As the day pressed on and the blistering, unexpected spring heat smothered, I began to wonder if perhaps we were, in our novice status as bonafide dairy goat farmers, making a bit more work for ourselves than was needed. We were having a good time after all. The babies had stayed in the living room about three times longer than we planned because we had such ridiculous fun having them there. Waking up and coming down the stairs to sweetest little faces and cries for snuggles and milk? Yes. It was as lovely as it sounds but yes, it was also a tremendous lot of work! The days were a bit of blur and truly much bliss as we have allowed all the rest of life to be on hold and treasured these fleeting newly born days.
In my wondering, I queried in my head “what would Joan do?”. So I wrote her mid afternoon yesterday. Joan the kind-hearted, older mama whom we had first met in the goat barn at fair a few years back. Joan, whose (now grown) children left such an impression on me when I met them the first time in their manners and kindness and gentle confidence. I described to her what we were doing with our new goats and how we were learning and getting on. This is the schedule I sent:
6 AM milk 4 goats (3 Nigerians and Genie) – clean the vacuum milker
6:30 AM feed 10 bottles divided among babies
10 AM feed newer batch of 6 babies their bottles (but only carefully rationed measured out, they would take more if they could)
12:30 feed older 4 their bottles
1:00 PM milk 4 goats again – clean milker
2:00 PM feed newer 6 babies again (again, carefully rationed, divided out bottles)
5:00 PM feed older 4 babies
6:00 PM feed younger 6 bottles
8:30 PM milk 4 goats (and clean the milker…again!)
9:-9:30 PM feed all 10 babies bottles
As I typed and asked her timidly “am I missing anything here?”, the corners of my mouth curled up and I smirked to myself how crazy it looked on the screen. Because for all that I typed there was of course the un-typed rest of life. Three meals daily for six human kids. The 2-3 loads of daily laundry. The hand washed dishes (did I mention the dishwasher broke January 3?). All the “normal” life work. A calendar of May splayed open on the counter with an array of showers, parties, end-of-year events, birthdays, dinners, outings, anniversary.
I took a deep breath and clicked “send”. Without a trace of fear or worry. Because there are some people who you know, that you know won’t judge, won’t over complicate or make your cheeks burn in embarrassment . They’ll just offer what they know, offer it in love and tell you it’s going to be okay.
After a brief and much needed date night, I got in the car to head home and read her reply. I smiled. I laughed, genuine belly-laughed out loud. Until there were tears streaming down my face as I sat alone in my car in a parking lot. “You are one overworked mama!” was how it began. Oh, so it was a little crazy? Yes. Possibly. The glory of being validated right where you are, such a powerful gift.
Then came her suggestions. Which is what led to the laughter. She told me she suggested “more sleep” at 6 AM. The very idea! In all its wisdom and simplicity! Sleep. The ever-elusive companion over these past 13 years of raising children. This was, possibly, the first time someone had literally told me I perhaps should sleep more.
It got better. From 10 am-1 pm on her proposed schedule, after kids had helped with milking (which of course they already do – but it was good to have affirmed that indeed, this ought to be a family affair) it said “be with your kids. go shopping. do your housework. eat lunch.” More smiles. Someone I respect just told me to simply “be with” my kids. Deep breath.
And better still, after getting milk to goats after lunch (and cutting out the terribly over-the-top midday milking) she proposed:
enjoy your kids, drink lemonade in the garden, watch your kids play with the baby goats
Wait? Did someone just tell me to enjoy my kids? To drink lemonade in the garden? To watch my kids play? This was too much! The wave of relief and sweetness that washed over me prompted hot tears and a most silly grin.
Permission to simplify. Permission to sleep. Permission to enjoy the blessings set before me. Permission to delight in our work together but not create an unnecessary load.
We all need a Joan. And not just for help with goats. But for so much more. We need to raise our heads up, raise our hands and ask brave, vulnerable questions of the older, wiser women in our midst. Especially in the raising of children, which is largely done outside of a tight-knit, real-life community except for a lucky few, we need the gift of their looking back, their ability to see clearly what really mattered. Things like enjoying our kids and lemonade in the garden. At times, we need to admit defeat and call in the troops of the ones who have already been there. We need fresh eyes.
Maybe our schedule or workload feels suffocating but we don’t know how to fix it. Maybe one child struggles big and loud and we have tried everything but can’t help them. Maybe we have fought against family baggage and generations of bad patterns in relationships but we want more than bondage, we ache for freedom. Whatever the unspoken fight or darkness, sometimes we need another set of hands on deck, a new and fresh perspective in order to find our way, “to proceed to the next step” as I inquired to Joan in my letter.
If we open up our eyes and heart to the people around us in one circle or another, chances are there is a Joan or a Suzanne or an Amy or someone precious who is just waiting to see a raised hand, a white flag, a “help wanted” banner held up over the life of a younger one trying to find her way.