Sunday, January 15, 2017

If I can do it, so can you

Spicy and Ginger Snap
While I’ve been engrossed in the tornado that is my life, the farm has been chugging along uneventfully, under the steady hand of Farmer Katherine.  Honestly, she does such a good job that I don’t really have to involve myself in the day-to-day operations.  But at breakfast the other morning, she caught my attention. 
Usually she rattles on about some baby goat or another: which one has developed a milk goiter (what is that anyway?), which ones she sold and to whom, why one of them may have died (enlarged heart perhaps). 
A month back it was about her escapades as a pro bono goat midwife.  On more than one occasion she got called out in the middle of the night to pull kids out of one of Bubba’s mama goats.  Which, on a side note, warms my heart.  The dust of the break-up (2+ years ago now) has settled and we are all back to being friends and helping each other again. What a relief that is.
Sometimes it’s about her breeding plan.  Which buck should she breed to which doe and why? Do I think that new buck is throwing heart defects? Is the old guy still alive? (the answer is yes).
Or maybe the topic will be about her newest business venture: goat milk soap.  We have a few dozen bars of soap “curing” on the dining room table, waiting to be packaged for sale at local, yet-to-be-identified venues.  Which scent is best? Which base is best: avocado oil, shea butter, olive oil, palm oil? How about the color? How exactly should she package it: burlap, tissue, boxed, plastic, bare? How much should she charge for it based on her spreadsheet of what it costs to make each bar? Can you say “profit margin”?

You know, normal stuff. I admit that sometimes it rolls right past me as I nod and grunt when there is a lull in the noise. We all tune out sometimes.
But recently Katherine has been in a writer’s workshop at her high school (she’s a junior now).  After Christmas break they do a mini-term with one class. I supposed it’s to break up the tedium of January and ease the kids back into the spring term for the push to the end of the year. It’s also a nice chance for the kids to try something new that they might not otherwise have time for in the action-packed school year.
Katherine wasn’t particularly passionate about her course selection this year, so I pretty much ignored it. 

The general idea...
She started describing the second day to me, while I kept on doing my Sudoku and nodding along.  They started the day with an impromptu story-telling assignment where they had to choose a photograph and tell a story about it. No prep. No notes. Just stream of consciousness.
Katherine chose a picture that she took of “stars” that she and a friend made at goat convention two years ago.  There’s a long funny story about it, involving Katherine being the designated driver for her inebriated adult friends who were eating too many vodka infused gummy bears (see Goat Convention: Top 10 Don'ts), but that just scratched the surface of her story.

The real story was about overcoming depression and anxiety in the face of a screwy family dynamic. She talked about not speaking to her dad who thinks her interest in agribusiness is an utter waste of time. She talked about the uncontrollable urge to slide scissor blades across her arms and legs, over and over again, until she was covered in thin red lines like a spider web.  She talked about feeling overwhelmed by pressures at school. She talked about not being able to sleep because of the thoughts spinning around her brain.

And then Katherine talked about goats.

She talked about how exhilarating it is to pull a half-dead baby goat out of a mama goat and successfully resuscitate it. She talked about how exhausting it is to draw blood from 35 goats in an afternoon, but how you just keep going because it has to be done. 

She talked about how nerve-wracking it is to field “cold calls” from strangers looking to buy goats; and then how entertaining it is to see their flabbergasted expressions when they come to the farm and see that she’s only a teenager.

She talked about how rewarding it is to figure out how to write a business plan for a venture she thought up all by herself.

She talked about feeling empowered and valued because adults in the goat world respect her for her knowledge of goats and her ability to run a successful breeding program.

She described, via her goat example, how to overcome depression and anxiety through a process of perseverance, self-discovery and grit.
Wow. My coffee was cold by now. The sudoko blank.

Loading the truck
“So, what did other people talk about?” I asked blankly.
“Oh, you know, dark, mopey, teenage angst stuff,” Katherine said.
“What inspired you to be so … candid?”
“The other kids in the workshop are going through the same dark phase I went through last year, and I wanted to tell them that they’d be OK. Just because my life looks great from the outside, it doesn’t mean it’s all perfect on the inside. I wanted them to know that we all have deep dark places where we get stuck, and that we all have to actively chart our own course out of it. And they needed to hear it from another kid, not an adult. If I could get past my misery they can, too.”
All that at the breakfast table. This conversation may well go down as one of my proudest parenting moments. Not only did Katherine internalize what I’ve been trying to teach her (and her siblings) all these years, but she cared enough to articulate the concept to other kids who were suffering with their own angst.
I think that kid’s going to be a-OK.

photo by Mary Murphy

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