The Accidental Pet Sitter

It was 5 am, and the milking parlor was humid and warm despite the still frigid temperatures outside on this frosty April morning.

The 4:30 a.m. alarm had been especially appalling this morning, as all during the  night I had been awakened every two hours to feed young Dominic. He was nearly a month old now, and was the joy of my life.

When Dominic was born, I had been working full time as a Licensed Veterinary Technician at a small animal clinic in Middleburg. All full time employees there worked a 4-day 40-hour week. My schedule was to work 10 hours per day, Monday-Thursday. I loved this work schedule and I thought it would be an ideal schedule for me to come back to upon my post-maternity return to work. What Mom with a new baby would not LOVE to work 4 days a week, and have three consecutive days off to spend with their new bundle of joy?

My six week maternity leave was approaching its end, and I was growing restless and impatient to get out of the house and resume my work at the clinic. Imagine my disappointment, then, to receive a phone call from my office manager just three days prior to my return to work, explaining that the decision had been made to return all employees to a 5 day a week work schedule. This meant I would no longer have the coveted three day weekends that I had grown used to, and which I felt were of the utmost importance and benefit to the emotional development and wellbeing of my newborn son. I did not have to give the matter much thought. I knew immediately that I was not willing to leave Dominic in the care of a baby sitter five days each week. If I couldn’t have three days each week to spend with my baby, I simply would not, could not, go back to work. I immediately resigned my position at the clinic. The fierce maternal instincts of a mother with a newborn baby outweigh reason.  Although I felt no regrets about quitting, I knew that I still had to have some form of income. Therefore, my first move was to return to my previous part time work at the dairy farm next to my house in Bluemont.

For several years, I had worked part-time at Whitehall Estate in Bluemont, one of the last remaining dairy farms in Loudoun County. After school and during school breaks, I helped out at the dairy, milking the cows, feeding the calves and assisting in the AI breeding program. Even occasionally packing silage using the big green John Deere backhoe. And although the hours were grueling, with the never-ending 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. milking schedule, day in and day out, I was happy to ease back into the familiar rhythm of the work.

That blustery April morning, Scott Brownell and I milked the cows in companionable silence, trying to stay warm in the drafty concrete milking parlor, all the while skillfully dodging the direct aim of the south end of the cows. Each cow patiently munched grain while standing in their stanchions, with the four vacuum hoses attached to their great udders, the hiss, hiss, hiss of the milking machines drown out the sound of the wind that howled outside, trying to inch its icy fingers under the bottom of the barn doors.


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