I overheard a conversation the other day between my mom and one of her friends who was a young mom on the Block Ranch more than 20 years ago. Her son is a good friend of mine now, so when she said he growled at strangers when he was a baby, I wanted to laugh out loud!
“He spent all his time around the dogs! He didn’t know any better,” she explained.
Now, he’s a daddy. Can’t wait to hear how this plays out!
Mom followed with a story about me. I was always on my hands and knees, nickering and snorting instead of talking because I was a horse. None of my jeans had knees in them, and holey jeans weren’t the fashion then.
“When Cheyenne didn’t like someone she’d paw and squeal and turn around to kick them,” Mom said, her smile lines deepening. “I’d just have to tell them she was pretending to be a horse…”
If your best friends were flea-bitten cow dogs; the biggest crowd you’re ever in was a four-legged one bunched around a feed truck; and your greatest thrill was riding in front of mom or dad on their saddle to move cattle, well, you’d have a different perspective on life. You’d believe the world was your oyster. You’d understand the sky was your limit but you’d love having your feet on the ground all the same. It’s little wonder some of these babies grow up wanting to shoulder the burdens of an antiquated lifestyle in a world that has passed them by. They get a jump-start on things and figure out what really matters for themselves.
These little ones start this as soon as they can hold up their heads. So when they gain the freedom of walking, they toddle around at the barn or the corral and follow their tail-wagging pals wanting to be part of the ‘gang’ (or they are trying to stuff hay into mouths…any mouths…even cats and mama). And they do fit right in, right away. Last summer, when my daughter was only two, I stopped her from rolling in the dirt and throwing dust on herself.
“What are you doing, Kaelyn?”
“I’m taking a bath like a chicken!” she replied in her two-year-old lilt, looking over her shoulder at the chickens scratching and dirt-bathing their feathers.
Oh. I shook my head and thought to myself that I’d just make sure she took a bath like a human later on.
Bottle calves and milk cows; horses and chickens are their social life. Eating feed or chewing on a dog biscuit are just what you do. Bringing mom a dead mouse instead of flowers is not unusual, the cat does it all the time! And licking mineral and salt is certainly one of the social norms. (Mom draws the line at drinking out of the stock tank…if she can get there fast enough to prevent it.)
My two little cowbabies delight me. I love watching them. Kaelyn lopes everywhere on her pretend pony Sparky. She is the Sheriff of Dog City (the place we keep the dogs) and her little brother Crockett is the honorary Deputy. But he would rather collect certain colors of rocks and eat cat food, or, if we are at the barn, goat droppings. Close enough to raisins, right?
Crockett can’t say please, but he can say the pony’s name clear as a bell (“Beau”). Kaelyn can’t put on her own boots, but she can open any gate in the corral no problem. Both of them count cows on sight, and cry when it’s time to go in the house.
Mine have the benefit of a very watchful daddy, who gives them ranch exposure in small doses…like several hours in a feed pickup. He’s the one who packs them around the corral, who can work the chute with one hand while holding them in the other. They always have daddy in their sights. I have to say, I think this one thing is probably worth any price, growing up in the shadow of a hard-working godly man. (Maybe this is a bit of bragging. You can take that occasionally, right?)
The bigger the babies get, all ranch mama’s eventually learn that the safest place to put your kids is not in the house (because they’ll either destroy it or escape), but on a horse…the old babysitter. It’s the only way to keep them from going down a badger hole with the dog! Even though we parents try, we can’t keep them civilized when they live like the cowboy version of Mowgli from day one.
Here’s the equation: Cowboy + Cowgirl = Cowbaby.
Cowbaby + Cowdog – Mama = Trouble.
Cowbaby + Cowhorse – Mama = Fun within a safe distance of the kitchen window.
The goal for us parents is just to raise our kids in the best possible way, like any other family. There are some variables in our life that do spice things up a little, most of those variables are four-legged, and the rest of the variables have something to do with caring for the four-legged ones. Bringing a baby into your life is a God-sized blessing no matter who you are. And for a mama, at first, it means backing off caring for the four-legged’s and focusing on the kids. But eventually, things get back to ‘normal’ . Somebody gives the baby a dogie calf or a lamb or a kitten to love, (or the mare foals), and just like that, a cowbaby is christened. The cycle has begun anew, right before your eyes. The next generation takes the torch.
How embarrassed the mama’s of cowbabies can be! If you meet one of these kinds of children, and they sniff you, bark at you, or circle you…well, they’re normal for ranch kids. If they look you up and down with no expression when you try to speak to them, don’t worry. They just don’t get to town very often. Church or the grocery store are a culture shock. So cut these cowbabies some slack. When they grow up into Cowkids, most of this behavior is shunned. 😉