Wood Cutters, by Tom Roberts. 1886. (Gratefully, not the way we do wood splitting!)
Spring has inaugurated the pecking season. That season where one never finishes but faithfully pecks at the list whenever possible until October. Saturday was a family work day. The sheep barn is clean, we put in some hours with the wood splitter (a shiny red machine, not a person), we made a start towards cleaning up some more of the pasture, and we spread brown treasures around the property. Our manure spreading is shovels and pitch forks from a wagon pulled by the smallest tractor driver who can still reach the gas and brakes. We also leveled some places for our new hives, picked them up, and got them in place.
Not a single child was excited about family work day. The older three accomplished quite a bit. The youngest did a little. There were lots of complaints, some good natured, some not. Feet drug in a range from periodic to emphatic. The after lunch return to labors was especially unpopular. It ended like this:
“I actually really like family work days,” I said. We were stacking some more of the wood we’d split.
“Me too,” said voices from every side of me.
“They’re one of my favorite times together,” I said.
“I know what you mean,” said one.
“Me too,” said another.
They began recounting all they’d accomplished, especially impressed that some of them could no longer reach the top of the stack we had started along the wall of the shed on the ground that morning.
Family work days give me hope. Not because we ever come close to what we thought we might do. (Why my husband and I spend such large amounts of time debating what should be done on the list which we never complete is a good question.) Not because everyone is happy all day. My husband and I disagree on and off about how best to do it all. Once every fifteen minutes or so, someone hides in the bathroom, stomps off incensed at an egregious insult, or insists that they are starving, exhausted, or seriously injured. I tell myself as I re-motivate another child that work days are like democracy: the only thing worse than doing them is not doing them.
Before this year, there is no doubt that my husband and I could have accomplished more in a day working by ourselves than with the family. But the scales have tipped. Not a lot, but a little.
Family work days say that work is an important part of life, but efficiency is not everything.
Knowing in the moment, the difference between failure and success, might not be a particular human specialty. Maybe the point is to keep at it as best you know, celebrate the stacks of wood and piles of poop you have, and leave the rest of it as tomorrow’s problem so you can go inside eat meatloaf with baked potatoes.
Canadian etiquette requires that Victoria Day weekend be spent in outdoor pursuits: camping, cottaging, gardening – anything outside. This somehow brings honor to Queen Victoria, who passed from this life in 1901. I wasn’t raised with Kings and Queens. Twenty plus years into this Canadian experiment, I’m warming up to them quite nicely. The holiday Monday that the monarchy extends to me each May is always well received. I don’t mind doing my part to hail to the Queen.
This year in Victoria’s honor, my husband got a new fence up and we moved some manure piles and spread them on the fields using our handy, dandy pitchforks. Boy two graduated to tractor driver so Boy one and I could throw brown treasure off the wagon. Extended family offered help, so the wood splitter got some action and a kitchen garden went in for me! Girl one began her lawn mowing career. Steering is an issue. Girl two put herself to bed at the end of the day but woke up to ask when work days were going to be over, because they were really, really long days.
I’m sure the Queen appreciated all that, although I don’t know which Queen. I’m guessing that Queen Elizabeth appreciates it in Victoria’s place, on account of the 1901 departure. but it might be that a whole group of them sits down around 3:00 to feel grateful to Canada. (*This just in: the holiday now includes celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday.)
So in tribute to Victoria, with birthday wishes to HRH Queen Elizabeth, the best (and most daunting) part of the day was Lily, herself of royal blood, who finally had her lambs. The best part of the gift was the timing. Right smack in the middle of the morning in broad daylight. Kids got to see lambs born. (That tiny little sentence really doesn’t do the experience justice. It might deserve it’s own post on miracles, only I can’t write it yet due to the daunting.) The daunting part, was that Lily kept going past three lambs, right on to five. So far, they are all alive. The next few weeks involve a lot of frequent bottle feedings with lambs at different stages. Although fewer lambs would mean less work, for some reason the instinct for life is stronger in all of us than practicalities. My heart sinks every time I think one of them has died, and soars if they wiggle up and start stumbling around again. It will be unusual if they all make it, but since you never know which ones will make it, you knock yourself out for everybody, say a prayer, hold your breath, and wait.
One things is certain. Each of the five will receive a royal name. Since we name all the girls we keep by flower names, we must certainly dub someone from the group, Queen Anne’s Lace.