Thursday, October 29, 2015


Back in April, right around the time Spring started to appear, my mother appeared-- with chicks.  Chicks were not something I’d been thinking long and hard about.  Most of my ideas have a tendency to appear quickly,  consume my thoughts for a few days or weeks at most, and then drift away to be vaguely remembered years later with a “didn’t I once want to…?”   However, if I manage to act quickly enough on these ideas, amazing things can happen:  take two of my four kids for example—and Moses, our most recent puppy.  A spontaneous trip to the Animal Shelter is never a good idea, according to my husband.   He managed to narrowly miss owning a cat this past weekend by sending me death threats with his eyes (he’s too smart to say them out loud). 

But the idea of owning chickens took root when my mother mentioned that she was getting in an order of chicks whose arrival would correlate with a planned weekend at her house with the younger girls.  She’s not an idiot.  She was fully aware that surrounding two little girls with 35 balls of peeping fluff would result in at least two of those balls driving south to Blacksburg.  It actually resulted in five of those balls taking the trip south.  One for each child and an extra for the Daddy-- to show we hadn’t forgotten him.  He was overjoyed, I could tell.  I choose to believe eye-rolls are used in place of excessive joy.  We even named his chick “Little Bear” in memory of the name he’d voted on for Moses – obviously over-ruled, not for the least of reasons that it’s a silly name for a 100lb gangly-legged horse-puppy.  It does, however, fit a brown hen. 

I do need to make a note here that it was a HUGE deal for my husband to sit quietly back and accept the chickens.  First of all, he is the parent who roams around the house pointing out things that should be cleaned, tasks that have been left undone, beds unmade.  He *hates* animal smells and/or related shedding.  He’s responsible for lecturing the kids on maintaining socially acceptable levels of hygiene and appearance (it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t prioritize it) and ensuring that things appear to run smoothly.  I’m actually the one who runs things smoothly, makes sure the kids are fed and taken care of, and does the vast majority of the cleaning—even when the vast majority of the cleaning is due to *his* messes.  But as most of you know, the loudest one is seldom the most effective one (unless we are referring to screaming at misbehaving children… then I am most loud AND most effective).  But due to my husband's heightened (albeit, probably incorrect) perception of cleanliness and hygiene, he doesn’t like a lot of animals in or around the house.  No cats, no rabbits-- the short period we had birds almost killed him-- and his esteem of the dogs would raise dramatically, if only they were hairless. 

But I digress…

So chicken owners we became, and it was actually quite nice.  Unfortunately, Black Bella eventually succumbed to “the desire to visit Grandma” (a euphemism for whatever dug the tunnel into the henhouse one night, in case you are trying to figure that out), but Sparkles, Mosaic, Little Bear, and Bark (named after tree bark, not dog bark) grew and thrived and were actually quite pleasant to be around and care for.   And then Chicken Puberty struck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I was not aware that puberty in chickens could have the same dramatic effects as it does in humans.  I knew dogs hit a maturity level.  Heck, I’ve been begging for that day to come ever since Moses’ pure cuteness no longer justified his infernal destructive tendencies.  EACH. DAY. I beg him to grow up and stop the puppy chewing, puppy jumping, puppy trying to climb in my lap (did I mention he’s a 100 lb horse-puppy?)  But no, he’s taking his good old sweet time before giving in to maturity and grown-up dog laziness.  My chickens only took five months.  Granted, we’d seen signs of changes coming.  We’d watched and listened with awe changing rather rapidly to amusement and then to horror as Bark decided to not succumb to our “four hen/four eggs a day” plan and came out quite openly and proudly as a rooster.  Luckily, none of our neighbors seem to mind (admit to minding) the fact that he feels the need to incessantly remind us that he is, in fact, THE preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood (the *only* cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood).  But I wouldn’t call his crowing a problem—at least not once we ascertained it wasn’t a problem for our neighbors.  So we enjoyed our sweet chicks who, while having grown significantly larger than the balls of fluff we’d acquired five months before, were friendly, chuckled pleasantly, and ate grass out of our hands gratefully. 

Then it changed.  One day, as I opened the outdoor pen to change the water-- a flash of wings, the sound of air pounding, and a 5lb ball was hitting me full force.  Below the belt, I should add.  Before I could realize what was occurring, I saw my beautiful, tame, hand-fed rooster gearing up for attack number 2—beak out, claws extended, wings beating with a force that, I had to admit, was quite impressive, even as I jumped backwards full of all the fear of roosters that was formed in my five year old self and I thought I had managed to suppress over the last 30 years.
I slammed the door, gasped with relief, and then took a few minutes to gather my thoughts.  What in the world was going on with this, admittedly loud but never before violent, rooster of mine?  Still wondering, I opened the indoor pen to complete my responsibilities.  And there, laying in a newly formed next of wood chips and dirt, was the most beautiful brown egg I had ever seen.  My chickens had come into their own.  My hens were now taking responsibility for themselves and putting food on my table.  [editor’s note:  even now, getting three eggs a day, cost savings per month still does not equal dollars spent on chicken feed]  I connected the dots.  Could it be that my Bark’s aggression was the result of this wee egg?  Was he- *gasp*- defending his nest?  Being protective of his potential offspring?  Did roosters even *DO* that?

But sure enough, time confirmed that if there was an egg in the next, one could expect to be attacked by flying Bark.  No egg, and Bark remained the docile, yet loud, rooster we’d come to know and love.  Gradually, we all came to accept this, putting a warning out to the kids to watch out for Bark, don’t be afraid to kick him (it’s not cruel- it’s self-defense!), and maybe, just to be safe, everyone should wear jeans in the chicken coop.  

I took to talking to Bark as I did the chicken chores.  Trying to rationalize with the rooster.  You know, Bark.  You make a lot of noise for the *one* chicken in this coop who really does nothing.  I mean, egg laying is all about the hens.  You just eat and crow and take the credit, when they’ve done all the work.  He just looked at me before, almost languidly, puffing out his chest and letting out a crow.  Yeah, I get it, I told him as he strutted around.  Keep those hens in line.  They, of course, bustled about straightening the nest, cleaning up a few stray crumbs, preparing for the next day’s egg laying.  He, of course, waited until my back was turned before taking a flying leap at my knees.  I think he thinks if he takes out my knees I will succumb completely to him and his king of the coop-dom.  He’s probably right, but I did what needed to be done, ignoring his crows, before returning to my home…

where I bustled around, straightening up the house, cleaning up scattered crumbs and messes that the kids had left around, and preparing for the next day-- as my husband walked around, chest out, talking loudly about what else needed to be done, and how he was the only one in the house who kept things neat and orderly.  Protector of the Nest Egg, King of the Coop, Organizer of the Chickens who, in his opinion, would otherwise run around as if they'd had their heads chopped off- and proudly taking all the credit for things done well and good.  

<<<<sigh>>>>>  Apparently roosters need to be able to puff out their chests, feel proud of their domain, and tell the world that they are, indeed, the preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood.

Let's let the rooster do his crowing--this little hen will just keep getting things done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flipping Out

For the most part, I have “normal” little girls.  They like to color, draw, play with paper dolls, play school, do cartwheels and flips, sing and dance, and a whole variety of “Mommy, LOOK!” maneuvers.  They are sweet girls, and while I will admit to them succumbing to normal girly stereotypes in some ways, I should in no way be misunderstood to be stating that they are average.  Just as any parent will tell you, my kids are well above average.  Of course, they must be, since they are MY children and, by definition, *MY children* are amazing. (Spoken like a true twenty-first century parent, huh?)

So to get back to the point:  my little girls, Kolbie and Micah, love to flip and cartwheel and practice their walking bridges.  I get a kick out of it.  I’m partial to the notion that couches are not just for sitting on, contrary to my husband’s exasperated claims.  And I also strongly believe in the invincibility of my children:  other children may break their necks while doing spinning backflips over a dog/ couch/ sibling, but not MY children.  My daughters will thrive and survive and be happier and somehow “better people” from having experienced the danger and the thrill of physically daring activities.  Or so I believe.

Need I tell you that my husband and I differ strongly on this point?  

The point on which we agree is that our younger daughters have a talent for gymnastics—in the very least, are highly flexible-- and, therefore, should be signed up for gymnastics class, if they so wished.  And so wished they did.  So, like the good parents we are, we signed them up for a beginner gymnastics course.  And they LOVED it… the first day.  The second day, not so much.  By day three they were begging not to go.  Day four we allowed them to skip for shear ease of parenting.  We enforced their attendance on day five—“daggone it, we PAID for this!”—and day six they agreed to go to without fuss, only because it was the last day.

That was last year.  We resigned ourselves to the fact that they didn’t really enjoy gymnastics, and secretly gave each other pats on the back that we’d avoided that time and money vacuum into which we’ve seen other parents fall.  But as the year progressed, our girls’ flips became more spectacular (for the indoor couch version), splits were dropped at a moment’s notice, bridges were higher, and backwards falls were more terrifying to watch (for the record, yes, I know I’m making up a lot of names for gym-y things… as you are  probably discovering, gymnastics isn’t my thing).  

And then, after a year of “Wow!” from me and “You’re going to break your neck! Not again!” from their father, the posed question at dinner from the one with the super sweet, get anything from Daddy smile:  “Daddy, Riley and Olivia and Katie and like six other girls in my class are all doing gymnastics… can I do it too?… please, Daddy?”  This question was immediately followed by a very excited “Me, too!  Me, Too!  Addy and Julia are doing gymnastics!  Look at this!  I can do a split!” from the little sister.  And Daddy, powerless to argue against such sweetness and excitement gave in with a “well, it’s been a year, maybe they’ll enjoy it this time.”  So, I signed them up.

Now, in no way do I want this post to reflect on the gymnastics program we joined.  It was actually very well done and my girls loved the instructors.  But yet again…. Day one was love; day two was eehhh; day three suffering; day four agony; and day five skipped because I just couldn’t deal with the drama and the what-seemed-like-genuine agony-filled tears that miraculously disappeared within moments of the “all right, we’ll skip”.  Day six (after I spent an hour bribing them to go because it was the last day and I’d NEVER make them go again) was great because it was the last day, they got candy and certificates, and were told they were so good they were being promoted to the next level.

On the way home, as they chattered excitedly about the class, in an attempt to prove myself to be the astute mother I am, I asked them “well, aren’t you glad I made you go?”.  But, of course, I was patting myself on the back too quickly.  NO, was the adamant response from the backseat.  What?  But you had fun!  “Not that much fun, Mommy” stated the pragmatic Kolbie.  All right then, I gave in like a champ.  “Then we will never do gymnastics again.”  

There was a moment of silence from the back seat.  In my rear view mirror I watched them look at each other, I think to read what the other was going to do or say.  Then, in a mutual burst that would have made a barbershop quartet envious, they harmonized loudly “NO!! Sign us up again!!!!”  What?  You HATE the class, I tried to remind them, but like the pain of giving birth, it had already been forgotten and they were already convinced that now and forever, they would love gymnastics class.  Or, as Micah put it, “We don’t hate the class, we just hate going to the class and the other kids in the class and being told what to do… but we like gymnastics class”.   

I am not going to even pretend to understand this one. We’ll see how good my memory is a year from now.