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  • Writer's pictureHighland Croft

Never Work With Children And Animals

Crofting with kids is a double edged sword: You do feel that warm fuzzy glow inside you when you watch them merrily rolling in the mud with carefree self-abandon, ingesting all the good bacteria that city kids just don't have access to. Or when you teach them valuable life-lessons like responsibility and kindness when you make them feed the chickens, brush the ponies and look after the veggies in the garden.

Other days though you want to throttle them when they are doing something similar to the kittens. Or you feel like you failed entirely in your wholesome Earth Mother approach when your ungrateful offspring dares to flatout refuse to ride their pony. When I was a toddler, and basically throughout my entire childhood and teenage years, I would have committed a murder to get a pony. Without battering an eyelid. My daughter, meanwhile, has three. She lives in a rural paradise by most people's standards, adults and children alike: surrounded by nature and animals, a safe haven with an endless array of exciting activities available. As I'm writing this, I can watch her through the window brewing away on tasty concoctions in her mud kitchen outside.

But work on the croft is never done, neither inside the house nor outside. That means that not every day in the life of nature girl and boy can be a highlight. Sometimes they have to watch their mother cook the food that usually inexplicably manifests itself on the table. And sometimes they get parked in their pram in a safe location while I spin round the ewes with the bike. The start of full-time nursery has been a blessing, as I simply don't have the time and can't honsetly be bothered to do the vast amount of crafts, painting and whatever else they do there all day - when I pick her up, she is mentally drained and physically shattered and I therefore deduct that she has had a good day. After a quick snack though, she and her brother get mercilessly turned out again - we have a brilliant wooden playpen that I like calling his prison, and for good reason. Just to make sure that they are properly knackered come bed-time because I have a long To Do List and many of the points on it require childfree silcence.

And since we live in paradise, we have to try and make the most of it while we're alive, right. So we better make an effort and enjoy the whole lot of it, both the work and the beauty, as you can't really separate the two from each other. I think of my friend's words here, warning her unenthusiastic offspring in the wake of a trip to town "And we are going to have a good time - whether we like it or not!!!"

There are times of the year when it's easier to be a super mum. When all the stars align and Tom is around, my Airbnb guests stay for longer and I'm on top of my chores. Then a variety of wholesome meals get batch-cooked for many days in advance and the kids and I sit outside having a picnic in a field.

But other times it's harder - when Tom is away working and there is no tractor and the baby isn't sleeping, say. Well, in that case the daily hay delivery to the cows and horses takes place with the help of a sturdy pram. They are surprisingly versatile and handy gadgets to have on the croft. Lacking a proper family-friendly off-road vehicle, the kids get squeezed between my thighs from a young age when I have to go out on the bike and check the lambing ewes, for example.

Now here is where it gets tricky and where I'm not so sure about the exact job description of Earth Mother. Does that mean you provide your offspring with the most entertaining outdoor upbringing? Or do you let them in on the nitty gritty that's behind the picture postcard crofting lifestyle? While Tom still tries to make out that the dead moles the cats have presented us with are just sleeping as we gently stroke their soft fur, I have been trying to explain the concept of death to my daughter from an early age. When we eat beef I don't make it a secret that this there on her Peter Rabbit plate is the same Freddie steer that the two of us fed daily last autumn. Taking your children lambing always involves a bit more than seeing happy lambs dancing in the fields or feeding cute pet lambs. Inevitably, we will come across the mangled remains of a lamb that has been pecked to shreds by a crow or the scattered legs of another lamb that has been taken by a fox.

Deep in your heart of hearts, you want to protect your little ones from all this evil. But then, such is the world and as crofters, life and death are part of our very livelihood. Mr Baby is still too young for it - he was only born himself just over a year ago - but his sister has seen me pulling big slimy lambs out of their mothers. She has seen births and deaths and does not shy away from the sight of the skinned rabbits that are Tibby-dog's dinner. Though admittedly the first time she saw a headless hind it did kind of freak her out.

I could never afford childcare so the kids always had to come out with me on the croft, no choice about it. Having a baby strapped to you or pushing them around with you greatly decreases your efficiency as they have this annoying tendency to not sleep when you want them to and while the animals are crying out for you, your baby will predictably need a new nappy or a feed or general emotional reassurance. This leaves me with a frustrating feeling of failing them all, of sucking as both a crofter and a mum. All these amazing things we have here - and I don't utilize them. Should my kids not ride their ponies every day? In reality, sometimes I hardly see the horses, I maybe shout good morning across the fields when I run to let the chickens out in the morning. Or should I not canter across our fields myself more often on my noble steed? As long as I have to be the cook / cleaner and nanny as well as lady of leisure, I'm afraid, the cantering has to wait. For all of us.

Some days I'm more forgiving with myself, whereas others I allow myself to beat myself up. Sometimes I manage to think that taking the kiddies along to go sheep shearing is a brilliant life-lesson. Watching mum and dad work for their money, and work hard, must surely be better than watching them sitting on the couch watching telly all day? But going shearing with the whole entourage doesn't happen often anymore these days - the shed will be filled with assorted crates and playpens (prisons) and the older the children get, the more discontent they will be in their various confinements. The only one who is endlessly patient is my first born - the pug. He just waits until the cord gets pulled and the motor stops. The rest of the children need to be constantly rehomed between the playpen, the woolsheet or other safe locations. My brain however can never switch off and I can never fully concentrate. I do love working though - I love most of the things I do, but having children attached makes most things a thousand times harder if not impossible.

Multitasking has become second nature to me. I can virtually simultaneously write this blog, post on Instagram, edit photos, order my husband to get veggies from the garden so I can turn them into dinner while throwing snacks in the general direction of the children while, in the absence of crying, assuming that they are happy enough playing with their Lego around my feet for the time being. Sometimes you have to buy 5-minute slots to make it through your day. And sometimes you rip an arm and a leg out to give them the most magical childhood experience and make memories and guess what happens when I drop everything on the one hot day of summer to set up the paddling pool for nature girl and her per lamb to have a skinny / wooly dip? Do you think they'll thank me for it? Reward me with their cooperation when it comes to actually bathing them, when every minute is precious (as is preserving my nerves)? Or, god forbid, grant me fifteen vain minutes all to myself?! You'll be suprised to learn that the answer is no. They take it all for granted, they neither know nor care that other children have to grow up without the benefit of having fresh eggs every to collect from their own chickens every morning or even the outdoor space to ride their toy tractor with a kitten in the trailer. No, they do not thank me for providing any of this and working my socks off for it. But they will do - one day, when their beautiful childhood is but a distant memory, when they squeeze their lives into a tiny student flat, when they dream of the hills of home. Then, maybe, they look at the pictures and dwell on the memories of tumbling between the veggie beds, digging out dinner, or going to look for bunny rabbits in the woods. And I might finally get more time for cantering through the hills. But I'll probably not enjoy it quite as much then: I will be missing my babies.

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