In a crisis on the farm, I learn ‘the wisdom of no escape’

Lambing season at the farm lasts about a month. Birth is not some hysterical experience for sheep, but I’d keep an eye on them. Easter Sunday morning, I went out to check. 

Marjorie was over in the corner, distressed. Her low moans were not a sound I had heard before. I called my oldest son.

Why We Wrote This

Sometimes an emergency leaves us in no doubt as to what must be done – and that we must be the ones to do it. In this personal essay, our writer and her son learn the joy of coming to the rescue.

Will was not born to farm. He finds most of the smells repulsive. I said, “Son, I need you to stand at her head, and hold her still. I’m going to go in and see what’s going on.” 

“Have you done this before?”

“No honey,” I said, “but if I don’t do anything, we’ll lose Marjorie.” 

I prepared myself and put my hands inside. Her baby was breech. I cradled the lamb and gently turned it.

I have done many things in my life, but this was both the hardest and the most magical. A Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, calls it “the wisdom of no escape.” I know exactly what she means.

“Mom,” said Will, staring at me, “that was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Lambing season at the farm lasts about a month. I’d be in the barn a lot. Not that the ewes needed me: Birth was not some hysterical experience for them. There were no carefully orchestrated birth plans, no ice chips, no plush keepsake to use as a focal point. But I liked to hang out with them, just in case. The seven of us listened to Joni Mitchell on my phone. I’d sit quietly in the corner, watching as my beloved girls brought babies into the world without exclamations. 

Easter Sunday morning, I went out to check. I got there in time to see Dolores deliver her twin lambs, one after another. Up each popped, after all of two minutes, still wet and dazed. I rubbed them down with a towel and put them under Dolores’ teats. Good lambs indeed, they knew just what to do. 

Marjorie was over in the corner, distressed. Standing up, lying down, she could not seem to find a comfortable position. Her low moans were not a sound I had heard before. She was in trouble. I called my oldest son on my phone and told him he had to come out.

Why We Wrote This

Sometimes an emergency leaves us in no doubt as to what must be done – and that we must be the ones to do it. In this personal essay, our writer and her son learn the joy of coming to the rescue.

“Which boots?” he asked. 

“Not your new Timbs. It could get messy, and they were expensive.”

Will was not born to farm. He found most of the smells repulsive. Splitting and stacking wood was “disgusting,” and the squealing of the pigs totally freaked him out. “It’s all pretty stressful, Mom,” he concluded one day. 

I’d gotten the sheep for him and his brother so they could join 4-H and show the animals at the county fair. They were beyond excited at the prospect and promised they would help with the chores. 

I dropped Will at the fair one morning as his friends were showing sheep, and he was keen to see what it was all about so he’d be prepared for next year. 

Two hours later, he called. “Can you come pick me up?” 

“Really?” I asked. “Is something wrong?” 

“I’ll tell you in the car.”

I’ll tell you in the car was big. It usually meant a 73 on a science project he’d worked really hard on, or a spiteful coach who hadn’t moved him up to varsity. 

“Oh, thanks, honey,” I said, taking the candy apple from him when he sat down in the passenger seat. “So?” I asked. 

“I’m not going to join 4-H or show sheep. It is waaay too much work,” he said. “Sorry, Mom, I know we already have sheep. I promise I’ll help. Just not the mucking-out-the-barn part. I dry-heave.”

Remember that scene in “The Godfather,” when Don Corleone says to Amerigo Bonasera, “Someday – and that day may never come – I will call upon you to do a service for me”? That someday had come to Knot Hollow. It was time for my son to pay up. 

I said, “Son, I need you to stand at her head, and hold her still. I’m going to go in and see what’s going on.” 

“You’re going to stick your hands inside? Do you even know what you are doing? Have you done this before?”

“No honey,” I said, “but if I don’t do anything, we’ll lose Marjorie and however many babies she’s carrying.” 

I prepared myself and put my hands inside. I felt hoofs but no face. Her baby was breech. I was up to my elbows when I felt the head. I cradled the lamb and gently turned it clockwise. It was remarkably roomy in there. And warm. Nothing at all scary about it. Once I got the lamb’s head in position, I pulled it out. 

I have done many things in my life, but this was both the hardest and the most magical. A Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, calls it “the wisdom of no escape.” I know exactly what she means.

I wiped off the lamb, put him under Marjorie’s nose, and watched her nudge and lick him until he could stand up on his own. 

We named him Hay-Zeus. It was Easter Sunday, after all. 

“Mom,” said Will, staring at me, “that was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” 

I started to cry. 

Mr. Fletcher, our gruff neighbor, came into the barn just then. I guess he was coming to get a round bale for his cows. 

“What’s going on?” he said, noticing the lamb. “Is it dead?” 

“No, no, it’s alive!” said Will, full of pride. “Mom pulled it out of her.”

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“So why are you crying?” Mr. Fletcher said, looking at me.

“Because I’m a girl, you idiot. Because I’m a girl.”