He may only be three going on four but already you get glimpses of the man he’ll become. I’ll be talking to Daddy he tells me excited at the day that lays ahead. I’ll be up on the big box with Dan (as he calls Daddy) when we sell the calves. The same calves who he tried to feed some weeks before. The same calves he let lick or morelike swallow his little hand previously.
He walks down the drive with a little swagger behind his father who is busy trying to think of what else he might need for the mart. Calves, check. Calf cards, check, phone, wallet, keys check, little namesake, check. The rain pours down on them but little will dampen the spirits of the three year old, who carrying the ham sandwiches on Thomas the Tank backpack, will drive with Daddy in his tractor to the mart.
The city woman in me used to wonder what we would tell them about the days we would have to put calves in the trailer to take to the mart. It used to make me a little sad but I’ve come to realize that my life as a farmer’s wife is less of a novelty now and more the norm by the year. That these little of boys of mine while adoring their animals, know from a young age that taking the calves to the mart is a part of the job. Not a time for sentimentality mom.
Just before being lifted up high by his Daddy towards his little seat on the tractor, he gives me one big wave and a happy smile. He’s off for a day at the mart, a day with Daddy. Such a big boy now.
House number one; when someone gives you sweets, don’t fight over the bag.
House number two; you actually have to say trick or treat.
House number three; please don’t groan when someone mentions giving you a fruit.
House number four; don’t go into the house and make yourself at home.
House number five; never go to more than three houses on Halloween with three small boys.
Halleliyah, they’re in bed, in a sugar fuelled, salty kind of sleep. I’ll take it. I can’t actually be sure that they brushed their teeth. Don’t judge me. I am on Day Seven of the Mid Term Break and addled that Halloween came at the end of same Mid Term Breakdown. You name it, I’ve done it, I’ve danced with them at the Jazz Festival in Cork, had family to visit, played with them, had a hot chocolate picnic on the beach, watched movies on a loop and I am pooped. There is no adjective in the recesses that might sum it up better. Pooped.
I drag myself around the farmhouse to finish some chores in preparation for Day Eight of the never-ending midterm and decide to go out and visit the farmer in the parlour to tell him of our travels. And then I discover it. The fresh air, the clear sky, the starry night. In my earlier scurry around bewitching the neighbours, I hadn’t noticed the beautiful night. Maybe it’s the trick of the starry night but I forget that my children are clearly not ready to be out in public and tell the farmer all about our adventures. How our Philip’s eyes lit up when he revealed to his teacher that he really isn’t Frankenstein. Our wild Daniel chasing the neighbour’s terrier around her garden. Their delight at ‘spooking’ everyone. The joy that they bring. The photos that were taken of young Brosnans out scaring. Maybe this starry night has gone straight to my head, more likely it’s the sugar, but in the end few rules apply. It’s a spooky but groovy kind of love.
Six minutes and thirty five seconds of wakeful peace brought to us by Elbow. Move along people, nothing original here, sleep depravation has me clutching at every straw. Bring it Elbow.
For six minutes and thirty five seconds, all the household members, new, old and feeling old were suspended in a wakeful bliss. There is a mountain of silage, I don’t say that boastfully but I say it with calm. The hay has been turned (what seems incessantly to this volatile post-partum farmer’s wife) and is now in bales in the field. On opening the curtains, the sight of these mighty bales prompted the man of the house to start humming Elbow’s ‘Beautiful Day‘. As it’s a household anthem, I reached for my iphone and played it…
Cocooned in our just awakened reverie, the song caught us all in rare harmony. At 7am in a farmhouse in North Kerry, there was a new family caught in 6 minutes and 35 seconds of peace. You, who has grown up in a busy household or are currently running one, know what comes at the end of the track. It ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s noisy. So, I have the genius of one excellent line to think on and in contemplating it will be carried through to the next feed, war on lego, saga and cheerio spill. Thank you Elbow; Sing it…
“Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year will see us right.”
Only a few more cows left to calve telling me that soon it will be my turn. I feel a lot of empathy with my heavily expectant counterparts; the slow and laboured march to the water trough and the constant grazing. Like their own calves, my two little boys are full of teaspach (a local term used to describe the exuberance and spirit of young calves when new straw is scattered around them or on hearing the familiar splash of creamy milk reaching their bucket, a wholly bucking, jumping, break dancing show).
Teaspach to the heavily expectant mother is the most challenging. While one doesn’t want to break their spirit, a mother has to use up some of the battery life on some exercise that ensures everyone in the farmhouse gets a full-nights sleep. I find living on a farm helps; obviously, there are safety concerns that young cowboys have to adhere to but the farm is a veritable childhood obstacle course designed (in my mind) to help the farming mother harness some of that exuberance.
There is no shortage of adventures. Provided with a knapsack that includes a biscuit, toilet roll binoculars and a fascination for any insect/rodent/small animal or bird that moves; little boys can safely tour the perimeter of an adjacent field in full view of their mother. And every little find provides a relay back to the same mother to show their findings or perhaps a little kiss for a nettle sting. Spirit in tact, they wander back on their expedition.
Bringing the cows in for milking is another luxury in the world of heavily expectant mommying. There are few calls as welcome to a mother who has just prepared the dinner and washed up as ‘Boys, do you want to bring the cows in for milking?’ Oh yes they do! Suitably attired they walk out the door behind their father as I flick on the kettle for my real cup of tea; the ‘cows come home’ cup. An utterly bovine experience that allows me to sit for a moment while my ladies in waiting chew the cud outside the window in harmony.
From where I’m sitting the grass is green. But the farmer isn’t happy yet. Not green enough, not dry enough. A bit too soft for the girls (his cows). An after dinner tour of a field with his young sons has him perturbed. From the house, I see him walk in the field, shaking his head with his sons in order of height shaking their little heads in sympathy after him. This time last year we didn’t have enough grass in front of the cows, this year it’s too wet. It’s as if he himself is responsible for the earlier bad weather that has left ground drenched. There are a number of factors governing grass growth that fall within a farmer’s remit but the weather is in God’s realm as it were.
Farmer’s, for the most part, work in isolation. They spend hours in the milking parlour, in fields fencing, in tractors alone with too much time for thinking. There is, as with other businesses, a lot of competition. However, unlike other businesses, you are not for the most part, in competition with other farms for profit. This has allowed for many profitable cooperatives to grow over the years in this country. No, It is a different kind of competition that pushes farmers at times. Have you got the cows out yet? How much are your yearlings making? Have you still got fodder for cows? All your manure spread? Pride.
My job as farmer’s wife is complex. Like the priest in the confessional, I listen to what he percieves are his farming sins. I let him talk about all he believes he is doing wrong, farm wise, before offering my tuppense worth, some perspective. I’m the coach in his corner, spurring him on, reminding him of the bigger picture. The accountant, advising him when to be prudent when the milk cheque is stretched. The partner, keeping the flag flying on the home front, some delicious dinners, a creamy sponge, a chat about what his little boys have been up to. The girl, sprinkling his life, when needed, with some joie de vivre and therefore reminding him that faraway fields are not necessarily always greener…