It was wet and windy. Should I be surprised? No! This is Wales. It was the eve of Longshanks’ birthday and he was energised by anticipation. It was the last day left to move the sheep. These were the perfect ingredients for a “get out there and brave the elements” sort of day.
After lighting the fire and leaving the two home birds in charge (while doing schoolwork too, of course ) Miss Friendship, Longshanks and myself set off down to the lower pasture in the soggy valley. The plan was to collect two ponies, as one has a visit from the dentist this week, and two rams. The rams have been a bit zealous in living up to their name.
What came first, the word ram referring to a sheep or a battering ram? Our sheep are pretty good battering rams and the poor people to whom the field belongs have had close encounters with the mud as a result of their antics, this week.
We had lead ropes and head collars around our waists and one Spotty-Dog bouncing on the end of another lead rope. The Little Mouse-Dog came with us but the Big-Black-Bear wasn’t so keen. He stood in the field with a log in his mouth looking at us. He seemed to deliberate and couldn’t figure out whether to jump the stile or go through the gap in the fence. I thought he was going to go home. It was most unlike him, but I thought that with all the extra exercise he’s been having since Spotty-Dog arrived he was tired. It could just be in contrast to having a younger dog around. We carried on. Eventually his undying loyalty won and the Big-Black-Bear bounded beside us, his usual buffoon-self.
The rain carried on and blessed us with extra volume as we reached the soggy valley. We unlocked the gate and squelched through the mud. I have never seen the stream so full. The rush of water does not roar but it shouts “LOUD!”. The ponies all came stamping through the quag of mud and grass to greet us. Pleased to see us, they were full of hope that we might move the fence to give them some of the fresh green that was just out of their reach. Instead, Dapple-bum and Little-Legs were head collared and led beyond the fence.
With three of us, three dogs, two ponies, two rams and the intention of moving the fence and taking some spare electric fence posts home, logistics suddenly became impossible. Spotty-Dog who doesn’t know how to treat Shetlands yet discovered that biting them on the bottom is NOT the done thing. Chaos ensued as poor Miss Friendship lost grip of both lead reins and the ponies shot across the field to the furthest point from the gate. Longshanks meanwhile slipped over himself and the mud trying to herd his wayward rams, with an electric fence post, and lost them to another corner of the field. While Spotty-Dog bounced around thinking he was a clever boy, I tried to keep my one arm in its socket, fence posts under the other and my balance with my feet glued in craters of mud.
“I think we’re trying to do too much.” I shouted across to Longshanks who shouted back a list of instructions I couldn’t hear but still I shouted a reply into the wind and the rain and told him what I was going to do with Spotty-Dog. Longshanks shouted back, “Why did you have to bring him anyway?” I then shouted “Because he needed a walk.” And he shouted…and I shouted…and he shouted..and the river shouted…and I shouted…and Miss Friendship calmly caught the loose ponies. I decided to stop shouting. Shouting did not achieve a thing. Nothing had gone according to plan and we’re all cross.
I took Spotty-Dog out of the field. Miss Friendship followed with the ponies but Dapple-Bum was wind fearing and dog wary so he was being a mighty handful.
“Let Little-Legs go,” I said to her. “He can make his own way,” and she tucked his lead rope around his neck and into his head collar so it was safe and concentrated on Dapple-Bum.
“Tick-tick-tick-tick” Little-Legs trotted up the hill, taking the lead. Spotty-Dog was under my stern surveillance, but by the time we reached the farm buildings he was somehow spitting out another mouthful of Shetland fluff. I had begun to wonder if his towny childhood was going to destroy my hopes of him ever becoming a carriage dog. I had thought some instinct would be evident in his genes but biting a Shetland on the bum was not the instinct I was looking for.
Little Mouse-Dog came into her own. Whereas I had thought Little-Legs would at least kick Spotty-Dog to teach him a lesson, which he didn’t, Little Mouse-Dog went for Spotty-Dog and told him in no uncertain terms, “That is not how you treat ponies.” Spotty-Dog tried to say sorry while still spitting out Shetland fluff. I growled at him too, but Little Mouse-Dog did all the work. Seeing Spotty-Dog’s submission and his evident willingness to learn gave me hope again. I have been surprised by how quick he is to learn.
We reached the entrance to our track with Little-Legs still in the lead but there he thought he’d stop and browse by a field he used to live in. We left him and went on home. By now I was in the lead with Spotty-Dog and was walking along calling to Little-Legs. I was out of sight of Dapple-Bum by the time I heard the most horrendous cry. Thinking it was Miss Friendship, I threw the electric fence posts on the verge and ran back with Spotty-Dog to find Dapple-Bum calmly tied to a fence post and Miss Friendship leading Little-Legs away from a squealing stallion in the field. Unruffled, and fully able to handle the whole situation, I was jolted by the realisation that my little Miss Friendship is not that little any more and has morphed into a capable young horsewoman with her head screwed on and plenty on strength in her fast growing muscles. Flashbacks of past lessons learned returned to me and, in contrast, highlighted the young lady she is fast becoming.
I watched the Big-Black-Bear loyally follow Miss Friendship and help move Little-Legs on from behind. He is such a devoted dog and when Tim went away last week he was surprisingly protective of the children with us having a new youngster (Spotty-Dog) in the house.
“Tick, tick, splash, tick, tick, splash”. Little-Legs took up the lead again through the puddles on the track. We got the Spotty-Dog and ponies home but into the wrong field, much to Longshanks’ disgust. He vented his frustration with more shouting. It was still raining. We were all sopping and hungry.
Longshanks had managed to herd his rams up with a detour through every open gate along the way and visit to our neighbour’s enormous sheds. He was pretty fed up with the rams but I was impressed at how soon he had brought them in behind us. He wasn’t impressed! He let us know by complaining to Miss Friendship and I for not doing what he wanted. I reflected on the difficulty I have in knowing how to handle these teen years. I have never done this before. I have not parented at this level. I am not qualified. I feel very under-prepared. Each child is different and each child seems to have different buttons which provoke different reactions when pressed. I was naive enough to think we would sail through these years with “sugar and spice and all things nice” attitudes. My naivety is my undoing. “Slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails” attitudes are more prevalent in this house and that’s just from me! Attitude with a capital ‘A’. I like to be different and original and I thought we would be different as a family at this stage, but I confess to be floundering in a common complaint.
While we’re all struggling with unexpected emotions raining down on us, Big-Black-Bear diffused the situation.
“Whoa, what’s wrong with Big-Black-Bear?” Longshanks asked. He had rushed to Longshanks’ side in need of help.
His eyes had sunk in his head, his eyebrows had changed to a triangle shape risen high on his forehead like they were pinned. The whites of his eyes were showing and it looked like various membranes were visible on his eyes. He was struggling to see straight. My guess was he was having a fit of some sort, or perhaps a stroke. I took him inside and put Spotty-Dog and Little Mouse-Dog in the outside run. Big-Black-Bear lay down but couldn’t close his eyes. They were twitching all over the place. All the children went in turn to comfort him. Rich Tea Boy immediately began researching possible maladies on Google. I phoned Tim and then the vet. Tim cancelled his afternoon meeting and headed home in case any difficult decisions needed to be made and the vet gave me an appointment.
Rich Tea Boy gave us graphic recounts with full medical terms of his research, concluding a possible stroke (but as his gums and eyelids still looked a healthy colour, probably not) or Old Dog Vestibular Disease. He thought the latter most likely. Miss Friendship showed Big-Black-Bear where the water was. He clearly couldn’t see straight but could still wag his tail and would lift his head up strangely to try to look at us.
By the time Tim got home Big-Black-Bear was looking a little bit better. His eyes were not so odd and by the time it came to go to the vet they were normal. The vet could not find anything wrong with him. She gave him a very thorough examination and said that contrary to our concerns he is not overweight but right for his build. She said he possibly just had an episode – whatever that is.
Longshanks, now fed, was getting giddier and needed something to put his pre-Birthday excitement into. It was time to move some more sheep. I got the lazy, old, fat-man job this time of following in the car while Miss Friendship guarded every open gateway with a hoe in hand and Longshanks shepherded his pretty little ewes down to the soggy pasture. One of the ewes thinks she is a hedgehog and is forever getting stuck in the hedges like velcro. She took a choice selection of brambles with her in her wool to the new field.
As I followed, I reflected. Longshanks, my first born on the cusp of turning fifteen, at least when people ask him his age now they might be less likely to comment that he looks a lot older. He causes me a lot of friction in my heart and mind but at the same time gives me so much to celebrate and take joy in. Such is the depth of love that comes with parenting. I mean, how does one encourage young teens to be the best that they can be while trying to ride the emotional roller-coaster that comes with them learning to leave the nest while home life and stability is almost more important now than ever for them? It feels like I’m often not wanted but still very much needed. I’m trying to release but also wanting to reach out and still polish them up. This seems to create an environment of extremes. We go from shouting (yes, we’ll leave that technique behind, I think) to deep and meaningful discussion (which I love), to roaring ambition and a conviction that they can do anything, to ridiculously clever humour that has us all in stitches and makes me wonder at their genius and originality. I’m feeling like the old dog who has moments of dizziness and loss of vision while my spotty teens bounce exuberantly around me, encourage me to run to keep up with them and leave me feeling energised but bewildered.
Is it really nearly eighteen years that Tim and I have been married? But I was eighteen when I met Tim and I still feel eighteen now with a lot to learn and with a lot of growing up to do. A quick look in the mirror reminds me that feelings are deceptive! Time, you have a lot to answer for and I am not sure I will ever come to terms with your passing!