Monday, July 28, 2008

Toast to Two Good Chickens

Our neighbor Gene is an urban chicken farmer. Actually his skills are not limited to chickens; he farms turkeys and ducks as well. "The fowl trifecta," Tobin calls it with equal parts envy and admiration.

Seattle City Code allows 3 fowl per standard city lot. Gene laughs in the face of this code. He thumbs his nose at it! He pecks and scratches at its limitations! At various times over the last few years, he's had 20 turkeys, 10 ducks, and 8 chickens. Don't worry, these chickens aren't abused. There's a fair bit of free-rangin' going on, with chickens learning to check both ways before they cross the road (note the exercise of restraint on my part here-- ah, the jokes I could make!)

My children are friends of these fowl. Gene calls us whenever he gets a new batch of birds. He wants my kids to hold, touch, and tame the birds, so that they are used to being around people. He wants the birds to be good neighbors, which seems an obvious-enough goal when one considers that a call from a distgruntled one (neighbor, that is, not bird) could muster the city's Farm-Animal SWAT-team to his home (with, in my imagination, the Simpson's Chief Wiggum at the helm).

It's tricky business, though, this bird-loving that my children do. For these birds are not exactly pets. Their existence is less tenuous than that of their factory-produced counterparts; still, they come with an indistinct expiration date. Gene likes his paella, heavy on the chicken.

Last week Gene announced his intentions, and with good, sound reasons. Two of the chickens--Blacky-White and Whitey-White-- who were but wee chicks last Spring, had not been properly sexed. It turns out they are not hens, which are allowed by city code, but are males, which are strictly verboten. They spent each morning, afternoon, and night joyfully announcing their manhood to the neighborhood without one thought about the dire consequences. Thus, Blacky-White's execution date was scheduled, along with that of three old hens who were no longer producing eggs. Gene didn't mention Whitey-White, and so we assumed his death sentence had been postponed. This made sense, at least for Eleanor, who reminded us that Whitey-White hadn't "gotten his crow yet."

The death-day approached, and we stopped by Blacky-White's coop in order to pay our last respects. The girls collected worms from our compost pile and presented them to Blacky-White as a token of their friendship; the chicken equivalent of a prisoner's last meal. The girls blew iridescent bubbles, filling Blacky-White's head with visions of beauty on his last day here on Earth. At Eleanor's prompting, we took some photos so we'd "never forget our friend Blacky-White."

Later that day, Eleanor said coolly that she wasn't sad that Blacky-White was going to be killed. "Gene promised to give me some of his tail feathers," she explained. I was surprised she was coping so well.

The execution day arrived.

Tobin went with Eleanor and Sylvia to check on the extraction of the promised tail-feathers.

They returned home immediately, Sylvia looking dazed, and Eleanor crying hysterically.

Eleanor threw herself into my arms, where the following conversation ensued:

Eleanor: "Gene killed Whitey-White AND Blacky-White, Mama! It isn't fair! He didn't tell us that Whitey-White was going to be killed!" (sob)

Me: "Oh honey, this is a terrible surprise! You weren't prepared for this."

Eleanor: "We didn't even get to say goodbye to him. He didn't even get any worms to eat. His chicken friends will wonder where he's gone and they won't know! They will miss him!"

Me (In my head): Well, I'm pretty sure his chicken friends have figured out what happened to him, since they most likely saw him get the axe. I'm hoping there's no room in their little pea-brains for compassion or empathy.

Me: (Out loud): "I'm sorry you didn't get to say goodbye to him. That's really hard. Poor little sweetie. But I have a feeling that you'll miss him more than his chicken friends will. Chickens don't think about much other than pecking food, scratching dirt, drinking water, and roosting."

Eleanor: "But why didn't Gene tell us about Whitey-White? It isn't fair! Whitey-White didn't even have his crow yet!" (more sobs)

Me: (Choking back tears of my own seeing Eleanor in such despair): "I don't know honey. I don't know. But I think that Whitey-White had a good life. He had food, water, a nice coop, lots of bugs and worms to eat, and he earned the love of two little girls."

And so, please join us today as we raise our milk-cups to toast Blacky-White and Whitey-White, two good chickens. May their coop always be filled with bubbles.

Three Children, Six and Under

My children are driving me crazy.

They are one biting-hitting-screaming incident away from being posted for sale on eBay. (I've written that ad in my head but it is too offensive to repeat here).

When will the hitting, biting, screaming, fighting, whining, manipulating, and complaining stop?

I'm NOT coming out of my room! Ever!
I don't even like that food!
It's not fair! Her turn was longer than mine!
Hey Mama, we went pee in the garbage can instead of the toilet!
Don't touch me! Don't even look at me!
I've never even LIKED you, not even since you were BORN!
These socks are being mean to my feet! I CAN'T wear these!

When will they be able to put on shoes and socks without complaining about seams that are too scratchy/pokey/bothering-them-for-inexplicable-reasons-that-cannot-be-articulated-in-words?

Are there children's socks specially made for tactile-challenged children?

Is there a system for washing socks so that they come out ready-matched?

Why is it that the success or failure of a morning can be measured by how well we handled our sock challenges?

Can I get an amen out there, or am I the only one suffering from the
Childrearing Blues right now?

Lately I hear my own voice as I speak to my children. I am impatient, on-edge, less than gentle. This morning I came very close to yelling "You are such a brat!" to Eleanor. I barely applied the verbal brake in time, yelling instead, "You are so uncooperative!" as Eleanor rejected the third pair of socks, screaming and flailing as if I were trying to feed her feet to a lion rather than stuff them into socks.

What do I need? A Love & Logic refresher course? More Vitamin D? A long vacation without children? Prozac? Nanny 911? I don't know what would help.

I'm tempted to add a running count to my blog-page: Number of Days until all of my children are in school. That seems wrong somehow. But it really would encourage me.

It's not a good feeling to not like my own children. It makes me not like myself, either. But that's how it is lately. That's just how it is.
Note: Don't let the cute pictures fool you. I only included those to distract you from my own incessant whining.