Life Lessons - The Story of Romeo

It has been a little over a year since we made the move down south and into the country.  I must be honest to say that we are REALLY in the country.  There are snakes, bears, foxes, possums, raccoons and many more creatures living around us.

When we moved into the country James started doing some chores for a farmer in the area.  Every morning he heads out and does chickens, feeds horses, lets the cows out to pasture and many more things that get the farm day off to a decent start a few miles down the road.  During his working time the farmer, Ms Polly, started talking to him about getting his own calf.  She told him about the local 4H project that is here in the area and told him that she thought he should consider doing a livestock project.  He was thrilled with the possibility and came home and told us (Dad and Mom) all about it.

Dad said no.  "We may be living in the country; but we are not farmers", he reasoned, and the case was closed.

James continued doing his chores every morning and Ms Polly kept talking to him.  She even made a phone call to me to explain the project and the details involved.

Dad still said no.  His reason was still valid in his eyes.

James kept working, earning money and putting it away.  Finally one night he asked Dad if he could they could sit down and talk - Man to Man.  Dad agreed and James laid out his plan.  He would pay for the calf.  He would pay for the feed and already had a good amount put aside in the bank for the upcoming feed expense if Dad agreed).  Dad quizzed him on everything:  Where would the calf stay?  How long would he be here?  How much would it cost?  What would he do if the calf got sick?  And, for every question James had an answer.  He had done his homework, made a plan and was just waiting for Dad to see it his way.

Much to James' surprise, Dad said yes!

With Ms Polly's help and contribution a lean to was set up outside the kitchen widow.  Straw was purchased and we attended the first 4H meeting.  The told us about all the things that could go wrong and how easy it is for a calf to get sick.  They told us what to do and assured us that the vet would oversee their care if the calf got sick.  Then we were handed papers to sign and handed in our money.  James had taken his own money out of the bank and had it ready for them when we handed in the paperwork.

Now, we just waited for the call.

On the week of Valentines Day we got the call.  The calf had been born and we could come and pick it up.  Mr Ken (Polly's husband) hooked up the trailer and him and James went and picked up the calf.  We were thrilled that it was here and it was decided that night that the heart shaped while spot on his forehead and the fact that he was born on the week of Valentines day that his name could be none other than "ROMEO".  (Whom Ms Polly has affectionately called - "lover boy" for the last 9 months.)

Two days after we got the calf,  Romeo become very very sick.  My Mom skills turned from homeschooling and fixing dinner to bringing out old blankets to the lean-to and rubbing a calf to keep him breathing.  There was much tears and the wee thing just about died during the first week.  It was really a touch a go week and I was sure that I would be comforting a grieving boy before we saw the week end.  We almost did.

But he pulled through....

They told us that the first few weeks are the most delicate and many do not make it during that time; but if you get them past that time it is usually pretty easy sailing - scours speaking.  Normally that is true.  But not with Romeo.

A few weeks later I was getting my morning cup of coffee and looked out the window to see a very sick calf - again.  James took his temperature and we found he had a very high fever and the vet was called again.  Shots were given and instructions were handed out.  I walked the 4H leader to her car she told me that they did not expect Romeo to make it through the night.  She apologized and told me that he would get a new calf for the project if he lost this one.  I cringed with the news.

A special diet was given.  Medication to stop the GI issues was prescribed and neither one of them was cheap.   James knew that his calf was his responsibility - so he started making phone calls asking people in the area if they had any jobs for him to do to earn some money for the extra supplies he needed for Romeo. (He cleaned horse stables, chicken coops and cleared pastures of weeds, stacked wood and helped stack hay into barns.   Anything he could to make some extra money.   He worked - and he worked hard.  About as fast as he earned the money he went and spent it on supplies needed to keep his calf alive.

The calf pulled through and we were thrilled.

A few weeks later James came in with tears in his eyes and told me that Romeo was dying.  I was shocked.  "How could he by dying?"  He had been fine that morning when I looked out the window.  I was sure James was mistaken and told him I would come out and take a look before he called the 4H office.  When I got out to the pen, I saw a very sick almost dead calf lying on the ground in front of me.  I told James to run in a call the office.

They said they would send someone right out.  We sat there together.  James, me and the calf.  He rubbed his body right above the heart and several times the calf stopped breathing.  James would rub harder and I would tell the calf to stick with us just a little while longer.  I was pretty sure the calf would be dead by the time help arrived.  When the calf started shaking and his eyes rolled back into his head I told James just to keep rubbing and to make sure the calf knew that he was not alone - I did not know what else to say.  I was hurting for my son who had tried so hard with this calf.

 I told him that this is how life is sometimes....  sometimes life hurts.  Through tears he said he understood and through tears I wished that it was a lesson that he did not have to learn like this.  Finally help arrived and IVs were started.  Shots were given and they told us that we would know by morning if he was going to pull through.  They told me as I walked them out to the car that sometimes you can do everything right and still have a calf die.  They told me James had done everything right; but the calf would not be here by the morning.  They assured me that a new calf would be given to him when this one died.  They apologized that James was having to go through this.

But... the calf pulled through.....

They told us this should be the end of the touch and go period.  They came out a few other times and took a look at him. He was doing great.  Wonderful.  Then when I was in WI for my counseling class, I got a phone call from a distraught boy.  Romeo was sick - again.  Again the same thing happened.  James took on more extra work to cover the extra expenses.  I hoped the calf would pull through.  As I was boarding the plane to come home I got a call from the 4H office.  Blood had been taken to test and see why the calf kept getting sick.  The results had come in a showed a disorder similar to an autoimmune issue.  Now we knew what we were dealing with.

We decided to keep the calf and keep working with him.  Over the course of the next several months Romeo would get sick over and over again.  But the illnesses were caught sooner and shots were given that helped him to get strong.  We kept look forward to the fair when we could show them how big he gotten and how well he was doing. For several months Romeo was without sickness or fevers; everything pointed to the fact that he had gotten older and stronger.  Everyone agreed that he must have kicked this disorder and James had a pretty good looking calf to bring to the county fair.  We could not be more pleased!

The show date was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.  James planned out his weekend.  When he would get his supplies ready.  New jeans were purchased for James a special brush for Romeo.  Extra feed had been started a month before to get him as fat as we could for the fair. He had developed quite and appetite and was so excited to see James come in the morning and the evening to give him feed.    A bath would be given on Saturday morning and then Romeo would be put out to pasture to bask in the sun and get as white as possible before the big day.

On Friday James came home from doing chores to tell me that he thought Romeo was sick.  He said his nose did not look right.  I told him to call the office.  They assured him that it was probably the cooler fall air that caused his nose to look too wet and that he should be fine.  I attributed it to nerves, and felt that as many times as James had encountered sickness with this calf he was entitled to a few last minute jitters.

Then, when he went to put Romeo in for the night he found a very very sick calf.  Calls were made, the vet was called and instructions were given to start him on a round of shots (a skill James had learned in the past months, unfortunately).  In the dusk of evening James got the news:  he could not bring his calf to the fair.  Sick cows were not allowed on the fairgrounds.

It was like a kick in the gut and James felt the sting of the kick hard and deep.

I kept thinking of how much he had tried, how much money he had spent, how much time he had worked to train the calf and prepare it for the show.  I wanted to cry; but I couldn't.  I tried to stay strong for James who, while he was disappointed, was taking the news like a man.  Sometimes life hurts deeply.  This was one of those times.  James was learning a life lesson; but it was hard for me to watch.

They told him to come to the fair anyway.  He had been part of the project and should be there with the other kids doing the project.  I felt like that would hurt more than not having a calf there.  To sit there and watch all the other kids show their calves and to know that was what he was supposed to be doing.  I wondered if we should just keep him home - it would be easier.

James said he wanted to go.  I told him that was fine.  I started reasoning through how we could have kept this from happening.  I wondered if we should have asked for another calf when Romeo had gotten sick the second time.  I wondered what we could have done differently.  I wished with all of my heart that there was something that I could do to take away the sting that life was dealing out to James.  There was nothing I could do.  So, I told him we would go and try to make the best of the day.

We arrived bright and early.  Everyone else was at the parking lot with their trailers in tow, hauling their calves.  We just had our van - no trailer.  We headed to the livestock barn and 4H friends were bathing and brushing their calves and getting them ready for the show.  James went over to a girl that he had gotten to know at the last meeting.  She was getting her calf ready.  As soon as she saw him she asked him about Romeo.  James told her that he was sick.  She had heard someones calf was sick and had hoped it was not his.  It was.

James picked up a brush and started helping her wash her calf.  Then she looked at him and told him that if he wanted he could show her calf.  The two of them were showing at different times and her calf would be available when James was supposed to be in the ring.  It was agreed upon. (The 4H office had said they would try to get him a calf to show that day to get him the experience of being in the ring.)

It was not the same as showing Romeo; but her offer had been heartfelt and made the sting a little more bearable.

So the fair was bitter sweet.  James missed having his calf there.   Sometimes you can do everything right and still not have it turn out the way you thought it would.  I realized James was learning a life lesson this weekend.  Yes, it hurt to be there at the fair without his calf; but he pitched in and helped in any way he could.  He hung signs, helped with others calves and was given the opportunity to be in the ring.  He made the best of it.  It still hurt - but that is life.  Getting up and going on even when it is hard.

When the award ceremony started I knew it would be hard.  We clapped and watched as pictures were taken and ribbons handed out.  Then they announced the last award:  The Sportsmanship Award.  Before they presented the award they told about the boy who had a calf that had been nursed back to health so many times in the past months, had been cared for and medications purchased with the 4H'ers own money, and how he had gotten sick just hours before the show.  They told how the boy had not pouted or been mad when they had to make the decision that his calf could not come to the fair, and that he had pitched in and helped in anyway he could the entire day during the show.

"That is why this years Sportsmanship Award goes to James Spurgeon..." and James was called into the ring.  I cried as he was handed the award; and thought of all the awards that he could have received I am most glad he received this one.

Soon there will be a plaque on our wall with the award mounted on it.  (Compliments of the 4H office).  And as I go past that award I will remember that is when James learned about life.  Sometimes life does not happen the way you plan, sometimes life causes much pain but it is what you do during those times that builds your character and makes you into a man.  This weekend James became more of a man.

We were sitting at the table eating dinner on our way home from the fair and I said, "I wish we would have asked them for another calf when Romeo got sick the second time..."  It was James' response that made me realize just how much of a life lesson he had learned.

"Mom, somebody can have a baby that has down syndrome and they don't get to look at that baby and say, 'Can I have a new one - I don't want that one..."  No, Romeo was my calf and I did the best I could.  I have learned a lot and today I was disappointed; but that is how is was supposed to be."

I shook my head in agreement.  He was right.  This years 4H project taught him about life - and I am so glad Dad said yes after their 'Man to Man' talk.  It was the right decision.

He is already making plans for next year's calf.  He has a few propositions for Dad, too.  There will be another Man to Man chat and he will ask Dad if Zak can have a calf too.  A mentor-ship is being planned in his mind.  You see, he has a little brother that has been quite taken with the livestock at Ms Polly's barn; and has tagged along his big brother for several weeks now.  Perhaps the two of them could each had a calf.  He has already talked to Ms Polly and the 4H office.  Now, he just needs Dad to say yes.  We will see.

Thanks for stopping by.  I am so glad you did!



Rachel said...

James, you have done such a good job with that calf! I really think you've grown up through this process :) <3

Becky K. said...

Oh my goodness...I have tears running down my face. I'm sharing this. You have such a special young man there. I'm so glad the 4-H folks recognized it.