A couple of weeks ago, my wife took the boys to a free dairy farm event. I didn’t go, because I had to work, and also because when I was a child I got to go to a free dairy farm event every day. It was called chores.
After the event, my wife called me to tell me about it. Big Brother and Big Man had each taken a turn at milking a cow. Buster refused. “Do you know why he wouldn’t milk the cow?” she asked.
I can think of lots of reasons a boy wouldn’t want to milk a cow. When I was Buster’s age, I didn’t want to milk cows either. Unlike me, Buster had a choice.
I started through my litany of reasons: It’s not really that fun; you can get kicked; fresh, warm milk isn’t very enticing, unless you’re a barn cat . . .
Sensing I was going off on the wrong track, my wife stopped me. “He wouldn’t milk the cow because he said the milk was coming out of its penis.”
She tried to explain to him that cows don’t have penises and that the milk came from the teats, but he wouldn’t be persuaded. I’m not sure I blame him. For a six-year-old boy, penis talk is old news, but having your mom discuss teats with you can shut your mind right down.
If he truly believed it was the cow’s penis, I applaud his decision not to tug on it.
One morning, about a week later, I’d given the boys some cereal and gone to put some clothes in the washer. I was summoned from the laundry room by a loud argument. In the dining room, Big Man and Buster were hotly debating the origin of milk. Buster was trying to convince his little brother that milk comes from a cow’s penis.
This did not bode well for the continued consumption of their cereal, so I intervened.
“Cows are girls, so they don’t have penises,” I explained. I believe this generalization is still valid in regard to the four-legged world. “And besides that, have you ever known of any animal that had four penises?”
“Yeah,” Buster replied. “A cow.”
“They’re not penises,” I reiterated. “They’re teats. That’s why milk comes out instead of pee.”
“Yeah, they’re teats!” Big Man, the younger but more reasonable brother, backed me up. “Cows have teats!”
I didn’t know if we convinced Buster, but at least I was confident he wouldn’t scare Big Man away from his Cap’n Crunch. I went back to the laundry before the neighbors overheard me shouting anatomical terms at my children.
I heard the patter of little feet follow me. Big Man entered the laundry room. My little font of scientific reasoning gazed up at me, his face bright with sacred knowledge. “And you know what else? Girls don’t poop!”
So there’s that.
*Photos: Ben Shahn/US Farm Security Administration