Picking Stones

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Yesterday we picked stones.

If you’re from around here — rural southeastern Wisconsin — you probably know what I mean. If not, well, you’re lucky.

Picking stones might sound like a Ms. Frizzle-esque homeschool/learning type field trip, where we all scurry to the rock field for a chance to pick our own rock specimens. And it is. For the first half hour. After that, it’s just plain, back-breaking work.

Picking stones, for the uninitiated, is the highly untechnical yet oh-so-essential act of removing stones from a field. Despite the fact that rock picking machines were invented years ago, they’re still not very efficient. So to prevent damage to farm machines, rocks much be removed — by hand — from the fields.

It’s a job I first did as a kid. My dad bought a farm when I was about six, and I’ll never forget the fun my brothers and I had the first time we went stone picking. I’d always loved rocks, and the fact that there were all these wonderful specimens, just beneath my feet, was amazing!

Then I realized how big the field was, and how many rocks there were. Amazing quickly became overwhelming, then downright tedious. Although, on the bright side, I credit stone picking (and my summers at the canning factory) for my decision to go to college. After experiencing hard physical labor in the sun, I was sure there had to be a better way to make a living.

Well, yesterday, 30-odd years, one bachelor’s degree, two professional careers and four kids later, I picked stones again. (And was quickly thankful that I had, indeed, graduated from college.) My husband raises winter wheat and soybeans on some rented land, and while even he, the consummate farmer, admits that rock picking is horrible, tedious work, it has to be done. It’s simply part of what must be done to bring in a good crop.

Which made me think…Rock picking is a lot like mothering. Motherhood involved A LOT of tedious, back breaking, not-exactly glamourous jobs. And some of them — like changing your newborn’s teeny-weeny diapers — are even cute at first. But after awhile (think three years and about 8000 dirty diapers later), the appeal wears off and it’s work. Essential work, but work all the same.

We want the gorgeous, thriving green crop — happy, well-adjusted, confident children who grow into wonderful, contributing adults. But to get them there, we have to pick some rocks. Sometimes that means saying, “Sit down while you eat!” a million times in the course of one meal; sometimes it means putting your two-year-old in timeout after he throws a tractor at his brother’s head. Sometimes it means doing the really hard of work: looking deep inside and changing our own beliefs and behaviors.

Whatever rocks you must pick, I encourage you to hang in there. It’s tedious, it’s back breaking, but the results are worth it. And hey — at the very least, I guarantee you’ll get stronger.

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