Growing up, I was always surprised when friends said they had never been to a funeral. We had a large extended family living near us, so funerals were a part of life. We even had funerals for our pets, and then my brothers and I would make headstones out of cement and rocks in our sand box toys. We once even dug the dead kittens back up to see what they looked like a few weeks later. Births were also a part of life. One of our cats had a favorite spot to have kittens – my mom’s closet.
It seems like many kids today, in our part of the world anyway, are very sheltered from seeing how life and death really happen. Their mom goes to the hospital, and comes home with a baby. Pets can disappear to the vet and not come home. Growing up on a farm, that is not how it works. Seeing both birth and death are a part of life. I remember childhood trips with my grandfather on the loader tractor as we took dead cows back to where he buried them. We poked around a cow that had died of a mysterious disease that causes bloating, hoping that the balloon shaped cow wouldn’t explode. Years before I had my own children, I had been up to my elbow inside a pig, turning a piglet that was stuck. I even helped my husband deliver some piglets when we had been dating only a few weeks.
I am glad that my kids are getting to grow up with these sorts of experiences as well. Recently, my husband found a dead woodchuck on our farm, so my boys went to look at it before he took it back to the woods. It helps them get an understanding of death, which can be a hard concept for kids. They get to see piglets and calves being born. There isn’t much need for a “birds and bees” talk with a farm kid, although there can be a lot of questions that can be difficult to answer. Kids don’t have any difficulty asking questions that adults find embarrassing to answer. Try explaining castration to a five year old. My five year old also recently wanted to know why the daddy cows don’t stay with their babies.
While there are the hard times when a much loved animal dies, there is nothing more adorable than seeing a newborn calf learning to follow its mother across the field, or picking up a piglet and having it nuzzle you. I think that growing up with a familiarity with both birth and death keeps you more in touch with the cycle of life.
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