They are born three weeks early, small and silent. The boys, cleaning the barn, hear a few weak cries and find the first baby on the ground, momma beside her. Colton races for the house to call me. Amber’s having her babies, I hear from where I am washing dishes in the kitchen. I grab my phone as I leave the house. I know my husband will want a text and pictures.

I find them all in the new green grass behind the barn. Momma and baby and boys. The second baby is peeking out, and when Amber stands up the baby slips free, barely caught by Tyson before hitting the ground. Momma is busy with her first baby and the second lies, forgotten, on the ground. Tyson pushes baby closer but after a few licks, the momma steps around the tiny babe and returns to her first little one.

We take momma and babies to the warming room, but when Tyson checks the poor second baby is still being ignored. She won’t stand or nurse and, finally, we bring her to the house.

We tuck baby into a box, snuggle her close to the heater, and offer a bottle. She seems to make a little progress, but oh, she’s so tiny and weak. Tyson watches over her, nursing her and rubbing her and trying to get her standing. He stays with her through the night, a seventeen-year-old guardian angel, and I find him asleep on the couch in the morning, his hand at rest on baby’s little head as she sleeps in her little box on the floor beside him. And with one look, I know she’s not going to make it.

But he keeps trying. We all try but she won’t nurse and she won’t stand and she looks so unbearably small in my big boy’s big hands. She sleeps in her box and he goes to have a shower, to wash away a night’s worth of dribbled  baby formula and sweat and pee. And I’m alone with her in the kitchen and it feels like a vigil. I play hymns and mix cookies and I don’t know what else to do.

He comes back, clean and still wet around the edges and he picks her up to try again. Come on baby, he says softly and he rubs her tiny head and I put all the love I can into my words. Just let her go, Son. And his hands quiet and his eyes speak his pain at me and he weeps the tears of resignation. And baby dies, quietly, in his arms.

And what can a mother do? I stand beside him, hand on his head, and I memorize the shape of his strong arms, muscles made hard from hours spent downstairs with his dad’s old weight bench and hundreds of pushups. Strong arms holding tiny death and it is a painting made with tears and beauty on my heart.

I could have raised a boy, I suppose, who could say, it’s just a goat. But I’m glad I raised this boy, instead.