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Joy in the Journey

January 16, 2013

by Linda Beerman
One evening last week the phone rang, and a former third grade student of mine was on the other end. It was a fun surprise to hear her voice, and after chatting for a couple minutes she asked whether she could come and milk a cow! We laughed together about this request, but I told her of course she could come. You see, Brenda Paulzine has had this experience before, but it was many years ago when she was in my classroom. And this time she just wanted to see the cows again and remember some old times.

For eighteen years of my teaching in third grade, each year I invited my students to come to our farm home over night. They usually came in groups of four or five at a time, with old clothes and boots in tow. When I brought them home after school, we began by drawing a slip of paper to see which bedroom they would be in for the night. Would you believe that some students, now grown, ask me if we still have the brown, grey and blue bedrooms? Too funny! They would settle in, change out of their school clothes, and head to the dining room table. I tried not to give homework on these evenings, so that was one thing we did not give a thought to.

Sharing some lunch and laughter was needed for energy and time to hear some over all rules. Then we headed outside for fun, adventure, and a chance to also see the process of milking and getting to milk a cow by hand. My husband and I own a small dairy farm, plus Dan has the patience of Job...so between us we could tackle this event without too much stress.

They were instructed to be careful outside, but also to be a little quiet when inside the milking parlor. That sometimes was the hardest part!! The bulk tank fascinated them as we first entered the milk room because of the amount of milk stirring there in one place. As the milk gushed from the pipeline into the tank, they were always excited to watch. Questions would follow, sometimes requiring Dan in our conversations.

Then on into the milking parlor itself. Every student got their chance to help clean off the cows, hang the milking claw, dip the teats in iodine when done, and also try their hand at getting the milk to come by hand. For fun they would put their thumb into one of the inflations to feel the pulsating of the milking machine. Or, if they were real brave, they would try to catch a squirt of milk fresh from the cow into their mouth while Dan or myself aimed it at them! No matter how they felt the milk, they were unusually shocked that it came out WARM!

My husband and I were always surprised that the girls were the ones who wanted a second chance at going back in to try milking again. The boys liked it, but also found many other places on the farm for excitement. One of the favorites was playing tag on top of the big round bales. Since the bundles of hay were most often stacked up in a row, the kids had no problem running from one end to the other in pursuit of one another. If they did slip down, it was a pretty soft landing. One time three boys were spotted leaning out of an open window in the top of the calf barn..that was a little too adventurous for me!

Feeding the small calves was another farm chore that the students could help with. They always laughed when the nipple would pop out of the baby's mouth and spurt milk at them. Even crazier times when the nipple would totally come off and drench them with the sticky, warm liquid! The larger calves were bucket fed, and often times the calf would jerk the pail and more splashing occurred. Of course the many cats and our farm dog would add to the mixture of fun for everyone.

When our time of chores were finished, it was time to attend to supper. Each student had a job in preparing the meal, and they were always willing to pitch in and help. Many times they tried things they had never done, but third graders are capable of doing a lot. They surprised themselves sometimes! Mealtimes were one of my favorite parts with them at our home. We had many fun conversations, and I believe it brought the kids closer to each other as friends and classmates. Clean-up was a shared duty, and they decided quickly who would do what so they could get back outside to play before bedtime. Oh, yeah, the milk...it came straight from the cow and most of them really liked it! Cold...of course.

Kickball, shooting hoops, croquet, riding bikes, and even swinging on the swings were some of their outside fun. Besides exploring the grove, running in the pasture, or just playing hide and seek in some of the buildings or behind machinery. (We did have a mishap once when a boy ran into the barbed wire fence when trying to get the basketball..ouch!) When it got darker, and it was time to "come in", everyone took turns showering and getting ready for bed. Many times we had to wash loads of "chore clothes" laundry and even tennis shoes before it was fit to reenter the trek back home! One time a boy had to shower IN HIS CLOTHES just to remove some of the manure he managed to fall down in...and then take another shower just for himself! He was a good sport though and laughed through it all. (Yes,this was in the basement shower...so not too terrible.)

Before bedtime we usually played a game together. Their favorite one was Pit, a card game requiring you to collect nine cards of one kind of a farm commodity (corn, soybeans, hay, rice, etc.). If you have never played it, you should, because it is high energy and lots of fun. It includes lots of shouting, a bell, and much competition. Scores are kept, and much laughter is the end result. I finally bought a game for the classroom too because they were constantly wanting to play it again during some free time.

We did not have too many issues at bedtime, and sharing rooms with a classmate proved to be fun and also a learning experience for some students. Homesickness was a problem a couple times..once in the evening I did end up taking a girl home. She tried real hard to make it, but in the end just couldn't. And one morning a student needed to go home and did not feel well. All in all it was just a time to be together with their peers and have a different kind of sleepover.

Mornings were early and busy! Their job was to get ready for school and gather all of their belongings. Dan and I "did breakfast"...usually pancakes, scrambled eggs, etc. Dan still gets comments from grown "kids" that he makes the best pancakes! Many times one or more of the students would volunteer to pray before our meals, and just eating around the table was new to some students. Eating together is just an awesome time to relate to others, and these were great interacting moments.

As our time together was coming to an end, they piled their bags, shoes, and belongings into the back of the van. Hugs to the dog, smiles and thank yous to Dan, and we were on our way back to Fulda for another school day. The memories are flooding into my head as I write, and I hope that each student has warm thoughts of these times too. It truly held "teaching moments" for me to have them at the farm, but much more than that for all of us. We learned and shared things that brought us to deeper understandings about each other. The sharing of responsibilities, taking turns with each other and shared jobs, all of it fostered more respect for each other. Besides just plain having FUN with their classmates.

As time went on and I changed grade levels from time to time, I stopped the overnight visits, but almost every year had my class out to the farm for a picnic or hayride, etc. So many good memories from all of my classes and students. Wherever you are, do know that you were cared about . I wanted to be a teacher since second grade, and I never have regretted it.

Hey, Brenda, thanks so much for coming and having another visit! Glad you stayed for hot chocolate, goodies, and reminiscing. Good blessings in your studies at St. Cloud and finding your niche in the work world. I hope you can enjoy your career as much as I enjoyed teaching for so many years. Going to work should be something you look forward to!

lbeerman@lismoretel.com


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