What to Expect When You’re Expecting … a Calf

September 16, 2014 | 21 comments

I am holding a butter knife in my left hand, thinking I could use it to slice through the expectancy hovering in this kitchen.

My daughter, Lydia, drums her fingers on the breakfast bar, while her neglected oatmeal hardens on the edge of the bowl.

“I’ve got it!” She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose, declaring that she has found the perfect name for the newest member of our family. “Herbert! Yes, that’s it!”

I lower my eyebrows and twist my mouth into a crooked knot. “Herbert? Really?”

He should arrive this week. The bottles have been purchased. The nursery has been lined with straw. And when we get a phone call from a farmer across the county line, we’ll drive along gravel roads to fetch the newest addition to the farm: a newborn calf.

I spread grape jelly on wheat, and while I would prefer a name other than Herbert, I silently thank the good Lord that my daughter has scratched one name off the list of contenders: Sir Loin.

She’s still drumming fingers, staring off into that mystical space where she fetches daydreams. I pick up her spoon and put it between her fingers. “Eat your oatmeal, dear.”

She punctuates the air with her spoon, making it official. She lets the name roll off her tongue one more time: “Herbert. But if it’s a girl? Sherbet.”

For all practical purposes, Lydia will be the surrogate mother of a new calf. She will bottle-feed it, maintain its home, and train it to walk with a halter.

I watch her in the kitchen, while resting my chin on my knuckles. She stirs her oatmeal with one hand, and with the other, she shuffles papers printed off the Internet. She keeps her documents organized in a manila file, which she decorated with a crayon drawing of a calf. This stack of papers is, I think, a sort of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” for a first-time calf mother.

A casual observer might assume that, because she’s a farmer’s daughter, she would know how to care for a calf. But, no. We don’t raise cattle on this farm. So she studies. Watching her, I remember how I did the same thing when my belly was swollen with her, my firstborn. People assumed I knew how to be a mom, because I was a woman. Experienced mothers told me to stop worrying. They said my body would do the work, and that once the baby arrived, I would instinctively know what to do.

But I’ve never felt instinctive about anything in motherhood.

Until it happened, I knew none of it: the labor pains, the contractions, the way your own child’s first cry can make this fresh, beautiful ache in the pit of you. Or how the whole planet stops spinning when a nurse hands you your wrinkled, pruney baby.

Sure, I’d read all the parenting books. But nothing really prepares you for what happens when a miniature human skids onto the scene of your life.

All of it has felt new. The feeding schedules, and how they never worked like the books said they wood. The charting of poop and pee on a chart that the pediatrician sent home. The Spray-n-Washing of her third pair of jammies in a single hour. Those terrifying moments of clipping paper-thin, miniature fingernails. And then came those wobbling steps toward the stairs or the street, when you’re sprinting Flo-Jo style to catch them. Or every child’s penchant for playing hide-and-seek inside those circular clothing racks in stores, and your heart races when you CAN’T. FIND. THEM. ANYWHERE.

And it doesn’t end. Much of motherhood has struck me, all at once, as scary and invigorating. Motherhood is a ride down hill without training wheels. It’s “Look-no-hands!” It’s a child’s first step up into a giant yellow school bus. It’s a trip through the surgery door, and it’s a box of Band-aids. It’s your own silly songs, and it’s that child’s wet cheek pressed into your shoulder at Grandpa’s funeral.

There’s no book for any of that.*

I’m thinking of the truth about these things as I watch her, this daughter of mine, falling in love with another living creature that isn’t even born yet. Being a mom, it’s risky. Nothing is quite what you’ve planned.

But quite often, it’s a whole lot more than you dreamed.

Just then, Lydia’s dad pokes his head in the kitchen door with the news. Herbert has been born. And, surprise: so has Sherbet.

Turns out, we’re having twins.

We’ll buy another bottle, and tomorrow morning, we’ll bring those babies home.

P.S. – This post was written for The High Calling several years ago, but I’m sharing it with you for the #TellHisStory series this week because, well, it’s a story I really like, and I’ve never shared it with you here. 🙂 Plus, if you’ve read Love Idol, you’ve met Sherbet and Herbert. This is their back story. 🙂

by | September 16, 2014 | 21 comments


  1. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    ‘Herbert’ and ‘Sherbet’. That just makes me smile 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Me too. But not Sir Loin. 🙂

  2. s.rae


    no link up today? or am i early?

    • dukeslee

      It goes live at midnight CT. Were you able to get yours linked?

      • s.rae

        yes’m. i was just early. 🙂 hope you’re having a fab day, love!

  3. Jolene Underwood

    “Motherhood is a ride down hill without training wheels.” Oh Jennifer that made me laugh. So good and so true! Every day requires His grace and tender guidance. Every day means listening as he leads. I’m picturing Jesus with me as I run downhill after that crazy child who has escaped – again. He is calm and I am frantic. Sigh…thankful.

  4. Dawn

    I love how you weave the real life living with yoru girls into the lessons you share that touch our hearts, Jennifer. I was thinking of your book as I was reading the post today and the words you scribed in love with the stories of expectancy and I realized how nice it is to have someone who ‘gets’ the same things and it helps me to feel connected. Thanks for writing and for living through your words.

  5. JViola79

    Motherhood – nothing can prepare us. Truly! But it is the wild ride I would not have ever wanted to miss. God knew what I needed for Him to change me! Beautiful post!

  6. sheila @ LongingsEnd.com

    Loved the tail (sp!) of Herbert and Sherbert, Jennifer 🙂 And the line about how the whole planet stops spinning when you hold your baby for the first time. So true. Thanks.

  7. June

    I can only relate to 1/2 of your story, having never been a mother, but we did have plenty of births on our family farm when I was growing up. I love how you sit, watching your daughter, delighting in all the memories and experiences. What a gift!

  8. Lisa notes...

    Personally, I love Sir Loin. 🙂

    Motherhood as both scary and invigorating. Yes! I read a lot of parenting books before and after having kids, and while they did help, there’s nothing like experiencing the real thing.

  9. Maria Angelique

    Oh my, if the words you wrote are so beautiful and endearing, but the photos and your girls smile says it all. I love how she studied to be a good calf momma. 🙂

  10. Elizabeth Stewart

    I love this story of your girl and Herbert and Sherbert! Beautiful slice of your life.

  11. Katie Reid

    Oh how you choreograph words into a smooth waltz, drawing the audience in and putting us at ease

    • Pat Baer

      Well put Katie, I wholeheartedly agree.

  12. Kim

    As a mom AND as a 4-H mom and leader, this post hits close to home for me. Thanks for sharing it again, Jennifer, and for the opportunity to link up.

  13. Abby

    Oh, how this made me smile today. What’s wrong with Sir Loin? Lol. Too funny. Yes, I’ve had many of those “Look! No hands!” moments lately. So grateful that God’s hand is steady, even when mine isn’t. Thank you for sharing this. Just lovely.

  14. Pat Baer

    Thanks for a walk down memory lane of youthful summers spent on a farm. Very sweet!

  15. Michelle Anderson

    Such a sweet story of motherhood. It is like flying downhill with no hands and no training wheels and I never knew it would keep being this way long into their adulthood!

  16. Jennifer Camp

    Oh, that photo of your sweet girl and her calf! This is one of the best parts of writing–and reading each other’s stories–the capturing of moments we don’t ever want to forget. Thank you, Jennifer.



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