The Problem with Toddlers

Sometimes, in the midst of rewatching an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine for the fourth time in two weeks, I like to pause and contemplate the great mysteries of life–like, for instance, how sweet sleepy little babies transform into inexhaustible little tyrants, a.k.a toddlers. This contemplative pause is fleeting, however–twelve seconds if we’re being exact, which is the precise time it takes for a new episode of Thomas and Friends to autoload on our TV. 

These days, I do my best thinking in the momentary silence between episodes of whatever my toddler is binge watching. For instance, during the last twelve-second break between episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, I devised a complete overhaul of our justice system that would reduce crime to all time lows and alleviate overcrowding in prisons. As this blog is not about serious matters, like criminal justice reform, I’ll spare you the details, but here is the gist: it would merely require any violent offender to listen to the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song on repeat, uninterrupted, until they transform into a placid drooling vegetable. And if you think that is cruel and unusual punishment, just remember that’s what toddlers do to their peaceful law-abiding parents all the time–plus, if I really wanted to be cruel, I could have suggested the old theme song for Barney (I love you. You love me…). 

The real problem with toddlers is pretty simple: they don’t toddle. They ramble, run, climb, crawl, roll, wallow, and wail, unless, that is, they’re mesmerized by God’s gift to parents, a talking train from the Isle of Sodor. If you take twelve seconds to think about it, solving the world’s energy crisis ought to be as simple as harnessing the unlimited energy source that powers your average toddler. I mean, when toddlers meltdown, at least they’re not radioactive. And though some diapers come pretty close to toxic waste, a diaper blow out doesn’t have nearly the environmental impact that a blown out coal ash pond would have. 

Anyway, I could go on solving life’s most pressing problems, but my toddler has suddenly tired of Thomas the Tank Engine and was last spotted moving southward bound toward the kitchen. Judging by the clanging sounds emanating from that direction, he is currently spelunking through the kitchen cabinets, and I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be providing parental oversight of his exploration. Wish me luck. 

Agriculturalists Anonymous: The New AA

Many have tried to quit farming. Many have relapsed a few weeks later by ogling a new tractor. If you ever see me riding around half-naked on a shiny new steed, you know I experienced a moment of weakness and lost the shirt off my back at a tractor dealership (and possibly my socks too if it was a John Deere dealership). In one of the great high points of my farming career, I once escaped a John Deere dealership only a $1.75 poorer. Still, the little washer was ten times overpriced, but previously I had never left there without the eerie feeling that I needed to sell a kidney.

If you ask me, tractor dealerships ought to own up to their moral responsibility and create a no-sale policy for customers showing signs of farming withdrawal. I know that’s probably wishful thinking, but if casinos set aside a portion of their proceeds to help those who eat, breathe, and play slot machines, then tractor companies ought to help those who eat, breathe, and play on heavy machines. Tractor companies don’t see it that way though. In fact, the manager of our local John Deere dealership once had the audacity to tell me his “primary responsibility was selling and not not-selling.” Talk about moral depravity.

To be honest, I’ve never been tempted much by shining new equipment (I’m more of a rust guy), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have other farming faults. For instance, at rock bottom, I once had more calves per acre than blades of grass, right out in the open for everyone to see. One of my neighbors made light of the situation, saying such insensitive stuff as, “Stephen, can I practice my short game at your place? Your pasture looks like a putting green.”

Any attempts at going cold turkey from calf buying were made difficult by the fact that I worked at a government agriculture office. Farmers would enter the office, manure wafting from their boots, and wax poetic about the beautiful weather, all while I was confined doing pointless government paperwork. At day’s end, I’d drive home despondent and then drown my woes in the bottle, that is until Natalie finally hid them all. Eventually I did find her hiding place and quickly started bottle feeding more calves.

The point, though, is farming addictive, which is probably a good thing—because if it wasn’t, I suspect we’d all be starving.

Idle Hooves are The Devil’s Workshop

Ugh, kids these days–always lazing about the pasture, twiddling their cloven hooves, and complaining about how bored they are. Back in the day, goat youths used to show some respect to farmers, but now all they do is sit around and baah at you. Yep, back in the old days, if a kid ever talked baah to a farmer, they’d get a good walloping atop their horned forehead, but try something like that nowadays and you’d likely get you thrown in jail. So my question is, how do you discipline a goat that likes to ram you in the butt? 

Really, I’m asking. I’m new to goats, and although they seemed at first like interesting and fun-loving ruminants, there’s only so many times a man can get battered in the backside before he starts ruminating about what side dishes pair well with barbecued goat. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if God created goats for the sole purpose of testing human patience by way of testing human fence-building ability. I hate to admit it, but, after a decade of raising various types of livestock, I  secretly considered myself an expert livestock chaser, having logged many miles behind horses, cows, and pigs. But pride goeth before the goat. I just spent the better part of two hours pacing up and down a fenceline, trying to find the short in our electric fence, all while playing ring-around the farm gate, as the goats took turns getting out faster than I could get them back in. 

Pigs are by far the most intelligent animals I’ve tried to contain, but goats are natural escape artists. Literally, I actually watched one of our goats escape from our pasture while sleeping. He was laying beside a metal tube gate, which has a half-foot gap from the bottom rung to the ground. While sleeping, he rolled over (perhaps dreaming about greener pastures), only to suddenly awake in the green grass outside the pasture.  

To be honest, I should have suspected goats would be trouble. As a preacher’s son, I always wondered what Jesus was going on about when he talked about the parable of the sheep and goats, but now I know: idle hooves are the devil’s workshop. 

Kids these days!

Tractor Tire Technicians Without Borders

I was contemplating deep thoughts the other day when it dawned on me that nothing good and pure and wholesome in this world ever hisses. Can you imagine a fair young maiden hissing? No, I don’t think so: hissing is what wicked witches do, as well as rattlesnakes and possums and rapidly deflating rear tractor tires. In fact, if you ever want to ponder the mysteries of the universe, I suggest you skip the Tibetan meditation music and greatest hits of Enya and instead add “Sounds of Hissing Tractor Tires” to your playlist. With the cost of tires now, you’ll be in an existential crisis in no time. 

And rear tractor tires are more than just a financial encumbrance–they’re a half-ton encumbrance. If while changing them, they happen to fall over on you, someone will need to scrape you off the ground with a spatula. In bygone days, this problem was easily solved by requesting the services of a professional tire man with a boom truck and good liability insurance. Apparently, however, most professional tire men these days have determined it’s not worth the possibility of getting crushed to death by another man’s tractor tire to make money. Even Dan the Tire Man has gone soft and given up tractor tire calls. Dan said, “Ain’t got the staff to do farm calls no more–nobody wants to work.”

And that got me thinking: where are all the altruistic millennials when you need them? It appears they’re so busy creating pie-in-the-sky nonprofits that they can’t be bothered to help farmers with real nonprofitable endeavors, like manhandling a rear tractor tire. I was at a conference this past weekend, and there was actually a young “aspiring” farmer walking around the conference barefoot (the conference was in Asheville)–I kid you not, he was shunning footwear in public to help save the world somehow. When Bilbo Baggins came up to my booth, he bandied about all the common alternative agriculture catchphrases like “regenerative methods” and “food sovereignty” and “ecological production” and I just tried my best to keep a straight face and not make eye contact with his feet. In hindsight, I should have invited him to help me change my rear tractor tire, at which point he would have learned an important lesson: aspiring farmers should own a pair of steel-toe boots. 

That said, if you know of any millennials out there who are still searching for their life’s purpose and are thinking about starting a nonprofit, may I suggest: “Tractor Tire Technicians without Borders.” It would truly be a worthy cause.

Dad-blame It

After years of providing, all that dads receive is blame. As much as I’d like to tell my dad thank you and take responsibility for my abnormalities, I’m obligated, as his child, to place blame squarely on him. He had strange tendencies. To name just one, he searched for junk in the ground. “Beep! Beep! Beep!” and my dad was digging up a fine specimen of pull tab, rusty nail, or contorted piece of unidentifiable scrap. He took me to some swell trash heaps to metal detect. Ever since, junk has been in my blood, for which I’ve had many tetanus shots.

That said, my mom should shoulder some blame. For Christmas, she gave my dad the metal detector because he needed a tenth hobby. And she also took away good practical gifts right after my dad gave them to me. She confiscated, in an hour, my first pocket knife. The knife was a little red beauty and so was  the wound. I could barely hold in my tears of pain I was so elated. The thought of a legitimate scar was exciting enough, but showing off stitches would make me the most popular boy in second grade. “What did you get for Christmas?” I imagined my friends asking. I would hold out my hand stoically, three stitches in my forefinger. My friends would clamor in envy. 

My dad, however, vetoed the Christmas morning trip to the emergency room for stitches.  He was too busy sanitizing a fish hook in a lighter flame and tying on a small length of ten-pound monofilament. He already had the kitchen table prepped for an inpatient procedure, not wanting to pay Christmas morning emergency room costs. Alas, before he could perform surgery, he stopped the bleeding with superglue, which wasn’t nearly as cool as stitches  made of fishing line. 

I waver on whether to blame my dad for genetics. It’s not like he chose to pass on specific genes for my specially-formulated high-viscosity cholesterol. It probably wasn’t smart that he weaned me with bacon, but a boy’s gotta eat. According to my mom, he sprinkled bacon bits on baby food to improve the taste and lower the volume of my shrieking (I think parents may go to jail for that now). Still, it’s easy to blame my dad for my cholesterol, especially when I’m torturing myself by exercising and eating salads. But he’s been torturing himself by eating grilled chicken sandwiches for decades, ever since he had a stint put in when I was in high school. Mutual torture to stave off bad genetics is a great way to bond. There’s nothing like eating a salad together when you’d both rather have baby food sprinkled with bacon. 

Though I’m trying to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible, I hope he’s around for my first stint. The thought of having it done without him is frightening. Bonding over a stint is surely better than bonding over a salad. Maybe I’ll have some of the same doctors and nurses he did. Maybe they’ll recognize some similarities in our blockages. We could both blame our forefathers. 

If you still have your dad around, blame him while you still can. I think it’s best to do it while fishing. He’ll appreciate it, even if he doesn’t say “I blame you” back. He may merely grunt and go about his business of tying on a fish hook, which is something else I blame my dad for: He never taught me proper knot-tying. He just made up combinations of loops and twists and gave them a name. “This is the swallow tail knot,” he would say, after just watching barn swallows skim the pond surface. Later, I realized no one else had heard of a swallow tail knot. That’s probably how all knots were invented. Some dad somewhere was just trying his best to impress his offspring when he happened upon a combination of loops that actually held. Trying his best is one thing you can’t blame a dad for. Nor is tying his best, especially if the knot holds. 

Me, my dad, and Thomas