Saturday, May 5, 2007

What do I do?

Everyone says that moms do more than they think, and since I've been in grad school, I've come to realize that's true. There are tons of things around the house that I never thought about, but they are clearly important, and that becomes very obvious when they are not done. Shortly after moving here five years ago, I told a friend of mine that when one has a barn, it's just another house to clean. You don't think that a barn needs cleaning, but it does. It doesn't require mopping and dusting, but organizing and picking up trash and cleaning up spider webs is important. Well, I've just come to realize over the past few months that I do a lot more on the farm than I ever thought!

Margaret thought it was a joke when I told her that she would be the farm manager when I went to grad school. I guess she didn't think that I "do" much around here. Part of it doesn't look like work, I freely admit. Who would think I'm working when they see me out in the pasture watching the goat kids playing? It doesn't look like work when I sit in the pasture and watch the sheep graze. But those activities are an absolutely essential part of being a good farmer. Last fall, I wasn't around except on Saturday and Sunday, and after a couple of months, one of our bucks died from parasites. When I saw him, it was obvious to me. He was thinner than normal, and there wasn't as much meat on his spine as there should have been. Although the human kids had been feeding and watering them every day, they didn't stop to just watch the bucks grazing. Last summer, during my dreamy time in the pasture, I noticed a different buck looking like that. When I ran my hand down his back, I knew he was too thin, and I pulled his lip back, and his gums were not as pink as they should have been. I immediately gave him a dose of dewormer, and he is in great shape today.

As someone once said, if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. If you're one of those people who's dreamed of living on a farm, you're probably think that this doesn't sound like work. But for people who thrive on deadlines, it would be torture to stand in the pasture just watching animals graze.

A friend from Chicago comes to visit every few months, and it's clearly not fun for him to stand out there watching animals. When I stop and start to stare at an animal, he'll say, "Okay, let's go." Then I have to explain why I'm watching, and he moves into task mode, asking what we need to "do" to accomplish the job. Once I just needed to watch a newborn lamb for a little while to make sure he was nursing and that his plumbing worked. Another time, I just needed to sit in the pasture and let baby goats climb all over me as part of their continued socialization curriculum. "How long do you have to do this?" he asked. I never thought about it. Usually I do it until I start thinking about how much other stuff I have to do, and I start to feel guilty about "wasting" time watching lambs or playing with kids.

But as I have come to realize, I have not been wasting time. Watching the animals is an important -- essential -- part of being a responsible farmer. I have also realized that this is who I am. This is where I am supposed to be. This is my true calling. I went two whole years without ever getting a single cold, even when other family members got sick. At the end of my first semester of grad school, I had a gallbladder attack. After doing some research, I learned that the gallbladder (like other parts of the digestive system) is negatively affected by stress. Currently, with only final exam week left, I find myself with a cold and sore throat. Stress also creates havoc for the immune system.

When people outside my family said they didn't know how I was going to go to grad school and continue running the farm, I thought they didn't know what they were talking about. I've always done more than most people thought possible, always been busy. But they were right. I don't think I'm doing a very good job of grad school or farming right now. I know I'm not. I can't split my brain between the two. I can't continue to be the kind of farmer I want to be and be an exceptional grad student. But who says I need to be an outstanding grad student? My heart is here. I understand now that I can't do both things equally well. Something has to take priority. Let's see, what's more important -- my goats or my political communication paper? Will anyone in this world really care if I get a B instead of an A in that class? Would anyone even care if I got a C? Of course, if I get an A in every class, I'll be happy for a few days.

But if my goats are healthy and well-socialized, I will be happy for the life of those goats, for as long as they are making me smile and laugh with their pasture antics -- and every day that they are giving me their delicious milk. If I have fresh, homegrown produce to eat all summer and into the fall, I'll be healthier. If I have fruits and vegetables to freeze for the winter, I'll be smiling in the darkest days of December when I have a peach pie. And if I'm able to put a homegrown, free-range, organic turkey on the Thanksgiving table, then that will truly be something to be thankful for.

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