Warning: This poem contains minor angst that may not be to everyone's taste. The warnings contain spoilers; highlight to read. While Fruszina and Adam are playing, she accidentally pushes him too hard and he falls off the porch. Emotional tension, minor childhood injury, a little bit of messy medical detail, and some yelling happen before people settle down. No hard feelings in the end, though. Consider your interests before reading onward.
"The Red and the Yellow"
In December, everyone was bored
with the cold and the dark, so
they gathered in small groups
to talk about favorite topics.
Dénes started a discussion
about herbal tinctures --
he was showing an interest
in medicinal alcohols now --
soon joined by Jozefa the midwife
and her apprentice Katalin.
Victor and Igor added their experience,
somewhat hampered by their son Adam
scampering around the brewer's house
and demanding attention.
Dénes and Dorottya's daughter Fruszina
was about the same age, and
just as much trouble.
"We'd best find something for them to do,
or we'll get nothing else done," Dorottya said.
"I have some yogurt they could play about with."
Dorottya had a nanny goat who barely went dry
for a month in January before dropping the next kid,
and was the envy of the village on account of it.
"Toddlers like bright colors," Jozefa said.
"You could try spices, if you have any
that are going stale," Igor said.
"Hmm, the turmeric is turning flat,"
Dorottya said. "I've also got that big can
of Hungarian sweet paprika."
She spread an old sheet on the floor,
put small blobs of white yogurt onto
two cookie trays, and then asked,
"Which color do you want to start?"
"I want red," said Adam.
"I want yellow," said Fruszina.
Dorottya put the spices into jar lids
and set them down beside the trays.
Soon both toddlers were happily making
artistic swirls with the red and the yellow.
Meanwhile Dénes and Igor had gotten into
a debate about whether hot or cold infusion
was a better way to combine herbs and alcohol.
"You both have valid points," Victor said.
"Heat speeds up the process and extracts
things from tough ingredients such as bark,
but it can also destroy more delicate compounds."
"My teacher used to settle arguments like this
by making two batches," Jozefa said. "Then she
handed them around, and asked people which one
worked better. She got the idea from her husband,
who had been a university doctor before he retired."
"Oh, we should try that," Dénes said,
and Igor nodded agreement.
After about ten minutes, the toddlers
got tired of their fingerpainting and
started squabbling over possession
of a wooden spoon that Dorottya
had given them to draw with,
because they hadn't gotten
the hang of sharing yet.
"I'll clean them up and dress them
to go play outside," said Katalin.
Before long, she was ushering
Adam and Fruszina onto the porch,
holding their hands to keep
Adam from stumbling and
Fruszina from rushing ahead.
"Do you count sun tea as
a hot or a cold infusion?"
"Well, it's not on the stove,
so it's cold," said Dénes.
"But it uses the sun's heat,"
Igor pointed out.
"There's no reason we can't make
three batches," Victor said.
Just then a howl went up from the porch,
spurring all the adults to rush outside.
Katalin was picking Adam off the ground.
There was red everywhere, blood on the snow
and pouring down the boy's face.
"What the hell happened?" Victor barked.
"They started roughhousing,
Fruszina pushed Adam, and
he fell off the porch," said Katalin.
"I didn't mean to," wailed Fruszina.
Dénes picked up his daughter
and comforted her as best he could.
The toddler snuffled into his sweater.
"You were supposed to be watching them,"
Victor said to Katalin.
"I was!" the young woman replied. "Fruszina
just hasn't learned to control her strength yet,
and Adam isn't all that steady on his feet."
"Now don't go blaming Adam for this,"
Igor grumbled from where he was
trying to wipe the blood off Adam's face
and the front of his yellow sweater
to see how bad the damage was.
"Everyone settle down," Jozefa directed.
"Katalin, give the boy to me. Victor, Igor,
quit flinging blame about. I know you're
upset because your son took a tumble,
but snapping at people does not help."
"Children get hurt," Dorottya said with
the voice of experience. "Accidents are
just part of growing up. You can't keep
Adam wrapped in cotton-wool his whole life --
think about what that would do to him."
Igor's parents had kept him indoors
a great deal, and he hadn't enjoyed it.
He gave an unhappy rumble,
shifting from one foot to the other.
"It's not too serious," Jozefa announced.
"Adam has a chipped tooth and a split lip."
"Just a nick or split all the way through?"
Victor asked, leaning away from Katalin.
"All the way through," Jozefa said.
"That's going to need stitches," Igor said,
exchanging a worried look
with his partner.
Plainly neither of them wanted to do it.
"Well I'm not the fine flesh-tailor that you are,
but I can throw a few stitches," Jozefa said.
"Sometimes women rip their bits giving birth."
"Yes, please," Victor said gratefully.
"You can use our kitchen, it's clean enough,"
Dorottya offered. "I can help."
Dénes ushered everyone back inside,
his little girl balanced on one hip.
"Let's sit down and settle ourselves."
"Easy for you to say," Igor muttered.
"I'm a wretched father," Victor said.
"I can't find a balance between
safety and security, and I hate that."
Dénes patted him gently on the back.
"You are doing fine," the brewer said.
"Both of you are. Parenting isn't easy,
but you do learn to handle it better as you
get used to your children giving you
a heart attack once or twice a day."
Igor choked on a laugh.
"How can you joke about this?"
"Because I've been a father for years,
and I'm used to it," Dénes said. "There was
the time Ágota broke her arm falling from a tree,
and Fruszina almost drowned in an inch of water
at the bottom of a wash-bucket once. You just
learn to be as careful as you can, and beyond that,
let their bumps and bruises do the teaching."
"Sore fingers teach best," Igor murmured.
"Exactly," said Dénes. "Surviving the worst
makes everyone stronger. This goes for
you too, Katalin. Don't let a little mishap
like this throw you off your stride. You
do a fine job tending the children."
She nodded, wan and quiet.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you,"
Victor said to her, and got another nod.
"Now here's your little man back,"
Dénes said as Jozefa and Dorottya
returned with Adam, his swollen lip
neatly tacked up with black thread.
Igor took Adam, who promptly
burrowed into his lap.
"Thank you," Victor said to Jozefa.
"We owe you for this."
"We can settle accounts later,"
the midwife said with a wave of her hand.
"Perhaps the next time you make a trip
into town, you can take my shopping list
along with yours and Igor's."
"I would be happy to," Victor said.
"Thank you all for a lovely conversation.
I think we'd better head home now,"
Igor said, and Victor stood to join him.
The ride back to the castle was slower
than usual, to avoid jostling Adam,
and they let him sleep between them
that night for everyone's comfort.
The next morning, Adam was back
to running and playing around the castle,
with no more to show for it than a red scab
surrounded by blue and yellow bruises.
His fathers hid their white knuckles
in their pockets, and let him roam.
* * *
Winter blues and boredom are common. Know how to cope with them. Hanging out with friends is a great choice, because it cheers up lots of people at once.
The ideal for milk goats is not maximum peak, but a nice sustained flow; people have tricks for extending lactation. The typical range is 10 months milking and 2 months dry, but every once in a while you'll find one who can go longer. The Carpatina or Carpathian goat is a sturdy milk/meat breed with curling or spiral horns and shaggy hair in many colors.
At thirty months, Adam likes bright colors. He's starting to play together with other children but hasn't gotten the hang of sharing yet. Adam and Fruszina are milk-siblings and in many ways act like fraternal twins. They're very close, but both of them are strong for their age, without the control or forethought that come with age.
Young children need sensory play. Edible "paint" is a good choice for toddlers. Snow activities offer lots of exciting opportunities too.
Accidents are a normal part of childhood. Know how to handle them. Roughhousing helps children learn many things, but is a common cause of minor injuries. Take basic safety precautions, but don't hover to the point of undermining children's physical or social development. Understand how to stay calm, talk to children, and deal with other adults when someone gets hurt. It's natural to get upset when things go wrong, but not helpful.