What to Expect When You’re Expecting (For All the Mamas Out There)

May 9, 2013 | 10 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, just in time for Mother’s Day. 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? Sherbert.”

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. By July, our girl will lead her calf by a rope around the show-ring of the county fair. She is hoping for a blue ribbon.

I watch her, 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, solely because I was female. 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. Until it happened, I knew none of it: the labor pains, the contractions, the way your own child’s first cry can make your arms ache, or how the whole planet stops spinning when a nurse hands you your baby.

All of it has felt new. Even now. Much of it has struck me, all at once, as scary and invigorating. Yes, motherhood is a ride down a hill without training wheels. It’s “Look-no-hands!” It’s a child’s first step 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 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 Sherbert.

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


(Reposting from the archive. I’m looking forward to spending Mother’s Day with Mama D. this weekend. Thinking of all of you who may feel lonely or sad this weekend, because you can’t be with your moms. Knowing that some of you don’t have your mothers anymore, I don’t take for granted the time I have with my mother.)

by | May 9, 2013 | 10 comments


  1. debyholtschlag

    going through the process of scripturally setting up healthy boundaries with my blood family – and I just want to say – thank you for your words to smile by.

  2. Kim

    I loved reading this again. 4-H projects teach our kids – and their parents – so much about life and living, and yes, sometimes death, too. (I personally like Sir Loin. Who doesn’t love a good play on words?! We had Pork and Beans in the 4-H pig pen once.) Happy Mama’s Day to you, Jennifer! Thank you for the words you share in this space every week. You are a blessing to me!

  3. Lynn Morrissey

    Read it before, and loved it again–even MORE a 2nd time, if that’s possible. Very precious. Love you, Jennifer. Happy Mother’s Day! Give my love to Lydia and Anna!
    Maybe your girls tell you what Sheridan tells me (when SHE wants a gift for Mother’s Day!!): “Without me, you would not be a mother”! =

  4. Laura Rath

    Oh, I love this! And Sir Loin made me laugh!
    So….if this is from the archives, how did Lydia do with Herbert and Sherbert at the county fair?


  5. laura

    You know the joy of this second-time-around? I can so see you resting your chin on your knuckles as you study your girl. I can so hear your voice. Beautiful 😉

  6. Bret Farmer (@B4Farmer)


    I love the way you told this story. I’m not a mother, but I do have 2 boys. Just last night my oldest, who is days away from becoming a teenager, and I were laughing and all of a sudden he belly laughed in a way that instantly transported me back to when he was about a year old. What great memories.

    I hope it’s not inappropriate that a male is commenting on you blog “…for all the Mamas…” A friend sent me your link. I think my wife’s going to love your blog.

    Happy Mother’s Day.

  7. Sandra Heska King

    This story slays me again. Give Mama D a hug from me. xoxo

  8. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    Your daughter has quite a sense of humor. I wonder what Herbet and Sherbet are going to bless their new mom with on Mother’s Day. Yes, dear friend, everything about motherhood was new and strange to me too. To be honest, I was not much more than a child myself! But one thing I will never forget, is that incredible love I felt for my babies even before they were born. I think a mother’s love is the closest to our God’s love that we will ever find on this side of eternity!! Thanks for a great post.
    Blessings and love

  9. Dina N

    “Wilbur!” Reading this reminded me of Charlottes Web and this wonderful slice of life is as precious and delightful as that.

  10. Jillie

    Ah Jennifer, you’ve done it again. Brought laughter to my day! “Sir Loin”? Love it! “Herbert and Sherbert”? Delightful! Have an excellent Mother’s Day, my friend!
    I haven’t had a Mom to celebrate for nigh unto 34 years now. But I celebrate the other significant women in my life who have guided me along life’s path—2 precious Aunties and my best girlfriend’s mother. They took me under their wings when I was a new mother myself–just 2 weeks after my own Mom passed on. They mean the world to me. Thank you, Jennifer, for this wonderful re-post. I’m sure Lydia is an excellent ‘mother’ to all farm animals she takes under HER wing.


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