Cowboy dads can keep horses and cattle alive, but can he keep track of kids and maintain the homestead when his ranch wife isn’t there?

ranch kids and horse

“The kids will be fine,” my mom reassured me over the phone. “Your husband is perfectly capable of keeping two children alive for a few weeks.”

“I know he’ll keep them alive,” I replied. “But, will he seat them in the correct order at the dinner table? Will he adjust their bathwater so the temperature is not too hot and not too cold—somewhere precisely between ‘tepid’ and ‘lukewarm?’ Will he make sure they brush their teeth at 7:45 p.m. and are tucked in bed with the thermostat set to 68 degrees, the night-light on and the bedroom door half-open by 8?”

“That depends,” she answered. “Is he taking care of your kids or Goldilocks?”

My cowboy husband, Jim, and I live on a remote cattle ranch in eastern Oregon. I developed complications at the end of my recent pregnancy that made living 95 miles from the nearest small town too dangerous. In order to be closer to a large hospital, I relocated to a city hours away for the final month before our third baby was born.

This meant that Jim was abruptly tasked with taking care of our two older kids while continuing to work full-time as a cowboy. He got up with the coffee pot, then put our 5-year-old daughter, Grace, on the school bus each morning. Then he took our 3-year-old son, Milo, to fix fence, check water tanks, build gates, or do whatever else he could with a miniature assistant who required plenty of snacks and at least one daily nap.

Jim was also in charge of meal prep, so he reverted back to his cow camp cooking philosophy: If it doesn’t fit in a tortilla, we don’t eat it. For variety, he filled the flour tortillas with fried potatoes, spicy ground beef, and Kraft mac ‘n cheese. If anyone complained, he gave them a laxative.

dad with kids riding horses
My husband, Jim, with our children, Milo, 3, and Grace, 5.

One night, the kids sat down at the table, looked at their Whiteboy Burrito Surprise, and cried.

“Daddy, did all the other food die?” asked Grace.

“No, but Mommy took all the other cooking secrets with her,” replied her dad.

“Will she bring the cooking secrets back?”

“Yes. And hopefully she will bring the laundry, mopping, and grocery shopping secrets with her, too.”

Meanwhile, me and my (apparently closely guarded) housekeeping secrets were resting at a friend’s house in the big city. Since I had pregnancy induced hypertension, my job was to monitor my blood pressure daily, go to the doctor twice weekly, and try not to have a stroke. This last part grew easier each night when Jim called to say he had successfully fed, bathed, and put the kids to bed.

“You seem to have everything completely under control. In fact, I think I’ll just continue my bed rest indefinitely when I return home.”

“You say that now,” replied Jim. “But wait till you see the condition of the kitchen floor. I need you. The kids need you. Basic general hygiene needs you.”

After a month-long absence and a safe delivery, I returned home with brand-new baby Levi.

“Welcome home,” said Jim. “I made a few changes since you left. The kids now take showers instead of baths. They watch sci-fi dramas instead of cartoons. Oh, and ‘tortilla’ is now officially classified as a bad word.”

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Author

After growing up in a ranching region of northern California, Jolyn Young moved to Elko, Nevada, in her early 20s to work on a local ranch. While helping some neighbors move cattle one day, she met a tall, partially civilized cowboy named Jim. He told her stories about starting 5-year-olds at the Spanish Ranch and roping horses in Owyhee on the Indian reservation. By the time Jim picked Jolyn up for their first date in a ‘92 single cab Ford, she was smitten. The two were married just before the birth of their first baby. Since then, Jolyn has accompanied Jim on a working tour of several ranches in the American West. So far, they have lived in Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. She is convinced that each time they move, he takes it as a personal challenge to move her farther from town. Jolyn now regards cell phone service as a luxury, and she isn’t afraid to build a fire in the front yard to cook hamburger goulash and a loaf of bread. The life of a cowboy’s wife is always challenging and often isolating, but it is never boring. Finding the humor in the hardships can lessen the struggle, and that is what Jolyn strives to share with others through her writing. She and Jim currently live at Mann Lake Ranch in eastern Oregon with their three kids, Grace, Milo and Levi. They have since upgraded from the ‘92 Ford.

3 Comments

  1. Jiminell Cook Reply

    Sounds like you are missed very much, they can survive but they flourish under your care. Love the Blog, may you have many more to come.

  2. Great read and congratulations to Jim for his great parenting skills developed in your absence. What a blessed family you have Jolyn and I’ll be looking forward to your next blog.

  3. Anna Kimball Reply

    This is amazing! Good work cowboy dad! And good work mama! Bringing home a sweet new baby and all the household secrets 😉

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