The Pleasant Farm

Life & Family

Dear (Five-Year-Old) Tyson May 22, 2018

Filed under: Family,My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 7:35 pm
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Dear (Five-Year-Old) Tyson,

This is what happened. I had told your brother to keep his cup at the table because I didn’t want a spill in my living room. So when I saw him by the couch and reminded him of the rule again, and 5 seconds later I heard the spilling noise, I wasn’t feeling very patient or understanding. After I told him in some less-than-loving way that THIS IS WHY I SAID TO KEEP IT ON THE TABLE (don’t pretend you would’ve been loving!), he moped off to his room and you followed him.

I went about my business cleaning the mess and doing some dishes, which is where I was when I heard you come back down the hallway. You stomped angrily right up to me, exuding the dominance and power of a giant, with your chest puffed out and elbows back. Your face was the epitome of what we’ve come to call your “f-u face” because you convey all of your current feelings in that expression, quite appropriately. There were even a couple snarls, as I looked at you with my own “go ahead and try me” expression, and you went back to comfort your brother.

This is who you are. Force, strength, and intensity who also fiercely loves and defends.

As I looked back at your other birthday letters, it was clear you have been Tyson all along. When you turned one, I said “You’re going to keep growing at a lightning speed and I’ll be right there with you, trying to fix the boo-boos, and forcing myself to give you the independence to wander and discover.” The Good Lord knew then that I had no idea what the extent of boo-boos would be even by the 5th birthday, and who knows what is still to come! (Don’t think about it…) When you turned two, I said “You’ve earned the nickname Stinker, but I wouldn’t trade your ornery-ness for the world.” Still so true! At your third birthday, I wrote a list of words that describe you and the list included ornery, funny, snuggly, and playful. I went on to say “You are feisty and sweet. You are handsome and strong.” And just last year, emulating much of the same, I wrote “you are ornery and feisty, and you have a way of making people laugh.” All the people who know and love you are nodding along at all the years of personality traits and agreeing that you really haven’t changed.

The best way I have found to describe you is to say you are 100%. When you are mad, you are 100% mad (see above example). When you are feeling goofy, it is all the way goofy. When you’re done being cooperative and patient, you are 100% done.  And when you are feeling sweet, cuddly, and loving, you take it all the way to 100% still.

Last night we watched you graduate from preschool. We’ve already sat in your classroom for kindergarten, and you’ve been watching what will soon be your bus for the last 9 months. You were the only kid in your preschool class (I think) who won the Listening Award 3 times, and it is somewhat mind-boggling to your dad and I that our spit-and-vinegar kid is the example of a star student. You must have kept all your energy for when you got home!


New to the last year is your infatuation with all things Army and soldier. You love dressing up, building forts, and having shoot-outs with Dad… especially when he gets all dressed up in his uniform too. You still love going to the farm, getting as dirty as possible, and being anywhere where your brother might be. You love playing with Legos, but would rather put blocks together to create something completely unique and leave the intricate directions to Trent to figure out.

But for all the energy, all the crazy, and all the ornery, holy cow are you one sweet kid. When you are ready to cuddle, you are the best at it. You still love being wrapped up in your Paw Patrol blanket and find your frog lovie before bed. And no matter how big you get, or how big your attitude is at any given moment, I always look forward to feeling the weight of you on my lap, my nose in your hair, and the bits of skin that slip out from your blanket because chances are that if you’re not in an Army uniform, you’re as naked as you know you can get away with. And I love every single thing about you, even during the times you’re snarling at me.

We are beyond blessed that you completed our family, and your brother is lucky to always have you to defend him. For as long as I am your mama and your daddy is your hero, our baby you’ll be.  Happy 5th Birthday Tyson Steven!
Love forever and ever,


One Year March 16, 2018

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 7:02 am
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She never won a Grammy or became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but whenever I hear a song by Jessica Andrews, I think of a family vacation to North Carolina and remember the long car ride through mountains.  “I’ll take your heart before you know it’s gone” came from my trusty Discman on repeat.

When I see a snippet from a University of Illinois football game, it takes me immediately back to the stands of the Marching Illini—where I remember being the hottest ever, the coldest ever, and screaming for my team (although I had to learn how the game was played before I could really cheer).  Umgawa!

Every now and then, I catch a scent that reminds me of my very own My Little Pony with the scratch-and-sniff butt, circa 1989.

For someone with a terrible memory, I’m taken by surprise when a tiny catalyst can take me to another place at another time, and hijack my emotions.


Now, every time I drive over Silver Lake, my memory spins a movie-like reel through my head of that one morning.  Crisp, crystal-clear memories that are unusual for someone who can’t remember to put milk on the shopping list or sign the homework sheet each night.

One year.

We’re familiar with all the ways to measure it: 524,600 minutes if we’re singing along to “Rent”, 12 months as we flip the calendar, 365 days.

One year ago in the early morning, I had the strangest phone call.  Strange, because I never slept with my ringer on BUT I did that night, awaiting any news of a friend anticipating labor at any point.  Strange, because the phone rang with an unknown number and I don’t answer those, BUT I did this time.  Strange, because I couldn’t get my sleepy brain to function fast enough to store the information and ask appropriate questions.  I heard something about a baby, and something along the lines of “Turn on the news, all the helicopters are covering it.”

So I hung up and did what Ty said, and turned on the TV.  And as I followed the little bits shared by the reporters, and as my brain woke up and tried to piece things together, I had to text Ty.

“Todd is okay, right?”  Because now I’m thinking… wait.  Todd did WHAT?!?


“Are they sending the baby over to StL?”  And now I’m thinking like a paramedic.  Because obviously Todd is fine, he’s a freaking machine.  But what about that baby?

“Rescue Flight flew them.”

“Sweet.  Hopefully promising?”

“I think he will be fine.”

“Was he mad you told me?”  If you know Todd very well, you know he hates people paying attention to him or worrying about him.  So I was figuring Ty was going to be in a world of trouble for bugging the wife about nonsense.


“Well good :-)” Big breath.

“I also wasn’t going to give him a choice.”  And that right there has changed the way I will forever rate Todd’s partners: who will call me when I need a phone call?  Who will call even if Todd says not to call the wife?  Who will call me even if Todd is okay but maybe something has happened that maybe, just maybe, I should hear about sooner than later?

“So to clarify…. The water wasn’t too deep?  He was able to touch and wasn’t putting himself in a dangerous position?”  The brain is waking up more and more.  All of a sudden, I’m imagining the scene and wondering exactly how everything went down: the depth of the water, the cold of the environment, the distance of the car from the bank, all the risks that were taken.  Of course the life saved matters a lot, but at what cost?

“He was able to stand in water.  It was an SUV that we could see top 2 feet of.  And myself, Heather, and Clewis were ready to act if needed.”  Another measure of all of Todd’s future coworkers: who is going to act fast, put themselves at risk, and save him if an unusual and unfortunate situation occurs?  What if he isn’t, in fact, a machine? (Although I now know Ty gave me the G-rated version, because yes, he could stand… but he did more swimming to be fast.)

“That baby is alive right now because of Todd!”  Wow.

“Did you hug him for me?  I requested that you know.”

“I did a few times.”

Of all the text conversations that get deleted from my phone with some regularity, I haven’t deleted this one.

It’s been a year.  But we are still hearing stories of “how I heard it was Todd” and “where I was when I saw the news story.”  A crazy story that seemed more fitting as a made-for-TV movie turned into a horrifyingly true reality for a family of strangers from Glen Carbon: with a miraculous, improbable silver lining thanks to that guy we all know.

I don’t know that family’s story.  I can’t imagine how the past year has been for them, the sadness and hardships too heavy and dark to willingly put myself into their shoes.

I know my family’s story.  I’ve seen a hero repeatedly relive his thought process from that morning, possibly recognizing the risks with new clarity but always coming to the same conclusion to swim: suck it up.  I’ve seen him question how other responders would have reacted, and told him 100 times that I’m not jumping into any freezing lakes to check out a vehicle that may or may not be occupied—I’m not strong enough to pull that off.  I’ve seen two boys play “Silver Lake” in the utility sink, with the difference being that their game includes a boat.  And there hasn’t been a trip across the Silver Lake bridge without feeling my gaze shift and thinking “There.”

He’s a hometown hero who had been chasing a bigger dream for years, taking him from the St. Louis County Fire Academy in 2016 to accepting a job in the County nearly a year later—not because his face was on the news or his rescue was extraordinary, but because his quest to follow his dreams motivated him to be one of the best candidates for a position as a firefighter/paramedic.  But for our community that loves a hero, he’s still the guy volunteering hundreds of hours with Highland-Pierron Fire Department.  He’s still the one installing smoke detectors, putting up reflective address signs, and showing up first to an emergency.  He drops his son off at preschool, spends too much time at the Rural King, and meets past coworkers for breakfast at 9th Street Café—because life really hasn’t changed.

A year.  So many changes, so much the same.  The same guy, with the same heart, keeping up the same high standard for every call he responds to.  The same little boys, who would look at their dad as if he was a superhero regardless of any risk-taking, life-saving proof documented by newspapers, People magazine, or any plaques on the wall.  The same wife, except I always sleep with my ringer on when Todd is at work, and I have each of his coworkers’ contacts in my phone so I will know exactly who is calling.

And I will always think of that one day when I drive over Silver Lake.




Dear Trent & Tyson (End of 2017) December 24, 2017

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 10:39 pm
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Dear Trent & Tyson,
Holy moly, what a year!  Your dad proved to be a real-life hero, we had our first family vacation, Trent started kindergarten, and about a thousand things in between.
I should start by warning that you that this is your 3rd book like this, and the first time that I ran out of space.  I was forced to push all of Christmas into just a few pages, which was a terrible time for me.  You each had a school program, had a fantastic program at Sunday School, then Christmas with both families all before Santa even came.  So when you wonder what types of things get kicked out when Mom has too many pictures, I can promise you that I take way too many pictures of the two of you sleeping. (Swoon!)

We don’t have a perfect life.  Sometimes you guys don’t listen the best and sometimes I yell for no reason.  There’s spills, running late, brothers fighting, and either mom or dad being crabby from not getting enough sleep at work (and sometimes both of us at the same time).  But part of what I hope these books show you is how many wonderful times we have together, even though they aren’t all perfect.  Even on the most mundane of days, I will catch a picture of you two being so sweet together or remember how blessed we are to have each other.


Trent, you amaze me with your kindness, bravery, and smarts.  Transitioning to kindergarten was nothing for you because of all those things.  You’re such a great kid, and you’re also so funny.  Your smile lights up the lives of so many and your willingness to give hugs to those you care about can change someone’s entire day.  I love to watch you grow!

Tyson, I call you my stinker but I say it with love. There is no one on this earth with the charisma and personality of you, and while it is sometimes hard to get a picture without a goofy smile, you are so lovable! I’m soaking up these last days of having you home before you join brother at grade school, and while sometimes that means you get drug all over the place, it also means a lot of time with just the two of us that we’ve never really had before. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

We are so blessed to look back at an entire year of health (I think Tyson only had 2 ER visits!), growth, happiness, and love. Daddy and I are thankful every day for our perfect family of 4, even through the not-so-perfect moments that make us normal. I can’t imagine a year being more memorable than 2017 was for our family, but I look forward to finding out with you!
I love you forever and ever, and evermore,



Urban Bourbon Half-Marathon October 21, 2017

Ahhhh, Louisville! I’ve had more than a couple amazing trips there, sometimes with friends and once with just Todd, sometimes passing through and sometimes to stay. This trip was different than any of the others.

This time I had ALL three of my sisters, three brother-in-laws, and a 13.1 mile race. For the first time ever.

Everyone likes to rub it in that I’ve always said I’d “never” run a half-marathon, and while that is completely factual, at least giving in on running a stupid-long race with sisters and a friend in one of my favorite places in the country which would end with a party serving free bourbon is way better than reneging on something like never doing drugs.

This has involved a lot of firsts. First time following a training schedule, first time watching pace like a hawk while training, first time dealing with crazy feet pain, first time skipping a nightcap with a long run scheduled for the next morning, and then the obvious first time running a half-marathon. And while it seems like a stretch to say it was fun, the race part went well and the rest really was fun!

I’m pretty sure this whole idea started with an article in Runner’s World about which races have the best post-race parties, with the Urban Bourbon Half-Marathon being rated to be one of the best. The band was great (if only we’d snagged picture of the lead singer trying to engage Kevin…), but the crazy long lines for pizza, bourbon samples, and beer put a damper on the fact that those things were all delicious and kind of free.

So here I sit, resting my poor feet on water bottles of ice, completely grateful for the experience.  I’m grateful for Jenny, Jackie, and Lindsey for giving me the push to do this and for all the miles we’ve logged together even before today.  I’m grateful for Julie who carried around a ton of our stuff, made encouraging signs, and followed us around on the course to cheer (and dragging along the brothers-in-law, ha!).  I’m grateful for Todd who gave me many Saturday mornings free of kids to run.  And I’m grateful for all those running friends who said “Ehhhh no biggie, you’ll rock that!”  We had the BEST running weather, a great race, yummy bourbon, and memories to last a lifetime!  Peace out, Louisville!


Dear (6-Year-Old) Trent September 9, 2017

Filed under: Family,My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 9:00 am
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Dear Trent,

Farmers all around us have been busy chopping corn silage. And seeing those fields will always make me think of you.

We’d had a few busy days of chopping corn silage when my water broke six years ago, followed not too far behind by contractions.  It took 20 hours from the gush for you to be in my arms, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.  Kinda funny now that you’re such a farm boy, as if it’s literally in your blood.

From the day you were born, you’ve been teaching us.  You taught us how to not listen too closely to a newborn baby sleep, or we’d never sleep.  You taught us how lifesaving a lovey can be, and importance of having a backup one in hiding.  You taught your dad and I how to divide and conquer between doing the things we need to do, doing the things we want to do, and keeping our family a priority.  You taught us how to trust a small boy to make good decisions and be independent when we welcomed your brother before you were two years old.  You taught us how easy potty training can be, followed by Tyson taking us down the hard road.  You taught us not to be sad when you went to school  because you were having an awesome time, how to leave you overnight with grandmas so me & Daddy can cover our shifts, and how to pick between the things that matter (not running into traffic) and the things that don’t (covered in mud…again).

Your smile can light up a room.  Your eagerness to help and be polite is endearing.  In the last year, you’ve learned piano, t-ball, soccer, real swim strokes, and how to smile on command for a picture.  You’ve worn a tie for the first time, stood next to the Governor, and drove a tractor.  Now you’re my big kindergartener, my fearless bus-rider, my train and tractor-loving All-American boy, my sweetheart, and my SIX-year-old.

I know the next year will be chock-full of more things that you’ll learn.  And I know that there’s so much more for you to teach me & Daddy.  You’re a shining example of kindness, patience, and curiosity and I’m so blessed to call you my son.

Happy 6th Birthday, Trent!

Love forever and ever,



Dear (Preschool Again) Tyson September 6, 2017

Filed under: Family,My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 6:27 pm
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Dear Tyson,

We’ve had a strange few weeks after Trent started kindergarten, days in a row where you were an only child and we saw a different side of Crazy Tyson.  I thought you might bask in the joy of having all of the attention, or that maybe you would spend the days lonesome and sad.  But not really either of those things happened, or maybe it was more of a combination of both.  You’ve certainly been excited when we say it’s time to go pickup Trent from the bus, but otherwise don’t ask about him.  The strangest thing that has happened has been how quiet you’ve become– apparently being with Trent gives you an air of confidence, and without him you do a surprising amount of hiding from people and not wanting to say a thing.

So I can’t really say if you were excited to start preschool again (this year in a class of 4-year-olds), but you haven’t complained when we talk about it.  You happily picked out your supplies when we bought Trent’s, but that was so long ago now that the excitement has since disappeared.  When we went to orientation yesterday, you stood outside the classroom door in the corner, needing coaxing to get inside.  But when we went today for your first real day, you walked in side-by-side with me, picked your name out among the names on the table, and went off to start playing which I took as my cue to leave a quick kiss and run.

I know you’ll have a great year, because you bring fun and energy everywhere you go.  I also know you’ll learn a lot, because you’ve got great teachers (and a big brother who is excited to know everything).  You get to spend a few mornings a week at school like what has seemed like “everyone else” (since most days of Trent being at school are full of questions about where everyone else is, and they’re all also at school), and otherwise spend time at home as an only child.  ‘Til next year.

I’ll remind you to kiss me goodbye before school and be nice to the other kids.  You’ll remind me that this is the last year for late morning snuggles and lunch dates.  Together we’ll tackle each year, with changes being a certainty and the love of our family being constant.


Please keep everyone smiling!  I love you!




Dear (Kindergarten) Trent August 14, 2017

Filed under: My kid's growing up!,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 10:55 pm
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Dear (Kindergarten) Trent,
I’m typically pretty on top of getting things done, known for having birthday cards and gifts bought months ahead of time and being one of the first to have Christmas cards in the mail as soon as it can be considered (somewhat) appropriate.  But when I got the information I needed to start the registration process online for you to start kindergarten, there was no fire under my rear to get it done.
After weeks of partially forgetting and partially thinking I never had the time at the present moment to deal with it, I finally moved it off the To Do list.  But in the middle of all the mundane, blah blah blah questions, they had a box to answer the question: Please describe your child.

I’m pretty sure my memory tells me there was a limit to how long I could have gone on to describe you.  While I expect they were looking for things like “Might have trouble seeing/hearing” or “Can’t be separated from Mom without bawling” or “Has a penchant for lighting fires”, I wrote an incredibly abbreviated version of things I wanted them to know and then ended it with short sentence to sum it up: No special needs.  That last line was probably the only part that didn’t generate an eye roll.

There are so many adjectives I could use to describe you, and so much I want your teacher to know… yet I don’t think any of this is what the registration form was necessarily looking for.  I want her to know that you’re so open and loving that it can catch a person off-guard.  With the hundreds (thousands?) of kisses you’ve given me, it’s still sometimes a surprise to get a wet smooch as I’m distracted with getting you buckled in the car.  I want her to know that you’re so sensitive to how other people are feeling, she should be aware that someone else’s bad day or misfortune might throw a wrench in your own day.  I want her to know that you love doing things on your own that you know you can, but that things that seem difficult to you once you get started will sometimes prevent you from continuing to try.  I want her to know that you love picking flowers (or weeds) for your mom, have no problem trodding through ankle-high cow manure, love wrestling with your dad, and don’t hesitate sharing kisses with dogs.  I want her to know you have your future outlined already: work as train engineer, and then help your brother farm on your days off.  I want her to know what it looks like to see you smile proudly when you’ve done well, and recognize the warning signs that you’re getting frustrated with a project or getting worried about someone else’s predicament.  I want her to know that sometimes when you get upset, your eyes will start to tear up but you’ll gladly listen to words of encouragement and understanding, while you scrunch up your mouth and nod along, soaking up the words and keeping the tears from actually falling.  I want her to know that often, you seem years beyond the 5 years and 11/12 months that you’ve been on this earth.  I would describe you as an all-American boy, loving balls and bicycles and running around crazy, all with a heart of gold that gives you the ability to make those around you feel special.

I can’t say how it will feel to “send you off to Kindergarten” although it helps that you have so many false starts that it’s hard to label one day as The One Where He Left Me.  It wasn’t quite tonight, when your daddy took you to drop of school supplies and check out your classroom.  It isn’t quite Wednesday, when we’ll go together for a couple hours of orientation.  It’s kind of maybe Friday, when you’ll meet the bus in the morning for the first time and go to school all day—with only half of the students.  So it’s also kind of the following Monday, when you’ll take the bus to school and have a full day of school with all your peers.  At some point, I might get weepy because it’s most certainly a big step to disappear to school all day.  But it would be silly of me not to think of the exciting door that is really opening up in front of you: learning new things, going new places, meeting the people who will be your friends and the people who will help you grow and even the people who will make you wonder why they go through life making others feel bad.  It’s all a part of childhood; a crazy journey towards who you really are that is hopefully full of more happy times than tough times.  You are so ready to move forward and while I won’t be pushing you out the door, I’m excited to watch you make the jump.

Yes, I’m excited.  I’m ready to watch you grow, volunteer for field trips, and let others realize how truly special of a kid you are.  What I’m scared of is the influence that others might have on you.  I’m scared of the common concerns like bullying, not loving school, or having a hard time fitting in.  I’m scared you might learn how to make others feel bad instead of nurturing your knack for making people feel good.  I’m scared you’ll find reasons to believe I’m holding you back from “all the fun things” instead of being your favorite one to smooch and cuddle.  I’m scared you’ll test what it would be like to try to conform to how other kids act and the things they like, rather than stay strong to who you are regardless of the opinions of others.  I’m scared you’ll decide to keep the tough stuff a secret instead of letting me be a rock for help and advice.

I pray you’ll love school and I pray that I’ll find ways to cope if you don’t.  I pray you will be tough enough to ignore bullies and soft enough to be the one others go to for encouragement.  I pray you will be safe.  I pray you won’t think anything bad about taking a bus and I pray that I’ll get you to the durn stop on time.  I pray you find a love for learning things, even the things that seem tough at first.  I pray you eat at least some of your lunch.  I pray you have the strong foundation from a family who loves you to grow stronger, even amidst people who might want to tear you down just to feel taller.  I pray you never wonder whether or not you’re loved, even when you find yourself in a building bustling with people going every direction and you feel like a tiny, insignificant dot.

Yeah, the box asking me to describe you didn’t have nearly enough room.  Because you, Trent Allen, are one in a million.  You are kind.  You are loving.  You are smart and incredibly aware of how others are feeling.  You are fun to be around and love helping others.  I know you will kick ass in kindergarten because in everything you do, you make us proud.  Congratulations, Kiddo, on another big step in life.  I love you so much!