Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hannah Belle's Baby Blues

Well, my daughter Hannah Belle was never much in the running for the Mother-of-the-Year honors, except for a couple of weeks last year when she doted rather nauseatingly on little Peanut, nudging him along and making sure nobody stepped on him, and never letting him out of her sight, and washing his little head just about incessantly.

"It's clean already!" I told her several times, but she isn't a big one on heeding the advice of her elders. Or anyone else, for that matter.

But once Peanut was up and running she ditched him and his triplet siblings, and went back to her goating about.

This year she didn't bother doting on anyone, since the whole set of triplets was rather strappingly normal, just got them started with a couple of days of milk then split for greener pastures. It was her own Outward Bound program: if the little tikes could find her, fine, she was happy to give them some milk. But if they couldn't escape from their stall or pasture to track her down, then they could just go without. When it comes to milk, her policy was, you have to want it.

They quickly learned many of her escaping tricks: grab the chain on the gate and rattle it with your teeth until it pops off the hook; run upstairs to the hayloft to help yourself to the better hay; huddle down behind one of the milkers then barge out of the stall with your head down low when she goes to be milked.

And many more tricks, including spin moves, head fakes, the patented milkstand pick, and "bookcase baby" which is too complicated to explain here.

Hannah Belle knows them all: if she wants to go in the house, for example, she knows that she can open the back door by pushing down on the handle with her head.

Anyway I am getting off track as usual, the point is that her parenting skills were, or seemed to be, on the lax side.

But this year for the first time Hannah Belle's babies all went home within a few days. And we could not believe what we saw.

Hannah Belle noticed. Hannah Belle noticed very deeply.

She went on a mission. She scoured the entire farm from top to bottom looking for Cora Belle and Filbert, the last two to leave. She searched for them in every corner; she opened the tack room; she ran up to the hayloft; she squeezed through the pasture gate and came up to the front yard, where they had sometimes scarfed up last year's tired maple leaves. She even looked under the porch.

And all the time she called out to them in an angry chuckle. The joke is over, you kids. Come out.

Well, the farmer always says that the trouble with Nigerians is that they are too smart. This isn't true of the Breezy family, but in general I understand it. And there is one perfect illustration of it: disbudding.

There are quite a few not very pleasant tasks in the goat world, and one of them is disbudding the baby goats. The farmer hates it but it has to be done.

So every year the farmer puts each baby goat in a special box and burns out the horn buds with a special iron, a procedure that only lasts a few seconds but hurts a lot. And every year when the farmer takes the Nubian babies out of the box, the Nubian babies look up with surprise and relief from their bawling, as if to tell the farmer - oh, thanks for getting me out of there, you would not believe what happened, it was horrible, thank God you happened along.

Whereas the Nigerian babies give the farmer a black look and for several days afterward scowl and holler when they see the farmer. As if to say: why did you put me in that box? I am calling my attorney as soon as I can get a cellphone signal, and I will see you in court!!

Because they know what happened.

And now Hannah Belle knows what happened too.

After an entire day of searching, Hannah Belle gave the farmer the blackest goat look you have ever seen, and went and stood by the gate to the down-below pasture, which she normally hates. She stood there with quiet dignity, even though ordinarily she would have just squirmed and wiggled her way in. The farmer came down and opened the gate, and she immediately went in and found her baby from last year, the almost-yearling Boxcar Betty.

She has been sitting with Boxcar Betty ever since. And whenever the farmer comes near, Hannah Belle turns her head so she doesn't have to look at the farmer.