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Live it!: Stay-at-home moms and their changing role

Jenessa Huston embraces her daughter, Meridith. Jenessa stays home with her two children while her husband, Patrick, tends to their sprawling ranch near DeGraff. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett 1 / 5
Jenessa will often take Meridith to visit with their horses on the way to feeding their cattle. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett2 / 5
Meridith is most content outdoors with her mom. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett3 / 5
During an afternoon walk near their barn, Meridith takes a moment to smell a dandelion. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett4 / 5
Jenessa uses a smoker to prepare marinated beef to make jerky, one of Patrick's faves. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett5 / 5

Most nights by 10 p.m., Jenessa Huston struggles to keep her eyes open as the bed envelops her. If she quickly drifts off, she should get two solid hours of sleep before, Eli, all of 3 months, stirs for his first of three nocturnal feedings.

He’s a contented soul, mom says, a box of giggles and spit. Contrary to his elder sister, Meridith, at the same age, he’s a sound sleeper, as untroubled in the baby seat of the family SUV as he is in mom’s embrace. But he also loves his milk and every few hours his subtle whimpers snap Jenessa from her slumber.

On those sparse nights Jenessa can’t sleep, she gets pensive. When she first met her husband, Patrick, some five years ago, she never considered she’d be a stay-at-home mother of two by the age of 23. Sometimes, she’ll cast thoughts the way of her friends, some fresh out of college and navigating the early stages of careers and relationships.

The thoughts aren’t grim or distressing, she asserts. Quite the contrary: They help keep her balanced. Being a mom fills her with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. It’s her passion.

“But still,” she says, “… it’s normal to wonder what if, right?”

Recently, she awoke around 2 a.m. to an empty bed. It took a moment to determine if Patrick had yet to make it home from work or had simply woken early. Turns out it was the former.

Patrick is from a line of ranchers and was raised on the philosophy that hard work pays. Of late, he’s been in the fields, at times, upward of 16 hours a day, planting corn, soybeans and wheat. It leaves little time for family, so each noon hour Jenessa and the children venture to town to meet him for lunch. There, they relish a brief flirtation with normalcy, an occasion for Patrick to play dad. And then the moment passes.

“He’s one in a million,” Jenessa says of her beau, her deep brown eyes large with conviction. “But I guess for us to have this life, we have to make some pretty big sacrifices.”

Making a life

The Hustons live in an airy and expansive remodeled farmhouse. Rustic touches trendy in the nation’s southwest are throughout: Rich wooden beams stretch across the ceiling; ceramic tile extends like an artery from the foyer through the kitchen; a fireplace of natural stone and mortar is lined with snippets of an engagement, a wedding.

A grove shields the exterior of the home from howling prairie winds and the dense dust of a nearby gravel-pitted thoroughfare.

A jaunt west leads to a horse barn and a neighboring brick rambler the in-laws call home. In fact, the sprawling 1,400-acre ranch southwest of DeGraff and a skip from Benson remains home to two generations of Huston men and their families. It’s also the only haunt Patrick has known.

Jenessa grew up an hour north of Minneapolis in Cambridge, a railroad town of 8,000-plus and one notable for its Swedish ancestry.

But she long felt the call of farm life, tracing it back to a trip to rural South Dakota. When her family moved to the Swift County hamlet of Holloway in her late teens, Jenessa took it as a sign.

She turned her hand to farming soon thereafter and began work at the Web Livestock Exchange in Benson, later meeting Patrick there through a mutual friend. They shared some nervous banter, each often on the cusp of asking the other out. Eventually, they exchanged phone numbers.

Their first date? Let’s just say it began with 70 bulls and concluded with 70 steers.

“How could it not be love at first sight?” Jenessa deadpans.


Beyond the driveway to the home is an old barn of speckled white and a lush meadow where dandelions freely sprout. At 2, Meridith is of an age where colors fascinate and the green and yellow palette catches her eye as she squeezes her mother’s hand.

They spend many an hour outside.

Some days they venture to the barn and livestock pens, dropping in to feed rows of cattle, some new to the ranch, some bound for auction. Jenessa and the children also often accompany Patrick to the Monday auctions at Web Livestock Exchange, but the happenings do little of late to hold the attention of a curious little girl who seems to draw peace from a spot on the front deck, gazing at and playing with a swelling legion of kittens patrolling the land.

“She’s in her element outside,” Jenessa says. “Just like her dad. Sometimes, when Patrick’s not working, we can sit for hours around a fire and just listen to the sounds of the ranch, the cattle. It can be amazing out here at night.”

It’s for them

Meridith begins to slow down as the late-afternoon sun gives way to evening clouds. She sits by a rocking horse in the living room, her foot gently bouncing off the base, and is glued to a cartoon on the large television.

Jenessa is in the kitchen, an earshot from her daughter, marinating beef to make jerky. She enjoys the space and hints at a fondness for baking, particularly cookies.

She reminisces about working on the ranch through the early stages of pregnancy. She savors the role of homemaker but her face lights up at the notion of again working at Patrick’s side when the children are older.

Her moment is interrupted when Eli stirs from his afternoon nap, itching for a feeding.

Mom scoops son from a Pack ‘n Play bassinet and covers him with a warm blanket.

She gently cradles him, her eyes fixated on his.

Meridith, seemingly jolted by a second wind, mounts the horse and begins to giggle and coo as she rocks wildly, her antics not lost on her smiling mom.

Jenessa doesn’t expect Patrick home for dinner.

The day was void of their regular lunch date, and husband and wife hadn’t seen one another until mid-afternoon when Jenessa and the kids ran a sandwich out to him during a brief hiatus from the fields.

“I wish I saw him more,” Jenessa says. “I know we’re the most important people in his life. I get that. … I just know we can’t be the most important thing at times. That makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean we’re blessed. I know this. To have a successful business, our home, all of this: I know how lucky we are. But the cattle, the land … it’s everything we have. It can get hard. But I guess it’s what we have to do to leave them (the children) something. It’s all for them.”

She sits up and pulls Eli ever closer to her skin, kissing his forehead. Soon, she’ll get the children bathed and ready for bed, one more day passing in the wind.

Dan Burdett it the lead writer for Live it! Magazine and can be reached at 320-214-4338 or at Follow Dan on Twitter @danburdett1.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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