Raising Elizabeth Without Barbed Wire and Bovines

"A loose cow? What do you mean a loose cow?" I asked my daughter, Elizabeth.

She was pointing out the car window at a hillside as we sped past a field in West Virginia. Our family was on the way home to Michigan after a week at the ocean.

"There," she said, "that cow's not in a pen."

She directed me to a lone black-and-white bovine grazing in a pasture. As I looked for the fencing along the ditch that paralleled the highway, I thought about that cow, the pasture, and my kids.

Both my husband and I grew up on farms and I found it hard to believe that our 11-year-old did not know the cow was in a pasture (and that a pasture is different from a pen). Perhaps we had been remiss in not teaching her a bit more about fences, fields, cattle, and the life in the country.

I wondered if she had missed too much growing up in town. No rows of corn to run through. No play houses to build with bales of hay. No circus antics to perform on giant ropes in the old barn. No chores every morning and every night.

I wondered (and yes, worried) if we had been teaching her the "right" things and if her upbringing - so different from that of her parents - would adequately prepare Elizabeth for what she needed to know about values, the work ethic, and the beauty and wonder of life.

With this in mind, I turned to the back seat in order to help her understand that the cow wasn't loose. I asked, "Do you know what barbed wire is?"

I explained that barbed wire is strung between posts to make a cow pasture. As fencing goes, it is not very sturdy. A cow, however, doesn't care. It leaves the fence alone and goes about its business peacefully. Not so, kids. As children, my brothers and cousins and I perfected (well, almost) the art of getting through, under, or across barbed wire fences without taking the time to open a gate.

This is not to say that we didn't have our tangles with the barbs. We had many "L" shaped rips in our shirts, pants, and coats. On the skin it left different marks. I showed Elizabeth the scar on my right calf that's straight and narrow, like a line drawn with a fine-point pen. This can happen if you let go of the bottom wire too soon and it snaps up before you're on the other side of the fence.

Of course, this showing led to a scar bragging contest among everyone in the car. Elizabeth, at her tender age, came up short. That's when it kind of hit me Maybe it's OK that she didn't grow up on a farm. She won't ever have physical scars from barbed wire but she will have her own badges from other experiences. And who's to say that those experiences won't teach her what she needs to know in this changing world?

Sure, maybe she won't remember gathering warm eggs from underneath the hens, seeing a calf being born, having breakfast in the strawberry patch, or holding tight to a frozen Christmas tree while driving a tractor home from Uncle Jerry's. She will have different memories.

Elizabeth has been to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans - places I never dreamed of seeing when I was 11. My daughter has tasted the salt while conquering a wave and riding it to the shore.

For the next several miles, I smiled as I thought about a lot of other things that she has experienced that I never dreamed of as a girl. And now, after this afternoon in the car, she even understands the difference between a pen and a pasture.

Our lessons continue.

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