[Don't read this if you are currently eating, are fond of wool sweaters or were upset reading Old Yeller. Really. At least there are no photos.]
Just felt like telling you about our day.
I was determined we would go as a family to the sheep festival in our half-country, half-suburban county this weekend. Yesterday was filled with errands, so I pinned my hopes on today. We woke up late after an extraordinarily difficult, late night -- Grace just wouldn't go to sleep. It was 10 pm when she went down and even later for us.
Grace helped me crack some eggs and sprinkle some cheese in as I scrambled them (and she ate the rest of the cheese in handfuls). Then we dressed and tried not to notice the pouring rain. She is a little sick with an off-again/on-again facial rash and an infrequent cough. It wasn't enough to affect her energy or mood so we pressed on. I convinced Daddy we needed to buy her a raincoat since I didn't relish walking all day with an umbrella and a toddler (at least, not without protective headgear). So, we drove over the thrift store to check out the stuff. No coats, but Grace got several cute hats and Daddy got a couple pair of shorts. Then hunger overtook Daddy (he had passed on our breakfast and was off by a meal) and we ended up at a fast-food restaurant. Grace picked at the food and giggled over the figurine in her meal.
We got in the car and hadn't even left the parking lot when Daddy, who has bad allergies, started gagging over draining sinuses and coughed vomit all over the front of my car. It wasn't as funny as he thought and even though Grace and I were in the back seat, the idea of vomit in close proximity made me throw up, too (fortunately, I was able to open my door soon enough to yak on the street). Grace was completely confused by all this chaos. [For the record, the only time she has ever thrown up was upon landing in the US on the flight home from China, thank goodness.]
So, after he cleaned up using the last of our China-purchased baby wipes which we kept in the car for spills, we drove to a big box store for a raincoat and a clean shirt for Daddy. Got the shirt, but there were no coats to be found. We headed to another chain store but had no luck there, either. I was beginning to think retailers don't believe that kids play outdoors anymore. We pressed on, realizing that we were about to miss the second of three demonstrations of border collies herding sheep but as it was still pouring, we had little choice.
We pulled into the mall and splashed into yet another clothing retailer, this one focused on outdoor activities. After confirmation from a clerk, we found a rack of several lovely little raincoats in blue, yellow, pink flowers and ... squid! (Okay, not squid -- octopi, but squid is a funnier word.) We passed over the matching boots since she already had a pair of ducks in the car, grabbed some rain pants, a pair of winter boots for next year, and a pair of sneakers for her and Daddy, and headed to the fairgrounds.
It was all we anticipated and more -- sheep after wet, woolly sheep. Grace reached out to pet (and kiss!) curious and ornery lambs and even the original Baa Baa Black Sheep, who did, in fact, have three bags' worth of wool. We watched one sheep get shorn (think WWF smackdown with hooves) and lots of little kids parading their 4H animals around a sawdust ring. Daddy bought us all some fudge. I marveled at beautiful ink drawings of covered bridges, barns and horses that reminded me of my childhood. Grace pointed out the poop on the floor.
Several times over the 90 minutes of our visit we stopped in the barn that featured musicians playing celtic jigs and running a puppet theater of dancing dog puppets -- through a hidden pedal in the rear, the fiddler would make the floor of the theater bounce and the dog puppets would jiggle and leap on cue. Grace was transfixed. The music drew little wet raincoats from all over the fair and soon there were 20 kids watching and bouncing in time.
As we wandered among the sheep droppings and muddy wet fairgrounds, I wondered about the juxtaposition of live animals who acted like dogs (named; on leashes, being shown around rings; standing up on the rim of a pen like a counter-surfing labrador; groomed on high tables) and the smell of hot gyros wafting across the misty cool air. 4-H'ers leading a 14-day old lamb with truly virgin white wool on a walk behind the barn -- the little lamb dressed in a blue wool sweater -- and others hawking lambburgers around the corner. I saw the skeins of pretty yarn and lovely sweaters and recalled the look of sheer terror in that sheep's eyes as the shearer gripped the animal's head between her legs and thrust her shears across skinny legs and sensitive neck and belly areas. Immediately upon righting itself after the shearing, the sheep defecated on the floor and bright red blood dripped from just beneath its tail; a very fresh accident. I saw the same look of terror in the young shearer's eyes when a white-haired, retired sheared advised her to wear goggles and told her of the day a sheep kicked the shears into his eyes.
We talked to a farmer who spoke of the need to protect his resting sheep with a cover so the wool wouldn't ruin. We saw the animals who had just been shorn being led away, legs wobbling from the trauma, to join other panting, exhausted beasts collapsed on the hay. We saw shorn lambs crowded in a pen, tied up by their heads and identified by blue numbers on their backs (Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka....). I realized how much skill -- and emotional pain -- would be behind every perfect hide-shaped shearing.
Finally, the last demonstration of the day was being announced and we headed down the hill to check out the herding show. Grace was getting tired and very fidgety as we waited for the border collies and sheep to take their places. Spectators encircled the large gravelly pen. Lean dogs made their way into the ring, muscles tensing and senses alert for commands from a tall, dark figure with a staff. No Bo Peep, this shepherd directed the dogs to run the sheep first up, then back, and then in a large and orchestrated turn. I watched the herded animals cluster together, swirling as one unit with heads held up alert, concerned -- 10 pair of eyes working together to mind the wiry collies chasing at their legs. Grace was pulling at us and threatening to dash beneath the rail fence. I sat her on my shoulders and we walked back up the hill to our car, now deep in the mud and grass of open field parking area. I pulled off muddy boots and the raingear, strapped her into her seat and watched as her eyes closed before we left the lot.
Tonight, as we were eating a meal of cereal and strawberries (her request) and talking about other things,
Grace turned to me said "I had a fun day."
"Oh," I asked, "What did you like?"
"DANCING," she said, her eyes twinkling.
"What else?" I persisted.
"Lambs," she said, as a contented smile spread across her face.