On Giants' Shoulders

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Girl and Her Horse

Abby's horse Eclipse died yesterday. She had been diagnosed with an intestinal obstruction on Thursday, but when the blood test results came back on Saturday, it turned out that she was in kidney failure. Even heroic measures would have been pretty unlikely to change the course of things and Eclipse was actually too weak to be transported to a medical facility anyway. So the hard choice got made.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about Abby and Eclipse the past few days. I've realized that, although I've never spent a great deal of time with Eclipse by myself, that much of my time with Abby during her teens was spent on Eclipse related activities. There were the early morning trips to the stable for Abby to work off part of the board for Eclipse. There were the training sessions in the afternoon that I drove her to. There were riding lessons on Eclipse. There were trips to saddle shops to look at saddles for Eclipse. There were escapades of trying to get Eclipse onto trailers to go from home to a stable, from a stable to home again. There were the trips to the feed store to try to find something to keep the gnats off Eclipse since she was so incredibly allergic to them. There were trips to the fabric store to buy material to make Eclipse a blanket to wear at the stable. There were the trips from home to Shoreham both for riding lessons and for regular riding sessions when Eclipse was staying there. There was the day that Eclipse got bred by the Arab stallion. There were photo opportunities on the front lawn at home. There were the days when I held Eclipse while Hope was getting her feet trimmed or vice versa. There were the trips to bookstores to pick out books on horse training. There were the schemes to try to figure out how to build a round pen (that one never came to fruition).

I'm not a horse person. A lot of the time in a certain sense I was only along for the ride. I drove the car, I tutored in order to pay for riding lessons, I read John Lyon newsletters to better understand the whole process, but ultimately it wasn't my project. I was a facilitator, not an instructor.

Often people ask me how high school works for homeschoolers. They have this idea of parents teaching algebra and French, Shakespeare, and physics and are daunted by it all. Now for the most part Abby learned algebra from a textbook and had the gaps filled in by a wonderful instructor at UVM when she took Pre-calculus math. We tried French (and I did have 18 hours of college French so this wasn't a totally wild thing to do), but never really got as far as either of us probably thought we might. We did do some Shakespeare (I was an English major after all), skipped physics, and she took chemistry at CCV. I honestly think, however, that Abby learned more from Eclipse and because of Eclipse than she did from any of the more conventional school type stuff. She ended up majoring in Animal Sciences with most of her course work centering around equine science. She went to college on a scholarship and graduated magna cum laude, so clearly something worked.

It strikes me now how many of those high school hours were spent on horse related activities. Abby learned to drive largely by driving to and from Shoreham. We often used those drives as a time for me to read to her from one book or other that we were working our way through. I specifically remember reading Peter Kreeft's The Summa of the Summa, but I know there were others as well.

Today is just the sort of fall day that Abby loved being a homeschooler. It was a day like today that she would do schoolwork for awhile and then go hop on Eclipse for a short trail ride or go work on lounging her in her paddock. She would comment on how the other kids were in school while she got to spend time with her horse. She'd then work on algebra or something else late into the evening, but it was a small price to pay for having spent the afternoon with her horse.

Abby's job right now is as a medical fact checker. Her college coursework is now paying off. That college coursework that looked like simply indulging her love of horses for a few more years is helping to pay the bills. She has a job that is allowing her to stay home with her baby while still earning some much needed cash. So the end result of all those years with Eclipse is that a a different dream came true.

There were lots of dreams that never did come true. Abby never did get to take Eclipse to a John Lyon clinic. She never did get to do endurance riding with her. She never was able to do the amount of riding with her she would have liked to because Eclipse spooked too easily for it to be safe for Abby to ride her on the trail by herself and there really wasn't a good place to ride her around here. She never even got to get a registered Morgan baby out of her because the paperwork to register Eclipse herself got messed up. However, she did get a registered half-Arab baby who is now at a wonderful home with a wonderful trainer who keeps Abby updated on her progress regularly. We had hoped that once Eclipse hit the older horse stage that she'd be calmer and Abby would be able to take her out on the trail. Unfortunately, that was another dream that had to die because Eclipse came up permanently lame awhile back and was no longer really rideable at all.

I suspect that Abby is more grateful today for the dreams that did come true. She got to spend hours and hours with her horse. She got to take her to college and ride her nearly every day in a great facility. She had the fun of raising a foal and training her to the point that someone else with a better facility and more time could take over and finish the job. She learned lessons about training that will serve her well someday when she has the time and the place for another horse. For I'm pretty certain that ultimately there will be another horse. It won't be for awhile, and it will never be quite the same, it will be a different horse for a different time in her life. There will never be another horse to grow up with. This was the horse that saw her grow from a 10 year old to a grown woman. This was the horse that heard about the broken heart after broken relationships, the horse she missed while she was in Pittsburgh, the horse that taught her that training has to include firmness as well as gentleness. The best parts of the dream, to have a horse to grow up with were there. And me, well the best part for me was that I got to go along for the ride. I got to watch it happen. I saw the confidence she learned, the maturity she developed, the resourcefulness she exhibited, the patience she showed, even the acceptance of the deaths of dreams. Watching my daughter become a horsewoman required a great deal of courage on my part. I was frightened, but I had to not let her be. Ultimately, taking a chance on her abilities really paid off.

Someday I hope my daughter, the sometime writer, will write her own story of Eclipse. After all I was just the observing bystander. I wasn't the person who felt the horse beneath me, or fell off on occasion. I was frequently the hander of things, often the payer of bills, hopefully the adequate cheerleader, and of course the car service. Ultimately , the story of the girl and her horse will have to be written by the girl.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Well, last week I made major progress on the sweater, got the measurements for LW's new sweater, took herbs to my daughter, cleaned out a corner of the computer room, finished all my fair paperwork and got it to the proper people, got books at the library to start my classes with Brigid (this is the library in Burlington, so one day got chewed up with a B-town trip), went to my doctor's appointment, got minimal amounts of exercise, but did walk the 4 flights of stairs up to David's office one day, made a vet appointment for my daughter's horse, finished watching season 3 of Heroes so I'm all ready for season 4 when it starts up, and did the random housework I do every week. It doesn't look like much when I set it all down, but the paperwork entailed a trip to Rutland which with one thing and another ate up all of one afternoon, the sweater knitting and Heroes watching ate up much of Tuesday, the computer room cleaning ate up a goodly chunk of Weds., the Burlington trip ate up all of Thursday, then Friday got eaten up with getting ready for the doctor's appointment, getting ready for company, going to the doctor's appointment (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting), then coming home to make dinner etc. Saturday got eaten up with horse related stuff and baby rocking (a most pleasant occupation by the way). So here we are at Sunday, and while there weren't major mistakes in the week there weren't any major accomplishments to speak of either.

It actually turned out to be a sad week. My daughter's horse (which she raised from a newborn foal) was diagnosed as terminally ill. We didn't even know she was sick until this week. Initially it was thought that she had some sort of intestinal blockage, but it turns out that she's in kidney failure for some unknown reason, but there really is no way to fix it. In the best case scenario she'd have to be transported to Saratoga for expensive treatment and there would be no guarantee that they would be able to fix what's wrong with her since we don't know the underlying cause. Eclipse hates being trailed under the best of circumstances and we're pretty sure the stress of being trailed would kill her anyway, even if we could justify the thousands of dollars in a heroic effort that might be pointless anyway. So the vet will be coming this morning to euthanize her. It's a really sad day for all of us. Eclipse has been one of only two horses I've been comfortable with (and I've never even really ridden her, I just got walked around on her once). She's been the one horse here I could walk up to and pet and not worry about getting kicked. I've watched Abby train her and ride her, and become a more confident person because of her. Abby's the horse person, not me. I don't cry over horses dying, but I'm crying over this one. So while last week didn't have major mistakes in it, it still turned out to be a bummer of a week in some respects. It's a good thing I started it with energy because it ended up taking all the energy I had.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Brand New Week With No Mistakes In It

The last couple of weeks have been hectic, scattered, sometimes frustrating. So today is Monday, yesterday being the last day of the fair (with its attendant checking out of the stuff in the 4-H building) felt more like the end of a week than the beginning. So I'm now looking at a fresh new week with no mistakes in it as Anne would say. It just has the mistakes of past weeks still in it. This week brings up a doctor's appt., that will underscore the mistakes of a year (I've gained back about 15 pounds!), a trip to Rutland to take the final paperwork to the 4-H office. That's because of a mistake I made last week in not xeroxing out a copy of one piece of paperwork. It also means a possible trip to the furniture store to try out mattresses because the new one seems to be a mistake (I'm still waking up every 2-3 hours all night long). So the mistakes of the past are following me into this new mistake free week.

Yet, I'm still feeling like it's a brand new week. The sun is shining, I ate a healthy breakfast, there are new pictures of my granddaughter to print out. I'm feeling more energetic than I have in a couple of days . I'm actually thinking about perhaps getting some actual exercise. None of those particular mistakes of the past week, or past year are beyond repairing, unlike some sorts of mistakes.

I've been reading Art and Larraine Bennet's book Understanding Your Temperament, and I'm realizing that my upbeat attitude towards a new week probably has a lot to do with my basic temperament. I'm a sanguine, no doubt about it (just ask my kids!). I have the attention span of a Labrador Retriever puppy, I start projects with enthusiasm, but have to force myself to finish them. I'm a sidetracked home executive, a failure at FlyLady, but I bounce back like Tigger. Reading the book helps me understand not only myself, but the other members of the family as well. It also helps me understand why they don't always understand me. What our family is lacking, pretty much across the board, is a driven choleric who could take charge and make things happen. My father was one of those. We have melancholics, galore, several phlegmatics and well at least a couple of sanguines. The problem with this mix is that, the phlegmatics have a difficult time getting started on a project, the melancholics are too perfectionistic to tackle it, and we sanguines are great starters but have no real sticking power. To add to the problem sanguines are really sensitive to other people's moods so when the discouraging words do come from the melancholics it's far too easy to simply give up (something we sanguines do easily enough without discouraging words).

Soooo, I'm trying to harness all of the self-discipline I naturally lack, and bringing my no mistakes yet enthusiasm into this week, actually accomplish some of the tasks I've set out for myself. I've got a sweater I'm working on, a pair of socks to finish (just got to pick up the stitches around the heel and knit down to the toe), there are peppers in the garden that need to have something done with them, I've promised to visit a friend this week, and to bring some herbs to my daughter in the big city. Then of course there is that aforementioned doctor's appointment, as well as getting set up with my tutoring schedule for Brigid. What with housework, exercise, eating right it could be a busy week. However, right now it still looks like this wonderful blank sheet of paper with no blotches on it. I'm praying for the grace to make it productive, a week filled with loving acts, and no mistakes in it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I Still Think About This So I Ran It Again

You might notice that I've put a link to an older post here. I did it so that it could be linked from Jennifer's Et Tu site. It's supposed to be my representative post, and somehow it seemed pretty representative for me. It's about family, it's about giant's shoulders I'm standing on, it's about the past and the future.

I've had a little over a year as a mother-in-law now and I certainly hope that I'm doing my own mother-in-law proud. I'm certainly trying to. I think my new son-in-law probably has made it somewhat easier for me than I may have made it for my own mother-in-law. Unlike the characters on sit coms who complain about their in-laws there's no complaints here. I had a wonderful set of in-laws and I have a terrific son-in-law.

Today at our LLL meeting we talked about the ways in which the grandparents of new babies made things either easier or more difficult. It was interesting because the stories were all so very different. One mom, who had a very difficult delivery and recovery was blessed to have her own parents move in for a month and do everything except feed the baby. Another mom talked about how her father had defended her against criticism from his wife (not her own mother), and how proud he was of her for following her own instincts. There were some complaints about grandparents who'd tried to interject uneducated advice, but for the most part the moms seemed to understand that the advice came with good intentions, but from an uninformed perspective. I asked them what would be most helpful from grandparents, one said she'd like her mom to be more open with her, another said educating themselves about the facts about breastfeeding and babies sleep needs. They all reiterated over and over how important it was for grandparents to trust the instincts of the parents and not undermine them. One even had a book to recommend for me to read before I write my "pamphlet for grandmothers." Overall it was a fun meeting for me because I was getting some real insight into what the needs of these particular moms were, but also what the needs of the moms of this generation are. They aren't totally different from the needs of moms of my generation, but there are some new wrinkles. I was amazed to find how many of the moms were dealing not just with parents and in-laws, but with step parents as well. That really did seem to complicate the picture a great deal, and it's something I had not thought about as I began to approach the topic.

I wish sometimes that I could sit and talk with my mother-in-law again and ask her how she managed to be such a wonderful support despite the fact that she hadn't nursed her own babies. Perhaps it really was because she attempted to be an intuitive mother despite the fact that she bottle fed and despite the fact that she had no modeling for being a mother-in-law. I'm not sure how she managed, I only know that standing on her shoulders I hope I can approximate what she did.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On Giants' Shoulders: What I Learned From My Mother-In-Law

On Giants' Shoulders: What I Learned From My Mother-In-Law