My mom has a saying: “I don’t go where you live; don’t come where I live.”
The “you” in this statement refers to animals, insects – basically any living thing that can be found outside of her house or a mall. She does not hike or camp or picnic on grass. She occasionally ventures onto her deck only to declare it “too hot” or “too buggy” and retreat inside to the air conditioning.
I like to think of myself as slightly more outdoorsy. I enjoy hiking (reasonable distances) and camping (the kind you do right near your car) and picnicking on grass (as long as there aren’t too many bees). But I did spend quite a bit of time with my mom when I was growing up. So if I’m being honest I have to admit that many creatures – particularly those with more than four legs – make me kind of nervous.
In an effort to avoid passing my squeamishness on to my children, I pretend to enjoy touching bugs, and I promote a catch-and-release policy with the insects and spiders we find in our house (even though my instinct is to smash them with a shoe while screaming). Apparently this charade isn’t fooling Theo, who refused to walk barefoot on our deck the other day after he saw one ant.
I won’t be too upset if my children don’t end up loving bugs. We can still share a healthy appreciation of nature while enjoying those of god’s creatures that aren’t quite so disgusting. It was with this in mind that, a few weeks ago, I suggested taking a trip to a local farm.
My siblings and I were staying at our parents’ house with our spouses and young kids, and we were desperate to keep the children entertained. I’m not sure why I insisted that my mother come with us. There is no air conditioning on a farm, and it literally smells like shit. But I tend to turn into Clark Griswold when it comes to planning “fun” family outings, and I need for everyone not only to participate but to demonstrate total, cult-like enthusiasm for the endeavor.
I wanted us all to do this together precisely because it’s not the sort of thing we do. Why couldn’t we all wander the grounds, breathe the fresh air, and frolic with the animals (or at least wander and breathe)? Also, one of my brothers was about to move to Dubai with his wife and two children; they would be there for two years, and this was the last time we would all be together for a while. So the stakes were particularly high. We were all going to go together, and we were going to have the best time ever!!
For some reason, probably because she was frightened by the wild look in my eyes, my mother agreed to come.
And so our group was set: my sister-in-law and her two children, 4 and 2; my two children; and both of my parents. (Not everyone had arrived yet. We were missing, crucially, the one family member who is an actual, legitimate farm person: my youngest brother, who has lived and worked on several farms and has done real farm things like make cheese from milk that he extracted with his own hands.)
The outing started well. We managed to get all of the children packed into the minivan with no major catastrophes. I slid behind the wheel feeling victorious. Nothing could stop us now! Unless we didn’t have the car key.
It wasn’t in either of my pockets, and it wasn’t in my purse. It wasn’t on the seats, under the seats, under the car, on top of the car, or in the diaper bag. We even checked under each of the children (if ever I can’t find something, there’s usually a good chance it’s under the baby).
I reached deep inside myself and fought the urge to hurl my purse across the lawn, tip over the water table and scream obscenities into the sky. We were going to have ourselves a bushelful of wholesome family farm fun, dammit, and I would not ruin it by having a meltdown.
I took a deep breath, wiped a trickle of sweat off my forehead, and started the search again, beginning with the diaper bag. And, like magic, there it was, hidden beneath Sophie the Giraffe (the little vixen). Nothing could stop us now!
My mom, who had already begun walking back into the house, slunk back to the car.
I drove into the sunny afternoon, and we started singing a song about going to the farm. It went something like, “We’re going to the farm! We’re going to the farm!” The gummy fruits and Goldfish flowed freely in the backseat. My nephew, who at 4 is a connoisseur of scatological humor, told a very detailed story about how he was going to make a poo hotdog and serve it to my husband when he arrived later that evening.
We pulled into the parking lot.
It was a glorious day, sunny and cool. Our first stop was the baby goats, sweet little spindly-legged things that nuzzled our fingers. Theo and my nephew were enamored. I glanced over my shoulder to look for my mom and saw her standing in the shade of the farm store’s awning, waving away bugs.
I noticed that the goats were straining to nibble at the grass that was just beyond the fence, even though there was plenty of green grass inside their pen. I pointed it out to my dad. Just five minutes in and we’d already witnessed an adage in action! And we didn’t even have to pay to get in!
We set out across a small field to visit the other animals. To my dismay, I saw that the field was crawling with cats, which happen to be my mother’s least favorite animal. Bravely, she wove the stroller through the hellish cat slalom and we made it to the other side, where we found… more goats. Okay, not a lot of points for variety so far, but it was still early.
The goats came out from the shade to check us out, and a few of them stood on their hind legs to get a better look. My mother did not like this at all. “Don’t let the kids get too close!” she said, keeping herself and the baby stroller safely out of goat-leaping range. “Relax,” I said. “They’re behind a fence. Plus, they’re nice. See?” I added, letting one lick my finger.
Suddenly, my nephew let out a wail. We all jumped – had he been trampled by a rogue goat? But no, a bug had flown into his ear. Or maybe one had buzzed near his ear. We couldn’t really be sure. But either way, he was done. “I hate this dumpy farm,” he cried.
That was enough for my mom. She was already pushing the stroller toward the car. My sister-in-law followed with my niece and nephew in tow.
Fine, I thought. But before we go, we’re at least going to see the ducks and chickens. My dad and I followed Theo over to the ducks, which were splashing around in a small pond. The chickens hung out in an adjacent area, guarded by a rooster who paced nearby, keeping an eye on us.
I should have warned Theo to give the rooster some room, but I didn’t want to make him unnecessarily nervous. Then I noticed that the rooster was getting awfully close. Before I could speak, the little beast let out a screech and charged, pecking at Theo’s legs. Theo screamed, and I screamed. I scooped Theo up and started running for the car. After checking the damage (just a little scratch), I whispered to my dad: “Don’t tell Mom.”
We had broken my mother’s code, and we had paid the price. We had been at the farm for a total of thirty-four minutes.
Later, as we drank wine in the safety of my parents’ air-conditioned living room, my brother – the one who moved to Dubai – said we had no business going to a farm in the first place. It’s true; we are not farm people. And on Theo’s leg was proof that at least one animal did not appreciate us coming to where he lived.
Maybe one day our children will find their own way to love (and respect) the beasts that live in the great outdoors and on farms, even the mean old roosters. In the meantime, I will try to respect my mother’s wish to stay the hell away from such places. But sometimes the beasts do come to where we live, whether we like it or not: in a few weeks we are all going to a birthday party that will feature a traveling petting zoo. I’ll let you know how that goes.