A pocket knife and trust
A pocket knife with a 3 inch blade in the hands of a 7 year old would catch the eye of most parents. On the farm, however, a knife is a tool to perform a task. In the small hands of Jonah, a kid helping his dad unwrap baleage to feed 35 dairy cows, a knife becomes a symbol of respect, experience and service.
He had watched his dad many times slice the bale like one peels an orange. His dad trusted him now to do likewise. That transfer of power to a child is what parenting is about. There are many jobs a youngster can help with on the farm whereas urban and suburban back yards might not allow for these opportunities.
That was not always the case. Just playing outside, building forts, organizing ball games, climbing trees, raking and mowing lawns, whether sports or chores, a kid outside engaged in his environment, built confidence, got to be alone with his thoughts.
In a 2006 column, George Will quotes Bill Bryson, author of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir of growing up in the 50’s, “The lives of children were unsupervised, unregulated, and robustly physical. Kids were always outdoors — I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning and not allowed back in until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.”
Such frightening words — pushed and not allowed sound cruel to current parents.
Kids today are so regulated they march not to a different drummer but to the same. They are indeed allowed supervised group play, soccer practice or any ball sport, yes, outside but not trusted. The argument is a kid outside in the city or suburbs is always in danger of kidnappers, perverts, cars, accidents, and dirt!
Yes, life is fraught with uncertainty and risk and innocent, untested children especially are subject to its perils. Nevertheless, a youngster raised in fear, not given the trust his parents have in him to survive because he has been so regulated and supervised, may cost him tested courage and a desire to thrive.
Not so Jonah as he cuts into the stiff plastic, on his own, wielding a knife he respects because his dad trusted him to do so. For this task he received no trophy, only a thanks and a chest full of can-do spirit.
Sylvia Zimmerman is the owner of Fulton Creek Jersey Cheese in Richwood. She holds two graduate degrees and, when not working on her farm or pursuing her interest in sustainable agriculture, writes her own blog.