Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A real-life cowboy and a self-proclaimed “city girl” fall in love. She leaves the bright lights of the big city behind for a new life in the country, and they live happily ever after. But perhaps what’s left out of the story are the challenges they will face as they fuse together their immensely different backgrounds to create this “happily ever after.”

To say the adjustment has been difficult for me would be an understatement. It hurts to admit that I often wonder if I “belong” here.

Photo Credit: Jenny Lee Lorenz, Jenny Lee’s Photography

My rancher and I just recently celebrated our second anniversary in November, and I’ve been on the ranch for about two-and-a-half years. Our love story is fun (and my favorite, of course), but not unique in the ranching world. I am not the first, nor the last “city girl,” to leave the bright lights behind for the star-filled, country night sky, trading in her heels for work gloves, muddy boots, and cow sh… well, you know

You see, I’m a “city girl” at heart. A “town kid” as my husband would say.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a “big city” girl (think LA, NYC) by any means, but I was enjoying the perks of a more urban lifestyle – living in Billings, Montana, before making the move to the ranch.  Indulging in martinis with my bestie for girl’s nights out, attending a variety of social events, and enjoying abundant shopping opportunities and amazing restaurants to satisfy my inner foodie.

My life is so much different now. Girl’s nights have been replaced with date nights in the calving shed…and oddly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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Farming and ranching are a highly-romanticized lifestyle, and have recently become incredibly trendy – think urban backyard chickens and farmhouse décor.  Overscheduled, overworked, and overtired urbanites are pining for a “simpler life,” when in reality, modern-day farmers and ranchers are just as stretched thin.

Ranching is more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle. For my husband, it runs through his veins – and he is a “lifer” (his words). I am in awe daily of his work ethic. His job is 24/7, 365 – and time off is sparse.

Nonetheless, I wasn’t prepared for this.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time feeling sorry for myself and frustrated when plans fall through as they often do because a tractor broke down, or it’s the middle of spring (calving season) and I’m crawling into bed alone for week three, and counting, while he sleeps in a shed near the corral to check on our laboring “first-time moms.”

There are times when I find myself eating supper alone in the summertime when my daughter is out of state at her dad’s house, and my husband is wrapping up a 14-hour-day out in the hayfield. Or, I turn down our third summer barbeque invite or show up to another wedding without my designated “plus one.”

In addition to the steep learning curve faced by a greenhorn ranch wife, which causes me to question my legitimacy and place in our operation, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the incredible sense of inadequacy I feel on a daily basis.  I promise, I am not an inherently negative person, so let me explain.

It’s true that almost always we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. I, like most women, feel so much pressure as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and employee. I wouldn’t say that it is pressure to be perfect, but more so, pressure trying to keep all of those balls in the air and not let something important fall.

I know, I’m preaching to the choir, right ladies?

The dishes and laundry are piled up (I’m a bad housekeeper). I haven’t texted my friends back (I’m a bad friend). Work deadlines loom, and I feel so far behind (I’m a bad employee). Sound familiar?

We need to work cows and the kiddo needs to get to swim practice in town… 30 miles away (bad wife, bad ranch hand AND bad mom). I forgot to call my mother back (bad daughter) and haven’t cooked in what feels like a month; in reality, it’s just a few days – I hope. Oh yes, and I should probably take a shower – that’s important! Will I ever get it together? Thanks, anxiety.

In spite of the laundry list of “bad at everything”, I was reassured by a conversation with two friends, neighbors and fellow ranch wives recently at a community get-together. Two amazing, hard-working women who I look up to immensely, as they’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have.

“So, how are you liking the ranch life?” one asked. I sighed and said to her, “I feel like the biggest failure on the planet.” She chuckled and nodded. 

“Well if you don’t feel like a failure, you aren’t trying hard enough!” They lamented that it was hard for them as well, and the weight is oftentimes heavy.

The silver lining in the craziness of it all, is that the busyness takes the edge off of the loneliness that ranch wives often feel.

My husband has admitted to me that his dream was to work side-by-side with his wife. I suppose he gets pretty lonely out there, too.  The reality for us (and many other farm and ranch families) is that the wife has to work a job in town to pay bills, carry health insurance, and make ends meet. There are times where he needs me in which I can’t be there and it kills me, every time.  Sometimes I worry he thinks I’m just looking for ways to get out of helping.

Luckily for us, I have an incredibly flexible job – so it doesn’t happen too often; however, I feel like I can’t give the ranch 110 percent like he does, which hurts my heart and makes me feel “less than” and question my worth here, and wonder if he would have been better off snagging someone else.  A woman that already knows how to do the things I am slowly learning, a woman that has more time, a woman with more grit.

  Despite these wretched feelings, when I take a step back and remove myself from the “pit of despair” that anxiety often throws us into, a different picture emerges.

I am incredibly proud to say I can now drive a tractor and pull a rake in the hayfield (admittedly my corners need some work). I help move pairs (mamas and babies) and bring in bulls on the four-wheeler (we don’t have horses on our operation – just the steel ones). I can also fix fence (although I’m not very good at it). I suppose I need more practice, and rougher hands.

I’ve observed heifers (first-time mothers) giving birth in the pasture, waiting in the wings with my husband to rush to their side and pull the “bag” off of baby’s head so it doesn’t suffocate. Sometimes the first-time mamas are a little slow on the uptake. They’re learning too.

I’ve helped “pull” distressed calves from struggling mamas who could die without assistance (granted, at this point I haven’t graduated from holding the tail to the side), and felt my heart shatter as the calf comes out lifeless, and mama tries so hard to rouse her baby. Conversely, I’ve felt the joy of a squirmy, slimy baby make it shakily to their feet and take their first steps after being pulled, and knowing that two lives, both cow and calf had been saved.

I’ve rode with babies in the back of the pickup as we try to reunite them with mama, or in some cases, swoop in and save them from a being killed by their mama who is “hot” from a painful birth or who is, unfortunately, a bad mom. Those girls, I learned, “go down the road.”

I also realized how quickly I (and my 66-year-old father-in-law) can move when a high-headed bull broke through a weak point in our corrals as we were trying to load them into the stock trailer. I don’t even remember doing it, but it turns out I can climb up the side of a slippery aluminum stock trailer in less than three seconds. We named that bull “Taco”, and he ended up on center stage at the taco bar at our wedding reception.

All of these things we have done, together.

I have so much left to learn, but the lessons I have been taught thus far have been life-changing, and fuel for this “city girl’s” soul. When my insecurities and anxiety get the best of me and I proclaim I feel like I don’t “belong” here, my husband puts his hands on my shoulders, looks me in the eye and without an ounce of hesitation proclaims, “Yes, you do.”

In those moments, I remember the day I said “I do,” and it strikes me that those two words mean so much more than I ever imagined. And you know, maybe beneath the “city girl” glitz I do have the grit – because I’m not going anywhere.

By: Candice E. Schlautmann

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