Infectious farm life

gullynudge

I did not choose to become a farmer “for the lifestyle” because it’s harder than you’d think.

It certainly wasn’t for the money. My decision to buy out the farm was something I found hard to explain to my incredulous accountant even though it could not have been clearer to me. Maybe if I’d had The Wind in the Willows handy, I’d have shown him this:

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

My childhood was filled feeding calves, riding ponies, priming pumps, dodging snakes and learning how to drive. That stuff, the snuffling of grazing cows and the wildness of the farm through its changing seasons got under my skin.

Today, my own children play with the calves. I do everything I can to tend their love for all things living and build their capability with all things mechanical.

mechaniclores

And they’re thriving. Not that every day is like a scene from the lid of a chocolate box. Farm life is great for kids in so many ways despite – or because of – the challenges it brings. Resilience, independence, self esteem and a work ethic flow from long days dealing with setbacks and simply doing what has to be done. No need for tough love to learn life’s lessons.

Even so, there’s a part of me that questions whether we’re doing the right thing, infecting our kids with farm life. Opportunities for young people are undoubtedly richer in well-resourced regional cities.

And what will life on the land be like for my grown-up little people in 20 years’ time if they, like Mole did, feel the tug of home’s invisible little hands? I don’t know for sure but I soothe my mother guilt by remembering that at least they have the chance to grow up slowly.

Frugal farm fun

The green knight comes to a milk maid's rescue

The green knight comes to a milk maid’s rescue

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s fun.”

Silence

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s great!”
Alex: “It’s not great for Mama, Za Za.”
Zoe: (Dancing on the spot) “I LOVE IT!”
Alex: “But Mama doesn’t, don’t you Mama?”
Me: “No, Little Man.”

He was right: I wasn’t pleased to be stuck in the sticky sulphuric sludge of the gully but wind the clock back 35 years and it would have been a different matter.

I remember the delight of being bogged amidst the despair of my father. Every bogging was an adventurous departure from the daily grind, complete with desperate stuffing of the wheel tracks with bark and anything else that came to hand before spinning wheels sprayed mud from here to kingdom come as the fishtailing ute wrestled its way free.

I was reminded of all that as the three of us trudged (or skipped) across the paddocks back to the dairy at dusk and again this morning reading The Conversation’s article about the cost of raising children. It turns out parents are really no less wealthy than childless couples. One of the reasons offered by the Curtin University scholars rings true:

“When children are present, nights at home with the family, a simple visit to the park, or watching your child play sport may provide enjoyment that would otherwise be gained through income-intensive pursuits, such as holidays and going to restaurants. This is more than a direct substitution effect – parents’ own utility may increase at a lower level of financial outlay.”

The best things in life are indeed free.

Instilling a love of nature the Brave New World way

When Alex found this gorgeous green grocer cicada, he was a little wary. But, of course, cicadas don’t bite – they’re sap suckers – so I encouraged our little people to have a really good look at the marvellous creature.

CicadaZoeGrinLoRes

Once Alex saw Big Sister having fun with the green grocer, he was more inclined to get into the act, beginning with a cautious stalking session.

CicadaStalking

Then, with some trepidation, he let it creep slowly across his fingers and was actually starting to enjoy the encounter when the impossible happened: the wretched winged wolf BIT him.

CicadaDrill

Alex’s hands shook and tears began to well but the green grocer clung on with all six hooks and the proboscis too! We finally flicked it off a little less carefully, I must admit, than I’d like.  Twenty minutes later, Little Man was off for his afternoon nap, only to wake with a “Cada hurting me, Mama!” nightmare.

So much for instilling a love of nature. More like a Brave New World conditioning session.

PS: If you were under the illusion that cicadas won’t hurt you, watch the reaction of this grown-up:

Work life balance on farm and a good dose of mother guilt

The slow burn of mother guilt catches me unawares sometimes but on other occasions, it’s as sharp as a knife. Or more accurately, as shrill as a tired toddler’s screech.

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

When a knock on the door from a concerned motorist signals a heifer and bull trotting down the road, which in turn reveals that a mob of skittish kangaroos have rendered your fence as floppy as a spoonful of fettuccine, a farmer has little choice but to report to the scene, sirens wailing. If the farmer is also the mother of a toddler, the ramifications can be far more serious: Nap Time Deferral (NTD).

Strapped to the Bobcat seat, my Little Man finds it hard to understand why Mama is singing lullabies as she fumbles with the fence strainer when she should be singing them at the bedside.

"Home, peese"

“Home, peese”

“Sorry, Little Man, I promise I’ll be as quick as I can, I just have to get this done…”

I know Mother Guilt is not limited to farming or, indeed, mothers. On Twitter’s AgChatOz forum the other day, fellow dairy farmers told of their dismay.

MotherGuilt

And, then, Shelby posted a link to this:

Cat’s in the Cradle always “gets me”, too. It’s times like these that I wonder if I am doing the right thing. My children see more of me going about daily life than they would if I was an office worker but, with farm returns so low, it seems we spend most of our time working and less of their time playing.

With the heifer paddock hastily patched up, Zoe, Alex and I returned last weekend to do the major works. As I wrestled with wire and strainers, they gambolled about the picturesque hidden paddock. Flanked by forest, they were out of the chilly wind, away from roads and so carelessly happy. I smiled as their little heads bobbed across the pastures and my spirits soared as their laughter echoed around the trees.

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

I was cured. Well, almost. What mother would stand back and film this?

I’m a greedy parent

I’m something of a greedy parent. I want my children to be strong but gentle, thoughtful yet bold and big picture thinkers who care about the small stuff (maybe Zoe will one day point her shrink to this post as evidence).

Blue winged parrot

The critically endangered orange-bellied parrot?

I’m a fairly excitable type and nearly crashed into a fence post when I saw this little bird and its mate on the farm because I had only that morning read this description of just such a bird by the Parrot Society:

“Australia’s Orange-bellied Parrot can be ranked with the Giant Panda, Whooping Crane and Siberian Tiger as amongst the rarest and most endangered of the Wildlife. Only 100 to 200 individuals still exist.”

I managed to snap a pic before the timid pair flitted away and breathlessly told the Little Farmer how lucky we were to see it. As an idealistic 20-something, I even trudged through the mangroves down near Wilson’s Prom in a fruitless search back in the 90s.

Having turned to Pizzey’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia though, my excitement evaporated. I think instead, we have slightly atypical blue-winged parrots. Lovely and thankfully, in good numbers.

Just as Berenson’s Father Bear’s stuff-ups were the makings of a great Baby Bear, though, I hope my enthusiasm counts for something in the parenting stakes.