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The Legend of the Cash Cow

12 Jan

(I wrote this many years ago for a professional newsletter as a protest to the way adjunct instructors were treated, but I think its relevance speaks volumes these days. In many ways, those of us who are left standing in our jobs are definitely cash cows, if anything, the situation is perhaps more widespread and prevalent today….)

Once upon a time there was a young boy who had a cow.  The boy was poor and decided to take his cow to the market to sell it.  At the market he met a man who dealt in dairy cows and asked the man how much he could get for his cow.  The man looked at the boy, and went about his business of inspecting the cow.  The cow was a beautiful and gentle creature that had soft and kind eyes which gleamed when the man approached her.  Her black and white coat was silky and smooth.  The man reached down and tugged on a teat to taste her milk.  It was rich and creamy.

Looking at the boy, he said, “You really should keep this cow because you’ll make more money milking her and selling the milk than you would selling her right off the bat.”  “Really?”, responded the boy.  “Oh yes, said the man, she’s what we call a ‘cash cow’, gentle yet strong, rich milk, good disposition.  If you keep her and take good care of her, she’ll bring in a lot of money.” “Wow!”, exclaimed the boy.  “That’s great!”  The boy took the rope tied around the cow’s neck in his hand and started to lead her away.

The man reached out to the boy and firmly laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I must warn you, though, that when you have a ‘cash cow’ you need to take care of her.  Make certain that she has enough to eat, is properly sheltered and that her health is good.  Give her a nice pasture to exercise in.  Don’t over milk her, as, if you do, eventually the milk will become rancid and those who drink it may become sick.  If you don’t take care of her, you’ll suffer dire consequences.”  The boy’s eyes rested on the cow, only partially catching what the man was saying.  In his mind he pictured the look of the jealous villagers as he walked down the street with gold coins jingling in his pocket.  He thought about the things that he could buy for his family and the envy of his neighbors.  The words of warning from the man in the market were quickly forgotten.

When the boy returned to his village he told his family what the man in the market had said about cash cows.  His family was impressed that they had a cash cow in their midst.  They settled the cow back into the old dilapidated cow shed and drew up plans of what they would do once the money came in.

Many months and years passed.  The family was soon the richest in the village and the milk of the cow was touted as being the richest and most nutritious in the land.  Some people even said that the milk had magic properties.  One legend was that if a person were to drink the milk long enough, they’d be able to speak in another tongue and communicate with people from other villages.  Another story was that the cow’s milk enlarged the brain and people who drank it were able to learn better and do better in school.   Many had seen this happen with their own eyes, and soon people were coming from beyond the kingdom to partake of the cow’s milk.

While the family was reaping the wealth of their cash cow sitting comfortably in their warm large house working now only as needed, the cow was kept out in an unheated shed in the back.  The family had employed a boy from the village to milk the cow as much as 30 times a week to keep up with demand.  They also realized that if they bought the lowest grade feed for the cow, they could turn a nice neat profit.  Keeping the cow in the shed was also profitable and skimping on the heating (especially during the long cold winters) really kept the family in the black.  They cut corners wherever they could in terms of the care of the cow, so that they could get more and more gold coins.

After a while (and especially during the winter), the cow started continuously mooing.  At first it was a low-pitched moan, but after a while it became much louder.  The family heard the moos, but were too involved in spending their new found guineas.  The mooing grew progressively loud enough so that the neighbors could hear.  They mentioned this to the family, but to no avail.  The family ignored the cow thinking that she was one of god’s lower creatures, and continued to count their coins. The cow grew weaker.  The sheen of her once lustrous coat was no more.  Her  udder hardened from being over milked.  By  the end of each day she could barely gather enough strength to stand.  After a while, the milk she had produced was sour and bitter.  The customers who came to the family from far and wide, upon tasting the rancid milk, grew unhealthy and became sick.

The family paid little attention to the physical decline of their cash cow.  They were still getting a steady flow of gold streaming into the family coffers, and they didn’t even think to realize that the amount of gold they took in was in any way related to the health of their cash cow.

Eventually people stopped buying the family’s milk.  Their gold quickly ran out because they were still spending lavishly on almost everything but the care of their cow.  Their neighbors and former customers were upset because they had paid high prices for the legendary milk but found out that they were only buying spoilt milk.  Many of them demanded their money back from the family, and soon the family fell deeply into debt, selling off their prized possessions just to make ends meet.  Once more the family was poor.

The dairy salesman, who had previously warned the boy about what would happen if the cow weren’t properly taken care of, happened to be passing by the village and had heard about what had happened to the family.  He went round to the shed where the once beautiful cow was kept.  Lying on her side shallowly breathing, she silently let out a last moan and laid her head down to die.  The salesman took her head in his hands and shook his head from side to side thinking that it was truly a pity the family didn’t take his advice, and had exploited the cow for their own gain.  Now the family’s life was in tatters…and their cow was dead.

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Class Matters

3 Jan

The conversation I had with the woman at the local taco stand began innocently enough. The place was full and there was an extra space at the picnic table I was sitting at with my daughter, Alex. The woman was my age, maybe a little older, and immediately after she asked if she could join us said, “So what classes are you taking?”

Now in most situations this would be a normal topic of conversation. Kids nowadays have so many extracurricular classes and activities — especially in my neighborhood where most of the kids from pre-school age on up take a lot of prep courses to get into good schools. I looked over at Alex and then returned my gaze to my newfound mom-companion.

“None right now, she’s not ready.”

The mom was shocked. I could see it all clearly in the expression on her face. It’s almost like I committed a mom-crime or something. I mean how could I not have my child enrolled in several different classes? What kind of mom was I? Maybe I should be written up for child neglect. After all, who in their right mind didn’t have their child going to classes yet?

I reached over to tug at Alex’s foot. “Nope, no classes.” Alex let out a little cry. We were getting close to naptime. I gently rocked the infant seat that she was reclining in, talked a little bit more and then after a few minutes bid the mom goodbye and took my 8 month old back to the car.

Nope, no classes.

For the longest time I was the only mom I knew who didn’t go to classes with my baby. Most of the moms had their kids doing everything from the free parenting classes at our local community college to baby swim lessons. “Music Together”, Mommy and Me, Gymboree, and baby signing classes all were names tossed around when our kids hit the 4 month mark. My fellow mom friends were always talking about trying something new, packing their barely cognizant little ones off to classes that cost more per 20 minute session than the 90 minute yoga classes I used to take at an upscale studio. The small talk at the taco stand wasn’t something out of the ordinary. Everyone, it seems, takes it as normal that kids who can’t even crawl should have something ‘educational’ to occupy their time.

Forget staring at the ceiling fan, playing with stacking blocks, or raiding the Tupperware drawer. The best way to ‘raise’ a kid is to start them off right – by putting them into a structured environment where they can ‘learn’ something. News flash – kids are learning each and every second of the day, and here’s the rub – one of the best ways they can learn is if we get out of their way.

Childhood used to be all about fun. Now it’s about who is doing what where.

Don’t get me wrong. I did eventually sign Alex up for parenting class once she was about a year old when it no longer interfered with her nap schedule. She gets to play with a lot of cool toys – many of which are old standbys that have been around as long as I have – as well as interact with other kids. I get to hang out with other moms, kvetch and eat a donut now and again. There is a schedule but there’s no agenda for the kids. They have song time, story time, and free play. It’s a great deal. Especially since all this is… free.

Free non-structured playtime with toys and a few carbs once or twice a week should be good enough. But, for many of the moms in my class, they still have their kids signed up for even more things to do. Trying to organize playdates with these moms is also always an issue. “We have ‘x’ class that day” being a common refrain. Just recently at a birthday party one of the moms had to rush their kid off to his class, just popping in to say a quick “Hi. Happy Birthday!” Poor kid missed having ice cream cake just so he could go to…school.

I’m all for kids playing together and learning how to be social. Playdates, which I shunned pre-momhood, I have learned to accept as a necessity — getting out of the house a must for my sanity. But I just can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would shell out big bucks to put their kids in classes. My best memories of childhood are of running around, playing in the park, getting dirty, and making up games with other kids. Parents were actually kind of boring. They never could come up with good storylines or understand how a box could become a castle with just a few blankets and a broom.

In many ways I feel like I’m a mom from another planet. I could really care less if my child learns about music theory by the time she’s 2. It seems enough that she sings her ABCs on her own while beating some pots and pans on the floor. She’s experimenting with rhythm and melody in her own unique way. Why would I pay $100 per month to have a ‘childhood development expert’ teach something that my child already is doing intuitively?

So these days when I say I have no class, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Is it just me???

11 Aug

Time just seems to slip by these days. Just had the thought today of how ironic we have the expression of ‘having time’ when it’s such an intangible and elusive concept.

Blogiversary… A few of my favorite posts…

17 Feb

Today’s my 2 year blogiversary. Last year I was a little too busy to blog what with giving birth (or close to it) and all. But this year I thought I’d give my blog a little more attention.

When I first started this blog, I really wanted it to be a place where I wrote essays about my daily life. No small thing was too small. Most of my writing I really wanted to focus on fiber, since fiber is what speaks to me no matter how long between projects. I spent a lot of time on my initial blog posts, hoping to hone my writing skills. I also wanted to post patterns and tutorials on my blog. My goals were to increase my traffic. My hope was that someone would ‘discover’ my writing and that I could parlay that into something larger.

But, two months into my blogging adventures, life suddenly changed. I got engaged, moved, pregnant and married all within the course of 6 months. I just didn’t have the energy to devote myself to my blog the way I wanted to. In fact I probably posted more blogs in my first month than I have this past year.

Oh well. C’est la vie. My life is so rich these days and I will always have a blog (or whatever will be around in coming years) to return to when I have more time.

For the moment, though, I thought I would post links to my favorite posts. The posts that really tell a lot about me and that might have gotten buried in a chronological sidebar archive somewhere along the way.

The people’s corn

11 Feb

Slovak Notes 1991

The cornfield across from our dorm at Jedlikova 9 was a maze of cornrows scattered with abandoned parts of machinery. Twisting and winding through them was a feat in and of itself. We used to cut through these state-owned fields in order to go to the restaurant at the local campground, called, of all things, Auto-camping. Doing this shaved some time off our trip (we’ve have to otherwise transfer trams, busses, and still have to walk). We usually used the cornfield as a place to get somewhere else, but one day during the summer, we actually decided to go to the cornfield – and pick some corn.

It was early summer and I had been out late the night before with one of my Slovak friends, Peter, and a few of his buddies. Peter, from a town outside Kosice in the northeast, was a total card. Blessed with a brilliant sense of humor, generous heart and an artistic eye, he had a talent for taking photos and for winning people over. I think I met him in the club room of our dorm and having befriended him, Brian and I would often go out with him. Over time we had developed a friendship with Peter – one in which we never knew what would happen next.

So, on this one hot summer day, while lying in bed recovering from the previous night’s festivities (or rather, in Slovakia at least, normal evening), Peter knocked loudly on my door.

“Katka, let’s go get some corn!”

Opening the door my slightly spinning head registered Peter standing with bag in hand and I thought to myself, “Hey, why not, a trip to the market would probably help me work the beer out of my system.”

In my innocence, I thought we were going to one of the vegetable stands that popped up during the summer and fall or a nearby village where they grow corn. But, as with so many things in Slovakia, that wasn’t the case.

We went next door, grabbed Brian, crossed the tram tracks, the soccer field, and headed into the cornfield across the street.

“We’re gonna get corn here???!!”

“Sure, everyone does it. It’s the people’s corn, after all!”

Brian and I exchanged uneasy glances with each other, pictures of guys with shotguns threatening to shoot us or of dark deportation cells running through our hung-over heads. Maybe it was because we weren’t really lucid that we simply shrugged at each other and followed Peter down the corn rows into the heart of the field.

We had gone quite a way when we heard a noise. It wasn’t anything like a bird or the rustling of the wind through the tall ears. It was a high-pitched human voice. Brian and I looked questioningly at each other, but Peter, ever fearless walked right up to where the noise was coming from where, there was, of all things, an old car parked.

Inside the car the windows were steamy and a young couple was…well…sowing their seeds in the middle of the day totally oblivious to our presence.

Giggling and cracking jokes we continued on our quest to pick corn. We passed row after row until we reached the spot where there was corn that suited Peter. It wasn’t like we were just taking an ear or two either. Peter had brought a big bag. Big enough to feed half the dorm corn.

As we chatted and filled our bags, we heard footsteps approaching. It was a cop whose job it was, we guessed, to safeguard the corn. Peter, totally unaware, kept picking, but Brian and I stopped, looked at each other somewhat fearfully replaying the picture of a dank Slovak holding cell in our minds. “Hey, Peter, there’s a cop!” Peter, totally unfazed turned around.

“Is that your car?” the policeman asked.

“Nope”, Peter replied. “But there was a couple in it. They were ‘parking’, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh”, the cop said. A pause. I could almost feel the cold air of the Slovak prison enveloping me as the seconds seemed to endlessly tick away.

The cop continued, “As long as it isn’t your car, parking isn’t allowed here.”

“Oh, we’re not parking. We’re just getting some corn.”

“Hmmm. Well as long as you’re not parking here, it’s okay.”

And with a parting wave, the policeman wished us a good day.

Peter slung the bag of corn over his shoulders and we headed back home. He never once flinched or seemed afraid of trespassing or illegally picking corn. I guess there must have been some sort of post-socialist understanding that stealing was okay – just as long as you weren’t illegally parked.

Copyright K. Datko

Next post…

11 Feb

This is a post about my next post (no witty or elliptical heading here…). For the past few years I’ve been writing essays about my life in Slovakia after the wall fell. I thought I’d post a few on my blog in hopes of getting feedback or ideas about what to do with them. (I’d love to get them published.)

So, if there is a post with no baby, political or fiber content, chances are it’s a crazy story about something that happened oh so many years ago…

Full Circle…

19 Jan

The year I was born, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (yes, I hit the big 4-0 six weeks ago).

The year Alex was born, America elected its first black president.

I’m happy that my child will be able to live in a world where a black man can become president. Where it’s still possible to dream…