Like Buttah…

21 06 2010

Gwen gets tickled by little webbed feet

Tuesday morning I opened the refrigerator to get some eggs and found three gallons of goat milk staring out at me.  I’m not normally intimidated by milk, but this milk taunted me with its volume.  I realized that I needed to find a use for it — and fast.

I’ve had big plans for all of the milk we are getting from our goats, but I am finding it difficult to carve out quiet spaces to do research on cheese making or to get to the fermentation shop to buy cultures.  I am a stay-at-home mother to two children.  Typically by the time I drop one off at preschool, it is time to pick the other one up from elementary school.  And now it is summer, I have them both home with me all day every day — no camps, no summer school, just quality time with me and plenty of time for them to focus on and fight with each other.  The other obstacle to my productivity is my middle-class notion that when I am home with my four year old I should be giving him my full attention every minute.  This was the way I raised Gwen and I’m starting to believe that being so intensely focused is detrimental to both child and parent.  It gives the child the impression that everything else in life can wait if he needs a fresh cup of juice or wants to play a game, and it causes the stay-at-home parent to feel as though they accomplish nothing throughout the day as the dishes and projects fall by the wayside in order to make time to play with sidewalk chalk or run to the park for a picnic.  In Gwen it created a child who, even at almost eight years old, feels that she need not do anything for herself.

For the past year and a half I was, for the most part, unavailable to most facets of my life.  School had been my priority.  I gave myself permission to slack off until I was finished with my program.  Instead of working out I buried my nose in journal articles.  Instead of planning and preparing quality meals for my family I favored quick and easy calories in order to minimize stress and make time for running up to the City to give tutoring sessions or to sit at my desk and respond to electronic forums.  I deferred discipline and bedtime to Danae (not her strong suit) while I focused on projects and final portfolios.  For the better part of three semesters I watched my house grow cluttered and uncared for and I think I could say the same about the kids.  They (and the house) needed continuity.  I realize that in order for a household to run smoothly (and in that I am including cleanliness, food preparation and childcare) someone needs to be dedicated to each task, otherwise things just fall to the wayside.  It doesn’t matter what your relationships are to — activities, animals, people, things — those relationships require constant care and upkeep in order to survive.  I finished my program in late May and, as my home life came back to the fore of my consciousness, I realized that the kids had drifted away from me a little.  Not only had they grown up more than I had realized, but they were a little less attached to me than they had been the year before.  I made a decision to use my time this summer to re-establish the bond — the complication being, of course, that while I want to focus more on my kids, I have a new role — keeper of the milk.  I am the one who turns the milk into skimmed and cream, who makes butter and now who is in charge of cheese.

The goats have caused me to rethink my priorities — my children now have to learn how to wait for juice, root for their own snacks and wipe their own butts if I happen to have a goat up on the stanchion.  It is different from when I was buried in my schoolwork because this is something they can be involved with.  Whether in the form of cheese, butter or ice cream, they are beginning to see that good things come from the work that I do (and that I am teaching them to do) and that they can easily have a place in doing the work right along side of me.  With K, I might fill a watering can and ask him to give the plants in the wine barrel a drink — at least, for a time, he stops nagging me to log him onto Pog.com and stays outdoors doing something productive.  He’s beginning to learn.

The other day I noticed Gwen grab a bowl from the kitchen and go to the bathroom to run water into it.  I figured she was filling it to make a wading pool for our two new Indian Runner ducklings.  She finished in the bathroom then disappeared with the bowl outside and I figured I’d go check on the ducklings’ safety after I finished a batch of dishes.

I had just finished making a second batch of mozzarella from our milk stores (Danae and I had pigged out on caprese the night before and hoped to do the same with this batch).  I had several heirloom tomatoes that I had purchased from Webb Ranch that I didn’t want to go to waste.  As I finished the last of the mozzarella dishes Gwen came back into the house and put the bowl in front of me.

“Surprise, Mama,” she said.

I looked down to see a small amount of slightly dirty milk floating before me.  The sight almost brought me to tears as I imagined the work she went through to get this slight quantity — she was obviously washing the bowl in the bathroom earlier, she took rags out to wash down the goat’s udder, she got the grains in the grain bucket, she got one goat out of the pen and onto the stanchion without letting the other goat escape.  She did it all on her own!

Danae had milked the goats just an hour or so earlier, which explained the small quantity Gwen had gotten from Rainbow.  Gwen explained to me that she didn’t want to attempt Redwood on her own.  Redwood is much larger and more persistent than Rainbow and I sometimes have a difficult enough time managing her.  Gwen’s efforts that morning amazed me — after almost eight years she has finally found something to motivate her, something that she is driven to do and that is building her confidence.  This is what I want the summer to be like.  I want to be home with the kids and discover all of the joys and lessons our 6,000 square foot piece of the world has to offer.  My attention will come naturally to the kids as we tend the animals and the garden together.  It’s going to be a fantastic summer.

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7 responses

21 06 2010
Lothlorien

Sounds like you’re in for a summer of bliss. 🙂

Tell us about the ducks!

21 06 2010
Sharon

Hooray for Gwen . . . and for you too, Mama. Keep the stories coming. I too want to hear about the ducks!

21 06 2010
bonnetj

We have two Indian Runner ducklings that are a little less than two weeks old. Indian Runners actually outlay many breeds of chickens — about 150-200 eggs per year. There was no reason to get ducks other than because Gwen has been wanting a duck. We wanted the duck to have a friend, so we got two. Indian Runners stand upright like penguins, so they are really silly looking ducks, which is perfect for our motley collection of creatures.

They’re currently in with the chicks. We had to take Bob out of the chick cage because he was being far too aggressive with the ducklings (he’s definitely a rooster — he’s getting a little too pretty to be a hen). I put him in with the hens and he’s NOT liking it — a little dose of his own medicine. They’ll work it out. I’ll have to remove him eventually before he starts getting it on with the hens (if they’ll let him near them). The ducks will eventually live with the hens in the chicken run. They are so cute!

21 06 2010
Domenica

I really enjoyed this one, J. 🙂

22 06 2010
uncle kenny

super cool. I am so glad to see people actually living their lives.

24 06 2010
Nicole

Here’s a link to an article about paying too much attention to children:

http://www.continuum-concept.org/reading/whosInControl.html

3 07 2010
bonnetj

This makes so much sense. If you look at the way babies have been raised in our culture from our generation forward, it is no wonder that the millennials are so completely self-absorbed. A baby that watches adult activities would naturally want to emulate behaviors that would lead to competence in those activities. A baby that is entertained all day by a caregiver would logically grow up to be either overly demanding of attention or completely passive. Of course, natural disposition has a big hand in how a person turns out, but it seems that this method of child rearing is a win/win — things get done, everyone is happy, fulfilled and well adjusted.

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