"Buckle up, Mom," Hunter said as I sat down in a buddy seat next to him in the four-wheel drive tractor in a field.
In my nearly 22 years of being his mom, this was the first experience for us. He was driving a tractor with me as his passenger.
I looked at him and said, "Really, I have to buckle up in your tractor?" He said, "Yes because if you fall out that door, you're splat and we can't have that happen."
Starting with farm safety in the tractor cab, I knew this was going much less nerve-wracking than the first time I was his passenger when he had his new driver's permit and was behind the wheel of my car.
Our son, Hunter, age 21, recently completed his third year at the University of North Dakota and is majoring in mechanical engineering. Last summer, he did an internship with an architectural and engineering firm. The experience and work helped direct him to change his major from civil to mechanical engineering. He also is a tight end on the UND football team. With his summer weight lifting and workouts, he stays close to UND. My husband Nathan and I assumed he would find another internship in Grand Forks for the summer to gain some mechanical engineering experience. But instead, he talked to my parents about working on their farm, 60 miles from Grand Forks. Hunter talked to Nathan and me about it, saying he felt like this was his one summer of his life where he knows he can learn farming alongside his grandpa.
If you're connected to and from a family farm, you most likely understand my feeling of heart-exploding love and pride at that moment. We can't make our kids love the farm or agriculture way of life. But when we expose our kids to agriculture and farming and then they choose it, it's rewarding.
I drove out to a field where Hunter was driving a tractor, pulling a Salford vertical tillage implement, preparing the seedbed for barley.
This was the first time I had ever seen him as an adult in a farm field. He wasn't visiting for the weekend. He's a farmhand, farm worker, hired man, whatever your terminology is.
When he opened the tractor cab for me to climb in, his smile was the same smile he would flash at me when he was a little boy and I took him to the fields to ride along with "Grandpa Fred," my dad.
I stopped and took a picture. His hat said ICON, where he worked in his internship last summer. I asked him as he drove, "How does working on the farm this spring and summer improve your engineering knowledge and future career possibilities?"
He said, "I want to design things in engineering that are practical and useful solutions. Using the equipment and learning how it all works gives me hands-on knowledge for mechanical engineering."
I sat and listened. Being a parent when the days are long and the years are short with young kids, we can't look far enough ahead to see the moment I had in the tractor with our adult son. Sitting next to Hunter in the tractor gave me gratitude for the journey we've traveled together.
I left the field and he called me, asking for a ride to Northwood and to please bring him his workout clothes. At 7:30 p.m. after his 12 hour work day, I drove him to Northwood for an hour of weight lifting he had planned with a friend. The conversation and driving topped off an unexpected day of appreciation.
While we push our kids to chase after goals and dreams, letting them pause to farm alongside family for the spring and summer might be one of the most educational and influential experiences of Hunter's college years.