Friday, July 31, 2009

Playin' Farmer Again

So the other day I was going to pop on here and tell you another funny farm story that involves me showing up at the farm, being the only one there, getting scared out of my wits when a strange man said "Excuse me?" while I was bent over collecting eggs in the barn, and being asked questions about the "new 40 acres going organic" by the stranger, who turned out to be an organic fertilizer dude.

Not wanting to sound like the complete dope I am, I managed to furrow my brow and nod as he talked, and say things like, "Well I should do some checking to be sure, I'll be right back" instead of what I was really thinking: "
We're turning 40 more acres over to organic? Well I'll be darned."

Mostly I was just glad to find out that the big-*ss truck he was driving - and no lie, my van looked like a happy meal toy parked next to his spreader - was going to spread organic fertilizer and not
organic chicken sh*t.

(Note to self: Never, ever forget camera when heading to the farm.)

But I missed my window for humor when the very next day things once again became dire on the farm. The
real farmers have again fled the coop and left us in charge of the farm for a few days. Once again, the instructions started out fairly mundance - collect eggs, make sure water tanks are full, let chickens out, close chickens in, yadda yadda.

But then the more serious points: 3 mama cows are still pregnant - #31, #T14, and "one of the tagless Murray Greys, the bigger one" (picture me trying to find THAT cow in the field) - check on them at least twice a day to see if they're in labor. If they have trouble,
you know what to do.

And then... there's a calf that needs to be bottle-fed.

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Usually when a calf needs to be bottle-fed it's because the mama won't let him nurse. This one, however, is different - HE won't nurse. Won't have any of it. The mama cow tries and tries to get him to nurse - she licks him, sucks on his ears, nudges him. He won't do it. Because she was such a good mama, my sister didn't even realize at first he wasn't nursing. Eventually they noticed he wasn't gaining weight and realized what was going on.

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But here's the thing.... he isn't fond of the bottle, either.

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It took him several days to start drinking from the bottle. Then he steadily increased the amount he'd drink, culminating in one or 1-1/2 bottles in the morning and again at night.

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Until today. Today I found him lethargic and lying down. It took me quite a while to get him up, and longer to get him to suck on the bottle. After about 45 minutes of trying, I'd finally gotten him to drink 1/4 of a bottle. I'd pry his mouth open with my left hand, shove the bottle in with my right, then massage his jaw or clamp his mouth shut on it, trying to encourage him to suck. Every once in a while he'd humor me and take a few swallows.

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But most of the time he'd do this.

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Something's wrong with this little guy. Something's very very wrong.

I've gone to the farm five times today, each time spending nearly an hour trying to get him to drink. Sometimes he'd be standing when I got there. More often, though, he'd be lying down, barely moving. Once, I tried to lift his head and it rested heavily in my hands - he wouldn't even hold it up. After hours of trying, he never finished even one bottle.

But after another visit at 10pm, he's still alive. He took a few more sucks and then turned away and refused any more attempts. He even seemed to get a little pissed. Which is fine.

Being pissed is a sure sign of life.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Tried to Learn Nothing Yesterday

"Today for Show and Tell, I've brought a tiny marvel of nature: a single snowflake. I think we might all learn a lesson from how this utterly unique and exquisite crystal turns into an ordinary, boring molecule of water, just like every other one, when you bring it in the classroom. And now, while the analogy sinks in, I'll be leaving you drips and going outside."
--Calvin, from Calvin & Hobbes

I nabbed this most insightful quote from a kick-*ss blog written by a kick-*ss unschooler. (Thanks Heart-Rockin' Mama!)

Yesterday was
Learn Nothing Day, a holiday created by Sandra and Holly Dodd to poke a little fun at those folks who ask us questions like, "But if you don't go to school, how do you learn?"
We've gotten that comment, mostly from kids. The adults are a bit more discerning in their questioning, asking if we worry about college or how we learn about physics or what our days look like because they could never "stand to be home with their kids" every day. It's ok, it's normal to misunderstand something that's out of your realm of experience, but to unschoolers, who operate on the belief that learning happens all the time - ALL*THE*TIME - it does, truthfully, get a little tiresome after a while.

I'd forgotten to warn my kids ahead of time that Learn Nothing Day was approaching. It's only the 2nd annual and I didn't pay much attention to it last year. This year, however, I told Jonathan about it over breakfast. His reply? "I wish I'd known this sooner, so I could've planned better."

He has a whole pile of new birthday gifts so there's no WAY he won't learn anything today. But then we laughed about how we were learning something while we discussed not learning anything. And then we learned how hard it is to try to learn nothing. Doh!

His school friend summed up our point nicely by chiming in, "I try not to really learn anything during summer break" with a shrug. What he means, of course, is that he doesn't do anything schooly - no reading of textbooks, no writing of reports after reading a good book, no creating a diorama to explain that cool documentary you just watched. And therein lies one of my biggest beefs with the way school operates. Schools would have us believe that learning happens only when you are being taught by someone else. They'd also have us believe that it's "work" and "a kid's job" and "very serious" and other such sobering things. And in school - it is, usually. Even the younger grades get less and less fun as the push for higher test scores and earlier reading takes over.

But kids are learning all the time - ALL*THE*TIME - in AND out of school. They're learning even when they're seemingly "doing nothing" because, honestly, it's impossible to do nothing.

What unschoolers have captured is the beautiful realization that learning isn't separate from living. That in the process of living, learning happens. ALL*THE*TIME. When you're preparing for a birthday party, you're learning. When you're reading, watching tv, playing a video game you're learning. You're even learning as you rest or watch clouds drift by or sun yourself on the beach. It's impossible to not learn.

Humans are hard-wired to learn from their surroundings, but it helps if one is interested, motivated, and inspired. And this is where school does a really sh*t job. And before you give me over to the teachers' unions for a lashing in the public square, listen - I WAS a public school teacher and I KNOW how teachers' hands are tied (to a certain extent). What would be really beautiful is if a whole bunch of school personnel rose up and said, "we're tired of this drudgery!" and started interacting - really interacting, on a level that isn't "I say - you do" - with the kids. Then watch the students' eyes light up and let the revolution begin.

I know, I know. DUDE - WHAT AM I SMOKING?

But seriously, people - we've got to stop operating under the assumption that kids won't learn if they aren't forced, coerced, prodded, and locked into a damn brick building for 7 hours of every day, 180 days a year. It's ludicrous. And we also have to stop believing that the only important things one learns are what's taught within school walls.

When talking with Jonathan's school friend today, we used the example of his juggling. He's an expert juggler for his age and he spends a lot of time researching technique, watching pros on youtube, finding the right equipment, practicing, and even choreographing new and unique rhythms. "Just think how much you learn about juggling all the time!" I pointed out, and we talked about how learning isn't something one only does at school. He does learn at school, and he's an excellent student, but that's one way to learn among many. He seemed happy at that notion, that he learns at school but he learns in other ways at other times and in other places as well, and it's not always stressful or boring or difficult.

And as for the whole "what about college" thing (or what about physics or writing term papers or learning to meet assignment deadlines or "insert stereotypical worry here"), unschooling doesn't mean you just give everything over to the universe and say "what will be, will be!" and then dance off into the sunset with your dreadlocks swaying and leaving a trail of incense behind. You do what anyone would do who wants to get into college (or take a physics class or write a paper or meet a deadline) - you prepare. Unschoolers don't learn little bits of this and that in separated-out morsels in preparation of possibly "someday" needing that information. They follow their interests and tackle their goals and learn what they need to learn as they go. And it works.

And it works on a radically different timeline from school, too. Just because state mandates say that fourth graders learn to long-divide, it doesn't mean there's some innate need to learn to long-divide at age 9. No one needs to long-divide until they need to long-divide. Not sooner, not later. And when one needs to know something, one typically goes about learning it.

Adults have a difficult time wrapping their heads around this. But usually those fears also stem from the worry that their child will be too different from other kids, or they'll appear to be neglectful parents. It's easier to follow the herd. I totally get that. That's why you'll see unschoolers hugging and jumping up and down in glee when they get together - SOMEONE LIKE ME! It ain't easy to paddle against the current, lemme tell ya.

But what it comes down to is this: What do I care about more, my child's freedom and well-being and happiness? or the nosy lady's misinformed opinion at the local mini-mart?

No contest.

Paddling upstream gets easier.

I tried to learn nothing yesterday. I gave it a really good go. I was so tired from hosting 4 parties in 6 days that I sat on my butt almost all day, sorting through digital photos (oops, I learned how to use flickr), blogging (oops, I used an online thesaurus to choose some words), reading magazines (oops, I flagged several recipes and art activity ideas), and eating (oops, I learned that grazing on leftover party food all day makes me a bit queasy *BURP*).


I challenge you to learn nothing for one day. And then, the next time you wonder about us wacky weirdo unschoolers, perhaps you'll pause and think.... "You just might have something there...."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pullin' a Calf

Oh hey! You still here? In case you hadn't noticed I've been taking a little blog siesta. I've taken several, each little disappearance growing longer each time, this one being the longest.
("MAY 6th!" my grrrlfriend said pointedly, "You haven't blogged since May 6th!" AlRIGHT already.) I can't explain it other than to say I WANT to WANT to blog, but, well, I haven't WANTED to. I'm fickle like that. And it's not like my 3 readers will care. Most of them get the live version of this side-show.

But I thought I'd wait until I had something really blog-worthy before I made my re-entry. Let's see.... Pictures of my new woods floors? Boring. Camping with a bunch of Jesus freaks? Nah. Capsizing our canoe on a float trip? Whatever. Jamming some air guitar at a family wedding? Blah. Mom's wedding? Eh.

Oh I know.... more farm stories! Also known as the WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND LEAVES THE FARM IN ROB AND LAURA'S HANDS chronicles. Um,
Sis? Eventually this is gonna bite you in the *ss. You know that, right?

So the other day I'm minding my own business, working in my yard preparing for the first of five parties we were set to host, when Rob tells me he's heading to the farm to check on a laboring mama cow.


And when he asks if I'd like to join him, I thought for a moment - pull 4-foot tall thistles or witness the birth of new life? - and answered, "hellsa ya."

When we arrived at the farm, we saw Mama Cow lying on her side with the calf's hooves hanging out of her.
This must be a good sign, thought we, the rookie farmer posers, and we grabbed a soda and some popcorn, and prepared to be entertained.


We weren't the only nosy ones. These little calves were curious about us. So while we watched Mama Cow, baby cows watched us.


And these buggers were no help. They insisted on blocking our view of Mama Cow. We'd move further down the fence row; so would they. Cute, yes, but gah - MOVE YER RAWHIDE, wouldja?

They paid a bit too much attention to Mama Cow too, sniffing around her while she labored. Finally, she tired of the attention, leaped up and began head-butting the offending cow.

"I'll give birth AND kick your *ss, b*tch."

Never, ever, mess with a mama in labor.

Eventually, what with all the stress of a nosy audience and, well, FIGHTING while laboring, we noticed Mama Cow wasn't progressing. With each push, the calf's hooves would emerge, but after each contraction was over they'd recede back in. And Mama Cow would again stand up, ask if any other cows wanted a piece of her, and gaze at me as if to say, "Can't you DO something?" before lying down again with the next contraction.

That's when the seriousness of the situation began to sink in. Here we were, sipping soda and munching popcorn like we were at a feature matinee, giddily talking about how great that we were going to witness a live birth right here in the cornfields, when we started realizing we might actually have a wee, tiny problem on our hands.

Sometimes a first-time mama cow has trouble birthing. She gets too tired. Or the calf isn't positioned properly. And sometimes, the calf needs to be pulled. And by pulled I mean CHAINS TIED TO ITS LEGS AND PULLED. Holy freakin' haybales, what do we do now?

real farmers were on vacation, and even when they're around they need help pulling a calf. Mom and her husband weren't around. And my sister had just blogged about the whole it's bad if you pull too soon and it's bad if you don't pull soon enough thing. I grabbed the bag of popcorn, dumped its contents, and began hyperventilating into it while Rob called my sister.

We got the number of Farmer Scott who lives down the road and is their #1 go-to guy in these kinds of emergencies, and THANK THE HIGHER POWER he answered his cell phone and said he'd be right over. My sister stayed on the phone with us, reminding us that we'd be just fine with Farmer Scott's help, and began giving us instructions.

Rob and Farmer Scott managed to get Mama Cow into the chute in the time it took me to run to the main farm and retrieve the pulling equipment.

I climbed into the barn to help to take pictures.

Farmer Scott adeptly secured the chains around the right spot on the calf's legs (wrong spot and you'll break its legs *shudder*) while Rob and I waited for instructions. Sometimes it takes two people to pull a calf if the Mama Cow isn't helping much. But Farmer Scott decided to give it a whirl on his own.

WARNING: The following Graphic Photos may make you puke up in your mouth a little bit.

Farmer Scott braced his legs against the door frame and pulled, while I balanced precariously over a rusty stall gate. Pulling calves is tricky! I almost fell. And there's 6 inches of slurry manure on that barn floor.

VERY quickly the calf began to emerge. Mama Cow was all over helping by pushing. Farmer Scott was all "C'mon.... C'mon...." and Mama Cow was all "I'm bringin' it! I'm briiiingin' it!" and I was all "Could you move a little to the left so I can get a better shot?"

It was only a matter of seconds before Baby Calf was born. Farmer Scott went from pulling to catching. Ever try to catch a greased-up 80lb calf? That was tricky. I would've helped but, you know, it happened so fast.

Immediately Farmer Scott began sticking straw into the calf's nostrils, causing it to gasp and begin to breathe. Hey, it's better than a slap on the *ss, isn't it?

There were a few nerve-wracking moments as we wondered if Baby Calf was ok. She just layed there.... she was breathing, but not moving much.
Farmer Scott lifted her out into the barnyard so we could release Mama Cow and let her find her babe.

Which she did. She immediately began licking the babe. And licking. And licking. Licky lick lick. Precious.

And no sooner had she gotten a good sniffing in did she begin urging her babe to stand up. "There'll be no lazy calves on MY watch. There is grass to eat, and.... well, grass to eat.... and, well... just get up. I can't stand laziness."

And she did.

She wobbled and flopped and rose and fell, and eventually she began to get the hang of those knobby little legs.


Farmer Scott left, and Rob and I high-fived that we survived our first-ever calf-pulling - and more importantly, Mama Cow and Baby Calf survived!

And I would've settled back in with my popcorn, but I had dried cow blood under my nails.

This farmin' business is rough on a grrrl's manicure.