by Kate Tvelia Athearn
During the harvest season, when autumn settles over the farm, with its frost warnings and vibrant foliage, time moves a little slower. The gardens have been harvest- ed, there are fewer animals to feed, and our adolescent sons take a break from their incessant athletic schedules. But there is always work on the farm, and in the short window between the rush of the growing season and the frozen winter there are projects we need to get done before winter chases us into hibernation.
Last year our project was the chicken run. The coop itself was still in good shape, but after nearly a decade of wind and snow pile-up and raccoon vandalism, the outdoor run was looking more like a haunted house than a high security facility. So my husband started up the tractor, I made a thermos of cocoa, and we used our most enthusiastic parent voices to enlist the help of aforementioned adolescent sons, whose athleticism makes them quite able farm hands, even if their adolescence sometimes leaves them less than willing.
My boys love animals and fresh veggies and eggs as much as they always have, but as time goes by, they have to be reminded more and more about farm chores. Not only do they have more demands on their time, but following Daddy around the farm just doesn’t hold the same appeal as it did when they were toddlers. The sad and completely age appropriate fact is that they are pulling away from us. So I find myself looking forward to these big projects, the ones that require full family participation.
Lucky for me, things always seem to need fixing around here. And despite the token teenage surliness, these projects bring out the best in them. They helped draw up the plans, using their “new math” brains to solve real life word problems: If lumber comes in 8-foot lengths and chicken wire comes in 6-foot widths, what dimensions would the chicken coop have to be to minimize wasted materials and Dad’s frustration level? They flexed their developing muscles digging trenches and post holes. They calculated Sakrete-to-water ratios, and gracefully negotiated four by fours and the disagreements that are inevitable whenever siblings spend an extended period of time working cooperatively. They stretched chicken wire and sta- pled it in place without incident or injury.
The moment they finished, the kids pulled out their phones and started posting pictures of their handiwork on Instagram, with hashtags like #slavelabor and #ididntchoosethefarmlife. But there was a look pride on their faces that even the sarcasm of youth could not disguise. They may not have chosen this life, but it has shaped them.
They have learned so much from farming, and not just the “farmy” parts, like how to deliver a lamb or the importance of crop rotation. They are learning about responsibility and self-reliance and physics and chemistry and engineering and yes, even math. But, to me, the most important lesson is something that teenagers don’t hear often enough: we rely on them to help us do what we could never do alone. That they are needed. Valued. And even though their father and I are always nagging them to quiet down and sit up straight and please for the love of everything that’s holy, just close your mouth when you chew, we aren’t ready for them to fly the coop just yet.