September 20, 2013 § 10 Comments


Lynn called and offered us 8 or 9 acres of standing second cut hay, and damned if that we were gonna let such an enormously generous offer fall by the wayside. We’ve got almost enough hay put up, but almost is… well, it’s almost, and almost don’t cut it with ruminant animals. I mean, you can have enough hay to get you through, say, middle April, which is mighty close to green up ’round these parts, but if you don’t have enough to make it into May, you might’s well pawn your critters now and save yourself a passel of trouble. And all for the want of a few weeks worth of hay come spring.

Anyway. The barn is full to bursting with square bales, so we worked a deal with Melvin to put the hay into wrapped round bales that needn’t be under cover. To be sure, the plastic wrap is a bummer and all, but sometimes concessions must be made, and this was one of those times. I’ve waxed poetic about putting up square bales more than a time or two, and I’ve meant every last word of it, but tarnation them round bales are handy as all get out under the right circumstances. So this morning after chores the boys and I trundled down to Melvin’s, hooked up the clamshell to his loader, hitched onto the wagon, and went bale gathering.

I hadn’t really expected the boys to help with wrapping. They’d never run the wrapper before, and it seemed easier to simply do it myself, despite the complications of wrapping solo. First, you gotta load the bale onto the wrapper; then, you gotta move the tractor, climb out of the tractor, wrap the bale, dump the bale, set the wrapper, hop back into the tractor, stack the wrapped bale, grab an unwrapped bale, and load the bale. Then you do it all over again. But complicated as all this sounds, I figured it’d be quicker and ultimately more efficient than taking the time to show the fellas how to operate the wrapper, as well as whatever time it took to undo any mistakes that were made. In short – and it sorta pains me to admit this – I just didn’t want to be bothered.

So yeah, I’d planned on performing the gyrations necessary to load, wrap, and stack the bales alone, what with Melvin still milking, but the boys were keen to prove their worth, and so I sighed and capitulated and gave them a few moments of instruction and climbed back into the tractor, all but certain I was making a mistake that would come back to bite me sooner, rather than later.

I’m gonna stop the story telling here, because I’ve come to the place where I can make my point, and that’s really what I came here to do. As I was watching the boys wrap the bales, conferring amongst themselves every so often when things got complicated (wrapping is a fairly simple task, but it is important to line up the wrapper correctly for both loading and dumping, and to be sure the bale makes 15 full turns, and the plastic wrap, which is self-sticking, can be a real bear to work with), it occurred to me how rare it’s become that children are able and/or allowed to contribute to their family’s well being in such a visceral manner anymore. And I was thinking of a passage from the book From Boys to Men (which is by Bret Stephenson, although the passage is one he  quotes from a now-defunct periodical):

We are the only civilization in history to have created a whole category of people (adolescents) for whom we have no real use. In times not long gone by, fourteen-year-olds helped on the farm. They assisted with the animals, cared for younger siblings, and helped get the crops in before the frost. If they lived in the city, they got into the shops and found jobs as apprentices, helpers, stock clerks, or custodians. They had a role in society – and they understood that hard work and responsible behavior were the keys to future success. They were in partnership with adult members.

Now, however, we have “protected” them out of jobs, and relegated young adolescents to the roles of pizza consumer and videotape junkie… Children this age need to be needed, but we have institutionalized our rebuff to their pleas to be of service. 

For the next hour or so, I loaded and stacked, whilst the boys wrapped, and darned if they didn’t make but one error, which was quickly remedied (and was one less error than I’d made the first time I used the wrapper), and darned if the whole task took maybe half as long as it would have without their help.

And darned if – and I’m pretty sure I’m not mistaken, here, judging by the look of satisfaction on their faces – my sons didn’t feel needed. As I know from experience, that’s a real nice way to feel.

§ 10 Responses to Needed

  • mindweapon says:

    that’s great Ben! Just be real careful with them. Mechanized farming be dangerous. But you know that.

  • Sid Raisch says:

    This is so true Ben. Children are capable, if not better than adults for a myriad of tasks and responsibilities. They get great satisfaction from those accomplishments, and a feeling of gratification for the opportunity to do them. I know because I had the opportunity when I was growing up.

    There are a great many things that children do that are dangerous without leaving the safety and comfort of their own homes. Ours learned to clean and cut vegetables when they are old enough to reach the counter from the step stool, and they still have all their digits in place. None have been removed nor re-attached. Given the choice I’d like mine to be doing things that are of the more productive sorts.

    I’d like to share a TedX Xavier University talk that my son did this spring on the subject of children and the love and genius they offer. In the video – the other is a prison. He forgot to mention that. An adult would likely have made other mistakes, and would not have brought nearly as much passion to their talk. .

    Thanks for your very well made point.

  • Aaron says:

    We are in the process of leaving the Dallas suburbs for the Virginia woods for just this reason. I grew up with sheep, chickens, hogs, cutting wood, and real responsibility; and I am better for it. We’re doing our boys a disservice by relegating them to TV watchers.

  • Aaron says:

    Above comment and the move are partially from reading your blog and your books, too, Ben, I should note!

  • Dawn says:

    Oh, do I agree! Many is the time, when I was in HS especially, I was glad to have our horses to use as an excuse to get out of sketchy activities with my peers. “No, sorry, I can’t do (insert possibly illegal thing) with you this afternoon. I have to go take care of the horses.” Having animals that needed and depended on me kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up, I can tell you. They gave me a legitimate excuse when I didn’t have the confidence to just say no. Being needed is a good thing be it by your Dad or other large animal. Funny to think that now I actually need my toddlers’ help rounding up the chickens every evening. They can catch them better than I can!

  • Wendy says:

    So long as safety lessons are taught along with the work, kids grow up understanding the pros and cons of doing things – and learn to be more careful around sharp objects or dangerous situations. I was taught early on to do much as young as I could be taught – like cooking or helping with wash, etc. – and then was responsible enough to house sit for my grandma’s animals by 14. The added responsibility gave me purpose early on, and an independence I wouldn’t have gained any other way.

    Nowadays, I know folks who won’t even make their kids do chores to help around the house – insanity! – then end up yelling at the kids because they never do anything. Go figure …

    You and Penny are just awesome, smart parents!

  • jsiegel115 says:

    The passage you’ve included is so interesting. I have never thought of this in this way, but it is very true. It really gives me something to think about.

    My daughter now helps with the feedings in the mornings, before school. It’s a minor, minor thing, but I look at it as a gateway to other things that she will do. I feel good about her helping me, and I know that she feels good about it, too.

  • Peter Hewitt says:

    Your boys and your acknowledgement of their achievements are appreciated. Vigilant, it seems!

  • CathyT says:

    Loved reading this and on so true. Now to find the you tube video by Recess Monkey called Marshmallow Farm. My kids and i sing it as we drive by baled hay.

  • Angela says:

    that’s awesome. just awesome.

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