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Serving: IL
male farmer holding son in field

What’s normal anymore, anyway?

Home Front: How a quarantine trip to the dentist — with a bonus visit to grandchildren — crystallized all that is (and isn’t) normal during these past few months.

A few weeks ago, I started asking folks, “What do you think ‘normal’ is?” Interestingly enough, the most common answer was something like “Hmmm … I don’t remember.” The inability to give an answer probably stems from the length of the quarantine we’ve experienced due to COVID-19.

Students finished the semester electronically with their at-home parents doing the best they could to help. Normal? No. And many parents were balancing that responsibility with handling their own jobs via technology. Normal? Again, no.

As farmers, we had the blessing and the ability to continue to work, planting corn and soybeans as Mother Nature allowed. Our eldest son is a football coach and was working from home and, as he put it, “co-parenting” their four kids. Our middle son is a veterinarian and was considered essential. That meant his wife was supervising their four children as they finished the semester electronically and teaching her own class of fourth graders. Our youngest son is a dentist, and initially, his dental office was closed except for emergencies.

During that time, I had a dental emergency. A tooth split in two about a week before we started planting. It didn’t hurt, but John convinced me we needed to go visit our son so he could take care of it before it was time to plant. After all, it could get worse, and making the trip to Iowa when we could be planting would be beyond annoying. So off we went!

You might think the best thing about heading to the dentist would be the fact that he would begin the process of repairing the damaged tooth. Sure, that was nice, but the best part was actually seeing our son, his wife, and their three kids! None of our 11 grandchildren live in Illinois, but we still manage to spend a significant amount of time with them. Oh yes, and with their parents, too. The pandemic was definitely affecting “normal” in the grandparent category.

After the appointment, we drove to our son’s home for lunch. Kendra couldn’t enjoy the meal, but she loved the company and seeing those three grandkids. They told her lots of stories and gave her lots of hugs — very therapeutic. Then it was back to Illinois. After a recuperation time of about 24 hours, Kendra was ready to go, and within a week, she was on a tractor, cultivating the ground.

Soon after that quick trip to Iowa, I sent a message to a long-distance professional friend, telling her about the day. I mentioned the lunch after my appointment but failed to mention that the dentist was our son. Her response was simply, “That’s not normal! Our dentist never treats us to lunch!”

It made more sense to her when I revealed the all-important connection. Maybe Patsy Clairmont had it right when, years ago, she wrote the book, “Normal Is Just a Setting on Your Dryer.”

John and Kendra Smiley farm near East Lynn, Ill. Email, or visit opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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