My loathing of farm animals is a consequence of familiarity—I was raised on a farm, and not the tidy kind in pastoral dramas. Ours was muddy and labor-intensive with livestock always needing water or getting loose, always birthing and dying at inconvenient times. I wanted to go to boarding school and be a ballerina. Why then, as an adult, was I spending a perfectly good Monday morning sitting in my mother’s kitchen doing my damnedest to make three newly born kids drink from a bottle? They’re too uncoordinated to eat well. Weak and hungry, they can’t focus and their need is painful. My throat and chest tighten and I can’t draw a deep breath. There’s a little bit of panic for me when I’m holding something so completely dependent. Have I mentioned I hate goats?
I don’t like going outside first thing in the morning, let alone pinning a recalcitrant dairy goat against a gate so my mother can milk her before I’ve finished my coffee. Ladybug is torn between her desire to be a bitch and her need to have the pressure in her udder relieved. I can’t let go of her to examine my broken nails, so I use the time to lecture her about being a crap mom, how she wouldn’t be in this position if she’d let her babies nurse. She just wants grain and I’m peeved at maternity in general. My mother’s requests for me to reproduce are verging on harassment, and my younger brother’s two-year-old has an ovary-melting smile. I spent my teenage years raising my brothers, so I refuse to be swayed. My irritation is tinged with jealousy—I want children, but I’m in no position to reproduce. And I’m so sanctimonious that when I do have children I’ll probably be cursed to bedrest, C-sections, and babies who [End Page 37] won’t nurse. My mother reminds me that I’m 35 and single, so probably I’ll be barren.
The goats belong to my friend Sarah, whose fascination with backyard farming is turning her into the surrogate daughter my mother always wanted. Raised in the suburbs and in love with rural life, Sarah migrated into enemy territory with her expanding garden and growing collection of books about canning and cheese making. Sarah wanted the experience of raising kids and milking, but it’s tricky to have just one goat—they are herd animals—so one goat became two, and if you’re going to breed one, you might as well get them both knocked up. My mother doesn’t like goats either—she’s the sheep and rabbit type—but I blame her because she was supportive of Sarah’s venture. I prefer to ignore my own involvement, which consisted of two afternoons: one spent buying the first goat, Sasha, and the second, dropping the two of them off to be bred. I was supposed to be away at graduate school when the messy stuff happened. My mother and her best friend, Aleta, farming partners since before I was born, neither of whom ever met a labor-intensive idea they didn’t love, joined forces in retirement, and they’ve crammed their two-and-a-half-acre farm full of dogs, chickens, kittens, doves, snails, a rambling garden, and Sarah’s goats. In theory, they’re the capable ones, but Sarah has been handling more and more of the work.
I offered to come back so Sarah could take advantage of a last-minute educational trip to Virginia. At the time I’d felt supportive. Now, back in the throes of farm life, I remembered that this is farming’s shit-end—you’re not supposed to be able to leave. Aleta left too because her daughter, who lives 400 miles away, has been put on bed rest to finish gestating and needed Aleta to chase after the two-year-old. I’m obviously a hypocrite because I’ll complain that it’s unfair to expect someone of Aleta’s age to look after a...