“Mommy! Mommy! Come quick!” yelled Micah.

That can’t be good. We’ve only been back from the ER for 2 hours! (Maddox, my 2-year-old son, failed to establish a new summit atop Great-Grandma Cookie’s bathroom counter but got a few stitches for his effort.)

“It’s a cow! She’s sick! Come quick!”

“Come quickly,” I said, correcting her 4-year-old grammar. “I’m sure she’s having a baby. Let me get out of my pajamas and put the Little House put back together then I’ll come. It looks like a toy hurricane made landfall in here!”

“No, Mommy! Daddy says you need to come now!”

I climbed on the Polaris with Barrett and the kids and we drove towards the top of a large hill. I could see the cow coming into focus ahead of us. She was on her side, quiet and motionless.

“Keep the kids back, Babe. I think the cow’s dead.”

I got out and walked closer. I looked into her face and as I did, she opened her big brown eyes.

“She’s alive!” I yelled.

I walked around her and saw the hooves of her calf coming out.

We sped up to the Big House to grab Cookie and Popeye. Even though they are pushing 90 and Popeye is blind, they’ve been ranching for years and have a way with animals. They’d walk us through how to help.

After Cookie spoke to the vet, Barrett and I attached the obstetrical chains to the calf’s legs. The cow moaned and when the next contraction hit, Barrett, Cookie, and Popeye pulled, and pulled, and pulled.

Unfortunately, this was this heifer’s first calf and her bull calf was just too big. I put down the camera to assist, pulling back the cow’s vulva while everyone pulled the calf’s legs. Finally, the calf came out.

But it didn’t move.

“Clean out its mouth,” Popeye said. “And rub it down.”

I sat on the ground beside the calf and my heart sank. I knew Popeye couldn’t see what the rest of us saw. “Popeye,” I said. “This calf was dead before delivery.”

The late-afternoon shadows darkened the field as we fell silent. Even Micah was quiet.

“Okay, then,” Popeye started. “Let’s get a shovel and bury the afterbirth so the coyotes don’t get the cow tonight.”

“The coyotes are going to eat the cow?” Micah asked.

Popeye pulled his hat down low, not answering right away.

Cookie slammed her foot against the ground. “Not if I have anything to do with it! I’ll pull up the truck next to her and sleep here tonight to protect her.”

“You’re going to fight the coyotes, Cookie?” Micah asked.

“I will!” Cookie said sharply. I had a sneaking suspicion she was saying this for Popeye’s benefit more than Micah’s.

“Will you shoot the coyotes?”

“No,” Cookie said, “I’ll beat them off with a stick.”

Micah gave me a concerned look and my heart twisted. Going to my grandparents’ ranch immerses Micah and Maddox into the realities of mating, birthing, and death. Dogs, cats, hogs, cows, fish, skunks, etc., they see the day-to-day consequences of life – but they don’t typically see anything like this. I also realized that while I consciously work at developing my kids’ manners, academic acumen, and personal hygiene (ick), I don’t always purposefully cultivate empathy.

I knew Micah was on the verge of tears as she stared at the dead calf and sick cow.

“Poor cows,” she said, shaking her head.

I slid my arm around her neck, patting her shoulder to comfort her.

Then I met Micah’s eyes, and I did see empathy. But I also saw fierce loyalty – which made me just as proud.

“Mommy,” Micah said. “I’ll stay with Cookie tonight. She may need help with the coyotes.”

Micah and Maddox,
I hope that one day you love something, someone, or – someones – so deeply that you’d fight coyotes for them.
I know I do.