We had to sell Dan's favorite cow, Love.
Cows like Love are hard to come by. She was a bovine jungle gym. As soon as she'd lay down after milking, the kids were in her 'house' - as they called her stall - petting her and climbing on top of her and laying on her. Love never moved. She never tried to stand up while the kids were with her or otherwise indicated any irritation with the extra attention.
Initially, I think it was Love's red collar that made her stand out from the crowd. That collar was a homing beacon for Dan and Monika. They could find Love in seconds without having to decipher black and white markings.
But it was really Love's temperament that made her Dan's favorite cow. She's the cow that made me believe in the power of names. Love's twin sister, Laugh, is a docile cow, too, but she's not gentle enough to be a pet.
The thought of selling Love made both me and Glen cry. Not because we were particularly attached to her, but because we knew it would break Dan's heart.
We debated how to handle the situation. Should Love just disappear and we'd explain when Dan finally asked where she was? Or should we tell Dan before she goes so that he has a chance to say goodbye?
We decided to tell him in advance.
The night before we told him, I took the camera to the barn and took lots of pictures of the kids playing with Love. (I posted the photos on my blog - dairystar.blogspot.com.)
Then, the night before we sold Love, I sat Dan down. I told him we had to sell Love and that he should say goodbye and give her lots of extra hugs that night.
Dan cried really hard for a couple minutes while I held him. And then the questions started. "If Love's not here, then who am I going to cuddle with?" he asked.
I told him he could pick out a new cow. Or maybe he could take a calf to the fair and the calf would become his friend.
A half hour later, he asked, "What does sell mean? Do we have to kill Love?"
I know he understands that when we sell the bull calves they go to another farm to live there. I thought he understood what selling cows meant, too. When he came with me to the packing plant last summer, I tried to explain as sensitively as I could what happened there.
I told Dan that Love would go to the place where cows are turned into meat.
The next night, Dan saw that Love's stall was empty, but he didn't say much.
A little later, though, he asked if he could pick out a new cow. So we spent the next half hour trying to find a cow for Dan. I told Dan he had to let the cow get to know him first by petting her head.
We started with Dazzle, a gentle young cow who likes it when I scratch her head, but apparently doesn't like children. Glen suggested we try to befriend Willow, but that didn't go very well either. We were pondering who to try next, when it suddenly hit me - Misty and Lucy, two new heifers who are obnoxiously tame. Glen and I decided Lucy would be a better choice, so we gave it a shot.
I showed Dan who Lucy was and she just laid there while Dan pet her face. Dan was overjoyed. Satisfied that she wasn't going to buck him or otherwise maim him, I left Dan to continue befriending Lucy while I went back to my chores.
I knew we had picked the right cow when Dan came running up to me later and said, gesturing with both arms for emphasis, "Mom, Lucy licked my head! Now she's really going to know me!"
A bit after that, Dan asked, "Mom, can we go to the place where they turned Love into meat and get her red collar."
"I kept Love's red collar here," I told him.
"Really? Can we put it on Lucy?"
I took the red collar off the nail on the wall, Dan wrote Lucy's name on it with a black permanent marker, and then we exchanged Lucy's neck chain for the collar.
Now, every time Dan comes in the barn, he finds Lucy and says hello. And Lucy licks him.
The other night, Monika told me she couldn't fall asleep, so I told her to think about happy things like kittens and puppies and butterflies.
Dan chimed in and said, "I'm thinking about Skippy and Betty Kitty and Love and Ginger and Dinah and Lucy." (Skippy is our dog; Ginger and Dinah are cows.)
Yesterday, when I let the cows out of the barn, Dan was standing outside on the fence watching the cows. Lucy was the last cow to leave the barn.
As soon as Dan saw Lucy, his face lit up with a smile and he said, "I love Lucy."