freaking cold right now.

But you know what?  I’m still one of your favorite people, even when I’m the one who put you in time out.  When you wake up in the morning, you are looking for me or Daddy– you’re not checking your phone first thing in the morning to see what Rick or Paul had to say about each other, or to see if Sheila changed her profile picture.  And there is never a point in the day where someone is sending you a cruel, disappearing Snapchat that threatens to change your entire self-worth.  Please, stay young.

Right now, I get to completely protect you.  If we go to a playground and there’s a bully, we can leave.  But someday you’ll be in school, surrounded by all sorts of people who might be plain mean, fighting through some of their own personal battles, or even just misunderstood.  And when those kids make you second guess your worth or hurt your feelings, I won’t be able to swoop in, grab you around the waist, and escape to the car– partly because you’ll both probably be taller than me & it wouldn’t be physically possible.   So instead, please stay young.

I don’t like putting on shoes & buckling seatbelts.  But I promise to put on your shoes, buckle you in, & even wipe your butt forever & ever if only I could get the two of you to make some promises to me.

I wish I could make you promise never to even start a Facebook or Snapchat or whatever other social media of the future will be; awfully ironic as I type this, don’t you think?  I ask you to promise me to remember who you are– you are both very wanted & very loved children, surrounded by people who love you for exactly who you are and for the goals you are reaching.  Promise me you will never let anyone put a doubt in your mind that you might not be good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough.  Promise me that when kids are cruel, you two will be able to look beyond the moment & recognize the real truths.  Promise me you’ll find friends who build each other up & support each other, not “friends” who will manipulate or insist that they always be #1 even with a cost of tearing you down.  Promise me that even though there will come a day when you won’t come from your bedroom in the morning to climb in my lap, you might still wake up looking forward to starting your day with my encouragement (note to self: be more encouraging).

Maybe you can’t make these promises, because growing up is just tough.  (Which at least means that someday I won’t be wiping butts!)  So I will go ahead and warn you that I’m going to need a lot of help learning when to offer advice and when to stay silent, when to reach out with a hug and when to give space, when to try to make a new rule and when to let the two of you keep growing up.  My job will be to make sure you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are loved.  And sometimes I’ll mess up & approach such a basic fundamental all wrong.  It would all be easier for you to just stay young.

The reminders are frequent, which I’m thankful for: reminders to cuddle with you on my lap.  Steal kisses in public.  Hold hands even when you’re already safe.  It sucks to realize that I can’t keep you young, I can’t protect you forever, and I can’t promise to stop all the words & actions of others that will burn you in the future.  So what can I do?

I can spend every day openly loving you, and be thankful for these years of young innocence– even while I’m wiping butts & buckling seatbelts.

Love you forever & ever, BOTH of you,





Dear Trent & Tyson (on Veterans Day) November 10, 2016

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 9:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

Dear Trent and Tyson,

Tonight we had a unique opportunity to watch your dad talk to some school-aged kids about Veterans Day and his story of being a soldier.  I was so excited at the idea that this would be the very first time that you guys would see your dad in his Army uniform, so we tagged along.  Before we left the house, Tyson asked “Why are you wearing camouflage?” but the curiosity didn’t really spread from there and the evening was mostly spent with me trying to discretely tell you to sit still and stay quiet (any bets whether that was successful?).

So, you guys aren’t going to bed tonight with any sudden insights into your dad’s past.  You didn’t want to know what any of the patches on his uniform meant.  You didn’t ask why he wears pins on his left chest.  You didn’t wonder which ends of the earth that uniform had taken him, or what memories were made that he’d rather forget but instead play a role in the nights he’s awake while we sleep.

The kids there did get to hear why he joined the Army at the age of 17, although I’m sure they have an extremely limited understanding of 9/11 and its impact.  Maybe one of them will remember that a kid who doesn’t go straight to college from high school can still be on a path to do amazing things, or even end up on a Dean’s List later in life.

My message to you today, to hopefully understand later in life, is that you live a blessed life to have Daddy as your role model.  He is tough on you because respect, discipline, and integrity are important characteristics to learn early in life, but you know just how deeply his love runs for you because he gives it freely– he knows that the two of you are the highest priority in his life.  He will provide everything you need, but also ensure that you take none of it for granted.  You will learn the value of hard work and the pride that comes from completing tasks independently, but you will always have someone to lean on.  He won’t be the one to whine to when you feel like you’re starving or tired or too hot or too cold (you can trust me on that one); he doesn’t have much patience for the complaints of people who are hardly in a difficult situation.  But you will always have someone to undoubtedly turn to when you find yourself struggling.


I don’t know much about raising boys and I’m basically in on-the-job training all day, every day.  But I’m learning from Daddy that the best I can do for you is to support you in all things you feel passionate about, and I’m preparing myself for that day when you two discover what that may be.  And in the case that either or both of you choose the military, and in the case you decide that journey should start at the incredibly young age of 17 and someone is asking for my consent, I’m hoping I can be strong enough to hide any hesitation.  To follow in Dad’s footsteps to serve our country would be a noble and worthy calling.

I look forward to the day when you boys finally do ask questions, learn your father’s history, and start to realize what amazing sacrifice and bravery built this great nation.  I know that someday you’ll look at Daddy’s uniform and feel your heart swell with pride– it’s a humbling feeling to have that personal glimpse into a story of patriotism and selflessness.

I love you boys forever and ever, and am so glad for your Daddy.



Dear (Preschool) Tyson September 6, 2016

Filed under: Family,My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 11:29 am
Tags: , ,

Dear Tyson,

We’ve talked a lot about it, read some books where the main character gets dropped off at school but Mommy always comes back, and reminisced over dropping your big brother off for school.  And you’ve been confident all along, telling me “Miss Donna is very friendly!”  “Mom, you take Trent with you and then I’ll get two suckers so he can have one!” and even “I won’t be scared.”

And just like that, you’re off.  A big boy.

Trent may resemble your daddy a little more than you do, but you have his charm and ability to make people laugh.  I know you’ll be one of the class clowns, and probably not the first one to follow directions.  But you’ll learn so much and easily make friends.

Your teachers are sure to love your stories about farming and putting out fires, and I can’t wait to hear your stories of the projects you complete and songs you learn.  I’m so proud of the boy you’re becoming, because you’re so considerate, smart, and loving.  And I’m extra glad you get to spend a year being near your brother, a chance to step out from his Big Brother shadow but still have the encouragement of knowing he’s nearby.

Good luck on a great first year of preschool, baby boy!  I love you!

Love always,