Betty Duffy

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beautiful Days in Life

(title by my daughter--whose book of the same name was illustrated with many hearts and flowers)

9 a.m.
My daughter fixing herself a glass of ice water, has discovered a critical element of her femaleness, that a glass in hand makes everything more endurable. I'm a hot beverage person; she likes hers cold. And here she is, slowly easing into the morning, ice a-clinking, looking at a book before she can wake up and deal with the boys. I so relate. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure they're out there finding some high place to pee off of.

12 p.m.
Something about the rain, gorgeous rain, but rain, no less has put us in an agitated mood. We are staying at my parents' to take care of the animals while they are out of town, and my husband is in Chicago, brutal travel lately, and I can't put my finger on the issue, if there is only one issue, that's making everyone so harebrained. Every direction is a false start.

Lunch stinks--and this happens whether home or away--because I can't muster enough enthusiasm for lunch--ever--breakfast, yes, dinner, sometimes--but lunch, no. Nothing good to eat that I don't have to cook, except chips (kids think this is a win), but even paired with peanut butter and jelly, it doesn't feel like a meal. So I keep grazing. Mosey to the kitchen, check the pantry one more time--maybe I have overlooked some leftover Easter candy.

I remember one of the neighbors being over here and talking about how his daughter-in-law threw a bunch of yew clippings into the field where the cows ate it. And by the end of the day they'd lost eight cows. They just fell over dead. Yew is poisonous to eat.

The guy said, "That's a weird feeling; one minute the cows are walking around right in front of you, and the next minute they're all dead." A weird feeling. Yes.

Last night, before my parents left town to go see my new nephew, three heifers were to have given birth. One had a healthy little calf that now follows close behind her in the field in the most adorable way.

Another had a calf with a twisted spine that had to be put down. Bereft heifer now complains mournfully to the full moon. She tried to steal the healthy calf from its mother, fought rather aggressively for it, until she was put in the isolation corridor.

A third heifer labored from morning to night and couldn't deliver. Vet came and said the calf was already dead inside, but could not remove it from the mother despite shoulder length gloves and a chain around the calf's neck. Bovine C-sections are rare and risky, requiring a specialty vet (up at Purdue), and this heifer was already feverish and suffering, so she, also, was put down.

Three cows dead in one night. I let my oldest stay up for it, but the rest of the kids were put to bed.

And this morning, dead heifer, still swollen with pregnancy, was lifted out of the barn, and sent away in a truck to the glue factory.

A little ambivalent about farm life.

One of my boys has been reading a series of books that he likes, and now speaks in the manner of the hero in his book: "My drawings are the kind of drawings that when you look at them, you think, that ought to be the cover for a horror book."

…Is that so?

"Naturally, I'm the first one finished eating. So much food. So little time."

Most of the bookish comments have something to do with the development of his own heroic identity, which causes concern that he may grow up and become a blogger. Though, on the flip side, he seems temporarily liberated from his identity as the manipulated little brother.

4 p.m.
House ransacked. Still no Easter Candy in the pantry. Nor wine.

9 p.m.
Hedging on Wendell Berry's assertion that there are few problems that cannot be solved by a walk in the woods, I thought I'd take the kids for a short jaunt. Dusky, humid, good smells everywhere, honeysuckle, most notably. And then one of my boys ran ahead, and kept going, certain we would catch up to him, but I had a toddler and several other reluctant movers, and there was no way we'd make it that far, plus I had on the wrong shoes. But he couldn't hear me when I tried to call him back, and there was no other option but to trudge on. Every good thing I try to do ends up going awry somehow.

My feet will no longer fit in my shoes, they're so blistered. Tomorrow will hurt. But I'm not going anywhere.

Kids still awake. Light outside for another hour. Blast.

11:30 P.m.
My parents' mail is much more interesting than mine. Wall Street Journal, llbean catalog, a tidy portion of bills and requests, Atlantic Monthly (when did they start getting this?). I flip through, reading "How to Land Your Kid In Therapy" by Lori Gottlieb--another article about helicopter parenting, and too much concern for a child's self-esteem.

Interesting. Though she keeps using the word "morph" and it becomes distracting, because I read another article recently quoting Hilary Clinton saying something was going to "morph into" something else. Seems like I, too, used "morph" recently. And morph, is not a certified verb, except in computer animation--which none of us were talking about.

11:36 p.m.
"…because we tend to have fewer kids than past generations did, each becomes more precious," says the article. Really? I keep reading quotes like this here and there, and the more I read the assertion, the more absurd it sounds to me.

A child is more precious because it's rare? A family with lots of kids may have less time and money to spend on each one, but it doesn't make them less precious.

Also, the assertion that people used to have more kids because they needed help on their farms--absurd. Pa Kettle says to Ma, "Looks like ten years from now we're going to need some help with that cotton. Let's get busy on it." Or people used to have more kids because they expected half of them to die--absurd.

I'm pretty sure people used to have more kids because they didn't use birth control.

12:07 am
The dog keeps farting. I'm going to bed.


Becca said...

You're bursting my "wouldn't life be better if we just had a farm in the country" bubble. My husband -- he of the debilitating allergies and pale complexion and sun-headaches and desk job -- would thank you. ;-)

And the observation that morning is best faced with beverage in hand is SO TRUE. Also the comments on "precious" only kids... so much more precious than my 4 that their upper-middle class parents stick 'em in daycare from 6 months.

BettyDuffy said...

Yes, frustrating days happen no matter where you live. And good ones too.

Erin said...

What is morning without a good drink -- hot or cold? I love this post in so many ways. I can see my future self making a very similar list. And I totally agree on the birth control thing... duh! Not to mention, if people are having fewer kids, why is the world more populated than ever? I guess we should blame that on "people way back when" too???

kate said...

Hard to know what Pa was thinking - and small children have always consumed more than produced - but - in the industrialized west we don't seem to expect to receive any economic benefit from our children. But for much of history, the size of your family could determine your long term survival - no kids, nobody to support you in old age. Living in LA with 5 kids all the way through Catholic school, people here just shake their heads and sigh about the cost. No notion of benefit. Or blessing.
As far as the relative "precious-ness" of children in small families - seems to me that mothers with just a couple of kids are much more controlling than me or my sister (with 9). We just set things up to be as healthy (in various ways) as possible and let the kids run - only way to survive!AND we make 'em work - which seems to be a bad word in smaller families. Kids do need to know how to clean a bathroom.
Nuff said, sorry to be so long.

Kris Livovich said...

"finding some high place to pee off of" And accurate description of my boys. Today they peed at the U-Pick strawberry farm, outside of Wal-Mart and off our front porch. My husband does not do this, why must they? With each successive pee my voice gets louder and a little more shrill.

I had a friend with one child tell me that if one of my four kids goes "wrong", at least I will have three others to fall back on - she only gets one chance to get it right. Cold comfort, indeed.

Misha Leigh. said...

You are the master of the snippets. I love them. Short glimpses with perfect depth.

Mary Poppins NOT said...

I read that article today, and for the most part it eased my mind that my large family will not suffer from the benign neglect that accompanies the demands of our family.

I actually found some left over Easter candy today. Score.

I used to want to homestead. I can only imagine the level of despair I would be feeling now if that dream came true. Thanks for the verification that letting that dream go was wise.

So enjoy your posts.

Hope said...

We used to have sheep and are probably record holders in our part of the country for having the vet do two c-sections in one week. He'd never done one on a sheep before because it's not cost effective but ours were pets (they all were pets).

My MIL had 11 children in 14 years. She had a hysterectomy for some reason and mourned not being able to have more children. They adopted one after several years and then she felt at peace. She was a wonderful support for me when I had to stop at three children (health reasons, darn near died)) and wanted more. She was the only one who understood my mourning.

Pentimento said...

Betty, this is just a superlative piece. If I were the editor of a literary magazine, I would publish it instantly.

Anonymous said...

I would publish all your pieces instantly. Keep it coming.

The Sojourner said...

Kindlon also observed that because we tend to have fewer kids than past generations of parents did, each becomes more precious. So we demand more from them—more companionship, more achievement, more happiness.

I agree with you that "precious" is not at all the right word there. I do think that she's getting at something real, though, that people with only one or two children micromanage more--perhaps simply because they have more time, perhaps because there's an attitude adjustment that tends to come with larger families, where you realize that you can't live your life vicariously through your children. (I think it's more the latter; I know of mothers with half a dozen children who still manage to micromanage said children's lives--though I shouldn't use "children" in that context; the people I'm thinking of are in their very early twenties.)

The Sojourner said...

I also don't think "responsive" is the right word for the kind of parenting she's criticizing; isn't it "responsive" to listen to your child when they tell you to back off? (I can't imagine that all of these kids were really okay with having their lives micromanaged to the degree the writer of the article describes. Maybe I somehow ended up running with a rebellious crowd, I dunno.)

I'll stop rambling in the combox now.

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks everybody!

P--How about starting a literary journal?

Pentimento said...

Yeah, remember how well I did with the book club?

Lady.Rosary said...

"A child is more precious because it's rare?" - No matter how many your kids are, each child or each person is rare. We don't just give birth to tons of children just because we need them for future use or labor, I agree with you.