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Vulnerability and Change

It’s been rainy out our way, and authorities have declared a state of emergency in Richland County along with many other counties in southwestern Wisconsin. However, we’ve been lucky to avoid the flooding.

As summer draws to a close we are spending our time harvesting vegetables, adding strings to the trellises of growing tomatoes, weeding peppers, potatoes, and squash, planting fall crops of spinach, turnips, and lettuce, mowing paths, processing chickens, and caring for the other farm animals.

There’s not much time to squeeze in anything else, but Bill and I took Aidan to watch our neighbors compete in the annual Blue River tractor pull Saturday night. While I appreciate the work tractors do, this was the first pull I’ve ever gone to – it’s not really my thing. In spite of the noise and smoke of the revving engines, I was surprised to find myself fascinated by the techniques the drivers used to pull a weighted skid 300 feet across the line. Or “out the door” as the announcer bellowed when a driver made it! Then on Sunday we participated in the associated parade by marching with our state senate candidate Kriss Marion. It was satisfying to help others meet her and learn about her policies.

Meanwhile Liam has been busy working with wood. He's recently carved a few things like a keychain for his dad, a walking staff, and a decorative vampire stake. Wood as a medium has piqued his interest and inspired him to claim shed space next to his metal shop for woodworking. It was an area in dire need of organization as it had become a dumping ground for all sorts of tools, parts, buckets, supplies, and even garbage – mostly farm stuff that falls under Bill’s domain. And even though Bill wished it cleaned up, he wasn’t ready to deal with it right now.

Liam, being Liam, went ahead anyway. He sorted what he could and after a few days, cajoled an irritated Bill into viewing his progress. Once there, Bill, reluctantly at first, but then catching the spirit, looked through piles Liam had set aside for him. He sorted, stacked, and even found forgotten treasures like a brand new air chisel!

Earlier this week Liam set up his stations and organized the workbenches. Last night he was ready to try it all out. He was working on the handle of a new carving tool he was making and decided to use the joiner to smooth out a rough spot. Unfortunately the small piece of wood flipped up as he pushed it over the spinning blades, causing his ring finger to make contact with the whirring metal. A small chunk of the front corner of his finger and also of his nail were torn off before he could pull his hand away. Dripping blood, Liam came to the house, not certain how serious the injury.

He found us upstairs getting ready for bed. Bill opened Liam’s hand to assess the situation. Liam got really pale and felt lightheaded, so we got him a stool and a cool cloth for his forehead. He didn’t pass out, and we determined it was not necessary to go to the hospital. The front corner tip of the finger was completely gone, so there wasn’t anything to repair. The immediate needs were to clean it, make sure the bleeding stopped (it had slowed down significantly,) apply antibacterial salve, and cover it up. Bill took charge of all that while I found supplies and dispensed ibuprofen.

Later, all bandaged up, Liam, still high on adrenaline and relieved that he wasn’t hurt worse, became chatty as he —one-handedly — fixed himself a cup of tea. As he talked, I absentmindedly listened. While I, too, was relieved, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of vulnerability. Vulnerability to climate change and its resulting weather events, but also vulnerability to life events.

Usually I go about the business of each day feeling Bill and I have a comfortable amount of control over what happens to our farm and family. But Liam's brush with disaster, floods all around us, more rain in the forecast, and the changes that Liam's high school graduation bring were combining to shake that faith.

On top of it all, he turns nineteen next week. Nineteen . . . my dad was only nineteen when I was born. It feels significant. I look at Liam; his strong jaw and dark curly hair remind me of my handsome father. And I realize my boy has become a man in front of my very eyes.

Much the way Bill felt pushed to clean the shed before he was ready, I feel pushed to accept Liam's adulthood before I want to. I'm fearful. What if he's not ready? What if he gets hurt, and neither Bill nor I am there to help? I feel Liam's vulnerability and don't want to let go.

Even so, it’s time for me to pull back and let him take the reins of his life. Because Liam, being Liam, is pushing ahead with or without me.

Tomorrow he starts a new job and next week, class at UW-Richland. I’m excited and happy for him - for all the new experiences he’ll have. Liam’s ready, but I'm scared. This accident made me want nothing more than to scoop him up and keep him safe like when he was a toddler and wandered too close to the water. But he’s too big for that . . . and doesn’t want me to anyway . . . even if I could actually pick him up.

Of course, he’s glad I’m close, but he really wants and needs me to stand back a little. And that is hard for me after all these years of holding the reins. I won’t be able to protect him – not even in our shed.

I have to trust that the upbringing we’ve provided, in all its imperfections, will be enough as he continues to experience the world. My role is changing whether I want it to or not, whether I am ready for it or not, whether it's hard for me or not. I can cling to him, or I can push myself to catch up and find my new place in his life.

I owe it to him . . . and to myself to do that . . . wish me luck!

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