Sweet Pea Had a Little Lamb

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By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 14, 2006

The light from the lantern is freaking out the sheep, or maybe something else is. I don't know. What the heck do I know?

City people, I decide, should not bother trying to convert themselves into country people. It takes too long. It's not worth all the heartache. It's probably impossible, anyway.

I'm out here with this fat sheep at 1 a.m., holding a lantern. I had meetings in the city all evening -- drove the opposite way into rush hour, and then home again when there was no one on the road except for truckers and a deer I narrowly missed.

The sheep's name is Sweet Pea. Now, see, that right there is such a city thing to do. To give a sheep a cute little name. My excuse is I have kids. We had just adopted our older daughter Anna when a neighbor presented us with the unnamed lamb. He said it was orphaned. He's a real farmer, with a flock of about 500 -- he certainly didn't have time to bottle-feed a lamb. I don't know where he got the idea that we would do it. We were the city people next door, popularly regarded as idiots.

You can't, let me tell you, be a new mom with a newly adopted child and not rise to the occasion when someone hands you an orphaned animal, a metaphor right there to touch, a wrinkled angel covered in tight fuzz. So, Sweet Pea, I named her. We raised her. Now, we had a sheep. Now, we had "baaa," actual sheep noises in our back yard. Were we country people now? We weren't even completely sure we wanted to be. You buy a little place out of town, it doesn't mean you want a whole new identity.

A few years later, we got Sweet Pea a boyfriend. Now, see, that right there is a city thing to say. A boyfriend. To our credit, we didn't name the ram. He was there to "service" Sweet Pea and the few other sheep we had gone on to acquire for reasons that make as much sense as those explaining any other hobby, I suppose. Why do people collect stamps?

Last spring, Sweet Pea gave birth to twins. She got right to the business of mothering, licking the first lamb clean and allowing it to drink her milk. But something went wrong with the second lamb. I was horrified, in the way of Disney cartoons. Sweet Pea had once herself been an orphaned lamb; surely she of all sheep knew better. But she bucked the second lamb away, flinging it into the air and sending it sailing. The rejection was anything but subtle. Sheep apparently just do this sometimes. They get confused. Or they're too stupid to understand. No one has ever given me a good explanation. We bottle-fed the new orphaned lamb, named her Emily.

So now Sweet Pea is at it again. It's 1 a.m., and I'm out here with this lantern. She went into labor just as I was leaving for my meetings in the city. She had pushed the first one out and was working on the second, and I had to go. It was hard to drive past buses and billboards and the business of the real world and not be transported back to the drama unfolding at home. It was such a city thing to think: Damn you, Sweet Pea, if you reject another lamb, I'm never going to talk to you again. A grudge. I was holding a grudge against a sheep.

Besides desperation, the thing I see in this dim light is confusion. Sweet Pea has cleaned one of her lambs and has allowed it to drink. The second one is crying. Sweet Pea is looking at it. All the other ewes are standing by looking at it. I'm looking at it. We're all in a circle here. None of us is moving. On behalf of Sweet Pea, I do have one point I want to make: "Hey, she just pushed out two babies; give her some space."

Soon she sniffs, then licks the second lamb. This is such good news. "Sweet Pea, I am so proud of you," I say gently. But then, as if in protest, she shoves the lamb away, and it goes rolling. "You . . . jackass!" I shout. "You . . . rhinoceros!" I'm not sure how to curse at a sheep. Nor am I sure it's yet warranted. That really wasn't a definitive shove, was it? I don't know. What the heck do I know?

I pull up a log and sit. I'm glad I brought a jacket. An hour goes by. The shoving, the nudging, this is not a rejection, no. This is a consideration. Sweet Pea is trying to figure this out. She sniffs the blood of her afterbirth, then the crying lamb, then she licks, then she nudges, then she reconsiders again. The sequence continues. It's not the same as it was with Emily. Sweet Pea seems to be gathering her understanding. This is her redemption. This is my forgiveness. These are such sappy, city thoughts. There is no Mother's Day in the world of sheep.

Good job, Sweet Pea. Good job. Trusting, I go inside to bed, and in the morning I find her asleep, her two lambs snoozing beside her, all of them healthy as hogs.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com


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