Photo by Kristy Rammel
When my oldest son was 4, we found out we would be having another baby near the end of October. Over the next several months, we tried to prepare my son for becoming a big brother. During this time, a small calico cat adopted my family. Because my husband refused—and still refuses—to have anything to do with a litter box, our little adopter had to stay an outside kitty. However, I was determined to use this as a teaching opportunity on the importance and commitment required in caring for another creature.
As fall rapidly approached, my belly continued to grow, leaves began to change, my son turned 5 and started kindergarten, and the little calico kitty went from petite to enormous overnight. Yep, she had gone and gotten herself in trouble, as my grandmother used to say!
So I brought home a paper box from work and set her up in the garage. I justified this to the husband by reminding him he would have to be the one to retrieve the babies if she delivered under the house. We impatiently waited several days until finally the feline hormones kicked in, as well as some terrible cat screaming. A few hours later, the first kitten arrived safe and sound in the little box in the garage. I embraced this as a wonderful opportunity for my son to witness the miracle of life.
The next day, I received a call from the teacher asking if I could come to the school a little earlier than usual and have a chat. After being assured that my son was OK, I agreed. That afternoon I sat across from a lovely kindergarten teacher trying desperately to mask her immense amusement.
“We had a little situation this morning,” she began. “Your son had a bit of a meltdown during circle time.”
Her smile widened as she began to lose any composure she had been trying so desperately to maintain.
“He is concerned you may not have a box large enough to have your new baby in!”
At this point, all professionalism was gone, and this poor teacher was literally in tears, grasping her sides as her snickering exploded into a full-blown roar!
“Why,” she gasps, “why does he think you’re having your baby in a box?”
In that moment I realized everything I thought I knew about children was about to change. Being able to take life’s little surprises and turning them into “lessons” is great, but let’s be realistic—even the most prepared parent will get thrown a few curveballs. The moment we add animals, woods and wide-open spaces to the mix, our “knowledge and experience” hits reset and we revert to that obnoxious pre-parent that thought they knew it all!
What is it about the homesteading lifestyle that makes child-rearing so much more challenging? It’s all the little things we encounter on a daily basis. If a beloved pet dies, you can’t tell your 4-year-old he it went to live on a farm—we’re on a farm! If your darling daughter picks a bouquet of flowers as she walks down the paved streets of suburbia, chances are she doesn’t bring home a beautiful bounty of poison oak. And while in the city you might witness the miracle of life once as a child, here in the country, our ability to survive the winter is directly affected by mating schedules, difficult births and makeshift nurseries. Babies are everywhere! Deaths fall in the “acceptable loss” column, and potential danger is all around. But personally I wouldn’t change a thing!
So bring on the poison oak, the slithery snakes and irate roosters. I will take each one and turn it into a hands-on lesson for my kids. They still throw me the occasional curveball, but slowly I am learning to teach “outside the box!”