Years ago, we chose to live surrounded by open fields and mountains, to make do on a single income, to raise our own food, to learn through living life, to have dirt between our toes, and to allow animals into our lives. Our three children had no choice but to enter the lifestyle my husband and I had chosen. They became farm kids, working along side of us, experiencing both the joys and challenges of small family farming. Now, as I am about to launch my youngest from the farm, I reflect on our lives and my children’s experiences. Each memory reveals a little piece of their heart and character.
Hope & Perseverance
I stand in the barn, son of 7 years old on one side of the ewe, and daughter of 10, on the other. They hold as I work to put a harness on her. Belly bulging with lambs soon to be born, a vaginal prolapse threatened both her and her lambs. I had made a round of phone calls and had read my books, I knew what needed to be done. With unsure hands, I worked while my little ones watched and held-“You can do this Mommy-I know you can.” Two weeks later, ewe gives birth to two healthy lambs.
I stood in the shelter, the warmth of birth running down my arms, and the life that should have been, pressed against my chest. I had been a minute too late. The ewe had a hard labor, she had delivered two lambs already, and a third was to come. I had run inside for just a few minutes. The lamb came, back feet first, and mama, exhausted, lay to deliver. The lamb needed her to stand, so gravity would bring him down the birth canal and into the world. I arrived too late, the lamb had suffocated as it waited to enter the world. Our first lamb fatality, tears stream down my face. My daughter, barely a teen, comes and wraps her arms around me, consoling me, and reminding me that farming is full of life and death.
The miracle of birth surrounds us, we watch as the ewe labors, her bag of waters hanging, her soft nickering calls to the lamb to come. The entire family watches with eyes wide with wonder. We talk of how God created her body to give birth, we talk of how the cervix opens to allow passage, and how the uterus pushes to bring life into the world. Then, we see little nose and feet appear, as ewe pushes, the lamb slips into the straw bed, shaking his head and calling for his mom. We look on in wonder.
Grit & Fortitude
Not even a year old, she began limping, favoring one shoulder. After three different vets and multiple x-rays, our border collie puppy is diagnosed with Osteochondritis Dissecans. OCD, a disease of the cartilage that affects the shoulder joint. It either repairs itself over time, or requires a costly surgery. Nine year old son takes on the responsibility of paying for her vet bills. He starts a dog treat business, selling dog treats in local gas stations and online, to save money for the pending surgery. After a year of waiting and saving money, the vet declares that her shoulder has healed on its own and surgery is not needed. With money left over after paying for the many vet bills we acquired, son donates the rest of the money to the National Border Collie Rescue Association.
Empathy & Love
Just five years old and a rare disease wasted her away. A disease that prevented her esophagus from pushing food into her stomach, a slow starvation. Our border collie was dying a painful death. We manage it for a year, but then the disease takes over. Fifteen year old son, the same son who worked to pay for her vet bills early in her life, says to his father, “Dad, she is suffering and she will not get any better.”
Hope and perseverance, compassion, curiosity, grit and fortitude, empathy and love-these are the lessons our children will take with them in life as they leave the farm. They have seen new life enter the world and have seen life slip away before their eyes in death. They have witnessed miracles and undeserved blessings. They have seen the value of hard work, and the connection between the work of our hands and our livelihood. This life, this lifestyle of living off the soil, will always be a part of their character, regardless of where their feet land and what they choose to do with their lives.
Written in love and honor of my children, Emily, Anna, and Luke.