The Meaning of Weaning

To wean: to withhold mother’s milk from; to detach from that to which one is accustomed or devoted

From Old English & Germanic roots (wen-): to desire, to strive for; to hope, expect, imagine; to win; a pleasure

From the Latin (ven-): love, as in Venus, the Goddess of Love; or in Old Norse, Venr, a god of fertility
We have weaned the bull calves. Now nearing three months, they are old enough and able enough to chew, swallow, rechew, and swallow again the grains and grasses that will support their next increments of growth.

The weaning went smoothly. The calves didn’t seem to mind. Every feeding for several days in a row, Jordan and Jessica would give each calf his same half gallon of liquid, warm and white, while slowly lowering the milk to water ratio until no milk remained. Meanwhile, the calves were tempted round the clock with sweet molasses covered baby grain and plenty of tasty hay.

One good weaning enables another. With the calves weaned, we are once again in the milk, and nearly weaned ourselves from the dairy aisle at the grocery store. We no longer need to purchase milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, butter, or ricotta cheese. We have our own—or at least, the raw materials with which to make what we need.

Weaning is good for us, no question.

But what about for the calves? Is weaning good for them too? Are we depriving them of what they most desire—the glorious elixir of a mother’s milk?

I am not into deprivation. I nursed three of my children to age three. Then there was a time when it was time, for both of us. I know too that mother cow when the time is ripe will turn her tail on a growing calf and nudge its nose away. But still, would it be better to delay the (pain of the) inevitable?

Researching the roots of the word “to wean” pushed my thinking along. It is easy to think of weaning as “withholding,” or as “detaching from something desired.” Whole fields of psychology have been built on the task of curing our primordial wounds, often rendered as a loss of the mother.

Yet the nub of the word itself comes from Old English, Germanic, and Latin words meaning “desire,” “hope,” “strive for,” and even “love.” Is this a contradiction?

I think again. Perhaps weaning is not about denying our desire as much as it is about enabling our desire to evolve in line with our growing selves.

There is wisdom in desire. I have been writing about it for months, OK years. Part of that wisdom, as I suggest, lies in the fluidity of desire. Desire moves—it moves us, it is itself a movement towards what we believe will grant us the pleasure we seek. At the same time, this movement is not arbitrary. There is a rhythm to it. As we move towards what we desire, we learn whether or not we were right. We create patterns of sensation and response to guide us in the future.

In other words, as we get the nourishment we need to grow, what we need to grow changes in line with the growth our nourishment has enabled.

So what does that have to do with weaning? As desire evolves, what we want changes. Desires we have had in the past fall away. No deprivation about it. No forced detachment. We simply don’t want what we once did. We wean.

Take the bulls. They don’t seem to miss the milk at all. They just started eating more grain, with its belly-filling bounty, and chewing more crunchy hay, with its long-lasting, teeth-resisting flavor. Weaning means having the opportunity to enjoy the qualities of these foods—foods that the calves need to stimulate their own capacity to transform food to energy to muscle and bone.

Here on the farm we have weaned ourselves from aspects of contemporary culture that once seemed indispensable—and not only Ben & Jerry’s. We don’t play video games or eat fast foods. We rarely visit a restaurant or a movie theater. We don’t have a television. It is not that we are trying to deprive ourselves of things to which we were attached. Rather, the desire for these things has fallen away as other activities have emerged for us as more desirable, more enabling, and simply put, possible here in a way they never were when we lived in the suburbs.

Like raising a pair of bulls as oxen! Only here has it become possible, desirable, and even easy. The kids are finding in themselves a conviction they never had to wean themselves of technologies that harm the earth, so as to make more of what they love about this place for everyone.

To wean: to find our freedom and align ourselves with the ever-evolving wisdom in our desires.

1 thought on “The Meaning of Weaning

  1. Grace

    >This is my first visit here. Thank you for such beautiful writing. This is so well-said, and so moving. I will think about what you shared here often. Thank you.


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