a few weeks into our living at the farm, with so much heavy work to do and a curious toddler, i had a ‘safety meltdown’.
i was exhausted, worn down by the constant need to evaluate the safety of activities, spaces, machines and foods. tired of being the more safety-conscious parent. tired of the buck stopping with me, of having to make judgement calls on things foreign to me.
in the months prior to finding this place, we had gone to visit a number of farms p., kiddo and i, and it had occured to me, as we walked through a bull herd’s pasture, that i had absolutely no idea how safe it was for us, or at least for me and this child on my back, to be there given that my knowledge of how to act and react around livestock was pretty close to nil. here i was, stuck in a bull pen, snow up to my knees, with a kid and no farm smarts.
when we got here, i told myself that p. being so farm-literate, i’d just leave it in his hands. after feeling too much discomfort at the thought of him babywearing while riding the quad, however, i figured that actually, even in the city, this was our (unfortunate, stereotypical) dynamic. i wanted us to wait for kiddo to be closer to the recommended age before taking him cycling with us. i wanted to wait until he was 6 weeks old to take him swimming. i wanted to avoid night cycling with him (and a whole bunch of other, not as reasonable sounding things that i seem to have erased from my memory).
i figured i needed to be honest with myself and speak up, if only so that p. and i could meet in the middle. so that my safety consciousness could pull our decision making to a more comfortable middle ground and his less cautious stance would ensure that our child got to do at least some fun farm things.
when we think farm, we often think of these idyllic spaces. wee ones running in the fields, fetching eggs in coops, playing in creeks and in hay stacks. the stuff of dreams and picture books. but really, farm fatalities are common and a sad fact is that 14% of reported agricultural fatalities (between 1990 and 2008) were those of the children of farmer/owner operators.
back at our farm, there’s machinery all over the place, periods during the year when we have contracted workers with even bigger machinery coming through the yard, there’s the manure pit (to which we’ve lost a calf and probably a number of barn cats), there’s the highway about 25 meters from the house, diseases related to laying hens and chicken manure, there’s the raw milk, the raw milk butter, the cattle, the sick barn cats, unknown berry-like bushes that look like « framboise! » to a 2 year old, wild parsnip in the pastures (which will actually burn and blister skin), electrical fencing, old barbed wire fences, power tools, rusty metal bits all over the place, et on passe. (to say nothing of the safety fears that come with moving to a new/rural place : new and strange neighbours, theft on our rang, the incidence of drinking and driving, what it means to be different in a small place..)
these things aren’t always paralyzing, but often stress-inducing.
coming back from a day in the city on sunday, i caught myself breathing a sigh of relief. i know it’s not all bad. i am grateful that this child gets o tbe pretty free-range, learns about life and death, seeds and harvests, the seasons and the rhythms of the day. but i sure don’t have the cultural and safety codes of the farm down pat yet.
i would love to hear about others’ experiences on this from farm kids and farm parents. what are some of your non-negotiables rules, what kept you feeling free and safe on the farm, what helped you carve out a good space for your kids in a rural/agricultural/more traditional setting?