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,


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,



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 (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,



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

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