It snowed just in time. The earth and her plants are tucked and snug under a blanket of soft white. Others of us are shivering in our boots. Forecasters predict that the temperature tonight will plunge to 20 below. Mother Nature’s limbo: How low can you go?
Here in the house, we will be toasty, thanks to a cheering wood stove, back-up oil burner, and stacks of blankets. But what about the animals? Those barns are mere windbreakers at best. All the heat those creatures will have is heat they make by themselves and for themselves with the food and water we provide. Will they be warm enough?
I am not worried about the chickens. Their downy fluff is what a body wants. The cats will curl into faceless furballs, wedged in the cracks between bales of hay. Nor am I worried about the three Jersey cows. They don’t even seem to notice the weather, stalking through snow in fingers-deep fur-coat fashion. I want to crawl in too. Which leaves Marvin and the baby bulls. Will they be OK?
I’ve been having long blanket discussions with the kids.
Jessica usually precipitates hers. “Mom, do you think I should put a blanket on Marvin?” She knows that I know what the Vet told us both: A healthy horse with a good winter coat and good nutrition should be fine in winter weather. Put a blanket on him and he will lose his own. Horses are that sensitive.
Still, when the thermometer drops to such abysmal depths, Jessica and I have come up with a compromise. Put on a blanket if it will be below 10 degrees at night. Take it off during the day if it’s sunny. We made it up, but even so, it seems just right for us. Jessica and I leave Marvin his coat until the cold starts making us feel uncomfortable. We need the blanket. Who knows what Marvin thinks. He seems warm enough, and furry too.
As we work out our plan, I recognize a parenting paradox with which I am quite familiar. We want those in our care to have the challenge and exposure they need to test their mettle, grow strong, and unfold what they have to give. But we also want to protect them from storms that might prove too overwhelming, with the opposite effects. In search of that perfect balance, we take the best information we have, and then guess and check. We make it up and feel our way through. Fingers crossed.
Jordan and I have worked out a different scenario for the baby bulls. Of course, the bulls came with their very own calf blankets (see New Arrivals!), but that was four weeks ago. They have grown; the bulls are bursting their buckles. Besides, Jordan wants his oxen-to-be to emit thick and winter-proof coats. He doesn’t want to coddle them with blankets.
I have some doubts. “Aren’t they too young to face that cold all by themselves?” Jordan doesn’t think so. He tells me a story.
“Mom, every morning when I bring them milk, they are eager and energetic, raring to go and not shivering at all.” I am moved a bit.
“But tonight will be very, very cold,” I offer.
“Well,” he explains, “they need each other! Mom, when I put on their blankets the other night, Bright got out of his; but Blaze was still in his blanket and Bright couldn’t curl up with him. So Bright was cold. If the calves have their blankets on, they can’t keep each other warm!”
He’s got me now. The calves will be warmer without their blankets. Brilliant, just brilliant. And just what I needed to hear. Why?
Jordan found it. A perfect solution to the paradox of parenting.
He found another logic. It is never just a choice between blankets or cold, protection or exposure. Risks are real. But in the face of undeniable risks, the greatest protection lies in the relationships we create to meet them. It all works when we respond to risks by creating the relationships that enable us to experience them as strengthening. The exposure makes growing the relationships necessary, desirable, and even possible. It is what we have been doing since moving here to the farm.
Jordan and I are no longer at odds over what will be best for the calves. We never were. We want the same thing: their health, his happiness. We now share a vision for how that can happen.
As he goes to bed, I am thinking about the calves, and I can tell that he is too. “I gave them lots of extra bedding and hay,” he says.
“Good.” I reply
“The digestion of dry hay generates heat,” he continues. “It will help make them warm.” And so I learn, every day. I smile and give him a hug. So our calves will spend the night eating and snuggling to stay warm. Things could be worse.