Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rootin' Shootin'

Still mourning the loss of my hen, I did a little internet detective work, trying to determine the predator.   It appears, based on extensive research (single Google search) and the blatant odorous clues around our home in the month leading up to the attack that the killer was likely...a skunk.

Ugh. Really? A skunk?  Google, you didn't by chance mean to say a vicious bobcat or fox?   Not something dangerous or even a little fast?  No, it seems it was in fact, a skunk.  An animal that I could have just called out of my window, "Shoo!" and it would have scurried off into the ditches.  It's just embarrassing.  What's interesting, I'd always thought skunks were vegetarians until now.  I'd likened skunks as the kindred critter version of me. (Yes, I think about these things. Don't judge me. Just love me.) They're so cute in their own little-don't get too close kind of way.  But, it seems my impression was wrong. No little skunk friends, we aren't the same.

Regardless of the culprit, I still take full responsibility for the chicken death.  It was an eye opening reminder that I need to do more to be able to protect my family.  While checking out a home last spring as I prepared a move from the suburbs of Chicago, this was the sticker that greeted me at the door of my soon to be home...

And this was the greeting after I moved in....

I felt a false sense of security that the sticker alone might turn a potential intruder away.  But now I've decided that this love armor needs a little more fierceness in it.  A little more, 'Don't mess with my kids or my chickens' with a shoulder roll and zig-zag finger snap thrown in.  As it were, Groupon happened to have a deal for an introductory gun class.  Perfect.  Not because I want a gun, mind you.  I recognize God's protective hand over my babies for the past four years and give Him alone the credit for their surviving their good intention-ed Momma's parenting debacles thus far.  I don't need to go testing the waters by putting a gun in the house.

Nonetheless, wouldn't it be a good idea to know how to shoot a gun should the need ever arise?  I decided yes.  And as it were, Groupon happened to have an introductory gun safety class.

I recruited my adventure loving, fellow Groupon addict friend, Samantha who lovingly agreed to drive way out to the country and shoot stuff with me for a day.   We met at the 'training facility', which turned out to be an ex-marine's creepy basement at the end of a loooonngg wooded driveway.  Oops.  That's the trouble with Groupon, I suppose.  It didn't quite match up with the state of the art facility posted on their website.  But, a Groupon's a Groupon, and the class was full so we listened intently as the instructors droned on and on about their abilities: how they could shoot stuff real good, how their kids could shoot stuff good, how they could escape stuff, how they'd been on television about shooting stuff, and in universities teaching about shooting stuff.  Then, they switched gears to share accounts of people who knew not how to protect themselves and the horrible things that happened to to them.  Feeling ill from both accounts, I was strangely relieved when the guns were passed around the class.  Sam was already an experienced shooter and doesn't have chickens to protect so she generously handed most of the preparation tasks over to me as we learned the mechanisms involved.

I'd been so very proud of my strong-normous milking hands and was unnerved to discover how difficult of a time I had loading the gun.  Also, Sergeant Chauvinist was so hovering, jumping in to the rescue every time I dropped a bullet or accidentally started waving a gun around as I spoke.  I didn't want rescuing, I wanted to learn on my own.  But, my hands shook and my palms were sweaty.  And it was hard to talk without my hands as suggested as a safety tip by the instructor. Finally, we made it to the shooting range, and I was relieved to discover shooting stuff is easy.

If loading a gun is hard and shooting a gun is easy, a BB gun would seem the logical solution to protecting my kin.  Oh, and the women's self defense course that I was talked into signing up for after the introductory gun class.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Bad Things Happen To Good Chickens

I'll save the gory details.  (As best I can anyway, because both motherhood and country living have really made their mark on my conversational tact.)  It has happened.  A critter got one of my sweet chickens.  It was inevitable I suppose.  You know, given that it's owner can't remember to put shoes on her children some days, it was only a matter of time before the chicken coop door was left open one night.  Okay, more than one night, but one night was all it took.

Every night (well, except for those three) after closing up the chickens for the night, I would take the extra step of wrapping the entire coop in a large sheet of chicken wire.  I'm not sure this does anything from a protection standpoint, but it gives me a little peace of mind, like when my children wear knee pads and helmets just to hang around the house. Well, on this night, in an effort to expedite the evening routine, I diligently wrapped up the chicken coop in wire before dinnertime, while the chickens were still in the yard, leaving just the door space open.  My intention was to save 30 seconds of time by completing step two before step one and  close the door later in the evening when they were tucked away.  My intentions were good.  But I forgot.

 “God save us from people who mean well.” (Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy)

I don't know what your definition of gory is, so please excuse my censored recall of the events surrounding my chicken's death.  I first awoke that morning, with a strangely ominous feeling.  The sky was still dark and the clock at my bedside flashed 4:08.  When I awake at strange times in the night, I for some reason think of 1 Samuel 3 and try to spend that time in prayer.  In the blanketed silence of this old farmhouse, before my mind busies with distracting thoughts,  my prayers are less rambling requests, more listening, more feeling.  I prayed for a time, then fell back asleep.  I awoke again at sunrise, this time to the sounds of my chickens bickering with each other. They do that, these chickens.  Two of them have been henpecking the third.  Chicken-bullying.  I spent half a second thinking about what I could do about this henpecking situation and decided to consult my chicken raising book that very day to help find a solution.  But first, I had to sleep some more.  After an interrupted night of sleep, the kids and I made our way downstairs later than usual and I hurried outside to let the chickens out before making breakfast.  But, as I reached the coop, I saw the door was open.  My stomach dropped, thinking of the noises I'd heard that morning.  I saw the pile of feathers.  My eyes scanned the yard.  In the distance by the pine trees, I saw two chickens, two kittens, and one dog, all standing strangely together in a weird animal cluster.  And then I saw little Rojo (as named by A), lying in the grass, feet extended straight in the air.

I know better than to get attached to farm animals.  I know better, but I still get attached to farm animals.  I felt horrible, knowing my seemingly simple oversight had led to the death of my poor chicken.  Also, I had a dead chicken in my yard that appeared to be traumatizing all of my other pets and would likely soon traumatize my children, when they discovered their Mom in tears in the front yard.  I pulled myself together and grabbed a snow shovel, preparing to dispose of the carcass before A and E made their way outside.  Right.  Quickly dispose of a chicken carcass.  It takes me an average of 45 minutes to work up the nerve to sweep a mousetrap out of the bathroom cupboard on the occasion that a mouse is caught.  Needless to say, the kids eventually wandered outside only to find their Mom in her slippers and pjs, holding a snow shovel, chanting to herself: Dying is a part of living.  Dying is a part of living. Dying is a part of living.  Just do it, Christi!  Finally, I gave up.  I'll be brave next time.  I called my Dad.

We left the house to run our Friday errands before my Dad arrived.  My heart was heavy, and missed that little Rojo already.  I wondered if my other pets were fearful for their safety given their owner's obvious shortcomings in the area of pet protection
I called my Dad from the grocery store for a little support.  Beginner farmers make mistakes, right?  I needed to hear it from a reliable source.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Hello,"  I responded with the fallen voice of Eeyore.

"How are you doing?"

"Oh I feel just horrible.  How are you?"

"Well, I've had an interesting morning."  he said, sounding as Tigger-like as always, "I got to see what the inside of a chicken looks like.  Sliced right down the middle!  Hey, did you know you can see the egg?  Oh, wait.  Oh, I've got to run, okay, Bye!"

I stared at the blinking cell phone, mouth gaping, standing in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Note to self: don't EVER call your Dad for sensitive conversation topics.

We finished our town errands and headed back home.  I was emotionally exhausted and ready for the day to end.  The chickens were in their coop well before sunset and I secured them in, reassuring them with my words, although their beady eyes looked doubtful.  Surprisingly, there was an egg in one of the nesting boxes.  A squishy, iridescent brown egg, reflective of the traumatic stress inflicted on them early this morning.   The egg looked how I felt.  Too soft and sensitive for this farming life, but too soft and sensitive for a life away from it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sick Day

My sweet little girl is sick.  Upchucked all over her little self at daycare not three hours after dropping them off in the morning.   When her teacher called, my heart ached for not recognizing her whininess and listlessness as sickness, but rather attributing it to a new phase of morning crabbiness. I physically hurt that she'd had to be sick somewhere other than the comforts of her home, in the arms of someone other than her mother.  I made it to the daycare, knowing all was forgiven as E gently folded into my arms, her skin sensitive to the touch, hair sticky around her face.  Once home, I quickly made up a sick couch where E slept off and on throughout the day, and A and I sat around and watched her be sick.

The next day, her mind was ready to be over this being sick business, but her body wasn't quite, alternately singing, "I feel much, much better, Mom!  The fever is gone!", then crawling back onto the sick couch in exhaustion 20 minutes later having over-exerted herself.  Convincing a child that she is still sick is tough.  Even tougher was convincing A that his little adventure buddy was sick and needed rest to get better in order for this momma to go back to work!  As day 2 of watching E be sick progressed, he grew more and more restless.

"A." I whispered as E slept in the family room, "Why don't you go outside and play walnut field?" (Our newly made up game that involved throwing walnuts as far into the field as possible.  It was an expansion off of last week's game, walnut ball, which involved aiming and hitting a walnut against an assigned tree.) He shook his head, continuing to practice his indoor cartwheel, crashing into the sick couch where E slept. Shoots. I'd been hopeful that this game would provide entertainment until the walnuts were gone from the yard.  Or Spring 2014, whichever came first.

"Hey, let's go take down our garden." I whispered, trying again.  His face lit up, like Spencer Dog's when he hears the word walk mentioned in conversation.  A jumped eagerly at the idea-literally, bouncing around in front of me as I stumbled over him towards the garden.  To my delight though, once in the garden, he was a different child altogether.  Calm and respectful, he worked on the garden for over an hour, as I worked along side him taking periodic breaks to check on his sleeping sister.  I suppose he might say I was like a different mom altogether in the garden, patient and attentive without a phone or computer to distract me.  Together we worked, taking out corn stalks, pulling out tomato plants, talking about Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's garden, and sharing the few remnants of the garden: small green tomatoes and a single wrinkled red pepper with our chickens who turned their beaks at our offerings.

As I don't actually know anything about preparing a garden for winter, I saw no harm in letting my four-year-old direct me,

"Mom!  Dig a carrot hole here!"..."You hoe this part and I'll shovel the dirt."..."My kids love to plant cabbage and carrots in the fall." (Some kids have imaginary friends, my son has imaginary offspring.  Whatever.)  We worked over the soil, digging and hoeing fervently, the fall wind noisily filling the breaks in our conversation.  Each time the hoe nicked the ground, a burst of soil flew into the air, carried away quickly on the wind, often into the face of whoever was standing downwind.  This made me think that hoeing up the garden in fall wasn't such a good idea, but we were having a great time and continued on anyway.  And continued, and continued.  Finally, finally A agreed to leave the garden with the promise to return soon.  Inside, I immediately hopped on the internet and requested Gardening for Dummies from the library.  If this is what gardening did to my son, I wanted more of it.  

Eventually, E awoke from her nap.  Slowly the spurts of feeling better lengthened and the sick fatigue backlash shortened.  She ate a few bites of dinner.  She's on the mend.  Oh, I pray she's on the mend.  And I find myself grateful once again for health-at the top of my gratitude list.  I hate, hate seeing my children sick.  But I love doing what I  can to help them get better. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Boys And Their Boots

I'm in the upstairs bathroom rinsing shampoo out of E's hair.  Hurriedly, because my internal timer is telling me that downstairs the steaming broccoli is wilting brown and the pasta sauce is likely spurting sauce bubbles out of the pot and onto the counter-top.  Outside, I hear A playing basketball in the driveway.  Through the open window, I hear the familiar "Mo-om" chant begin. I hear the back door open with a crash and the "Mom-ing" continue up the stairs, echoing down the hall until at last he's right behind me.

"Yes, A?" I turn my head to look at him, but my eyes focus on what are on his feet instead of what is coming from his mouth.  Farm boots.  In. The. House....Again!  My right eye starts to twitch.  I can't bring myself to look past him, afraid to see the trail of who knows what that has been tracked through the house having milked the cow, cared for the chickens, and cleaned the cat litter box all this afternoon.

"Boots."  I manage to whisper.  Then louder, "BOOTS!"  He looks down at his favorite fire truck boots, and his mistake registers on his face, possibly remembering the last fifty times this conversation has happened.  He looks back up at me, attempting his cutest, Who could ever be upset with this face? look.  My face is stone.  Impenetrable to cute little boy faces.  He backs away slowly, caking the dirt into the carpet in reverse.

WHY?  Why? Whyyyyy?

I can yell.

I can patiently reason.

I can have this crazy little silent tantrum dance that I do when I'm really, really angry that my children watch nervously, wondering if I've cracked.

I can have him scrub chicken poop off of the carpet (in a natural consequences sort of way, not in a child abuse sort of way I should maybe add).

NOTHING works!  It's like the boots are glued to his feet.

Which is ever so ironic given that just this very week, just three days ago, as I parked the car in the daycare parking lot and turned the ignition key to off, his little voice piped from the backseat, "Where are my shoes?"

"Where are your shoes?"  I repeated.  Hoping beyond hope that this was a guessing game, I replied, "On your feet?"


"Under your carseat?"


"Where are your shoes, A."  It wasn't a question this time.

"I don't know.  I thought you got them."

I carried him into the daycare on my hip.  Not angry, just defeated.  His teacher greeted us, and I held his little foot out to her, showing off his sock. Thank goodness it appeared clean.

"We forgot shoes."  I crinkled my face up, attempting my cutest, Who could be disgusted with this mother? look.  As if to say, Can you believe this? How crazy! It's never, ever happened before!  When in actuality, the very same thing happened this past summer when E arrived at Vacation Bible School without sandals.

"Oh no!"

"Ummm...Are the kids going outside today?"  I couldn't help but cast my eyes to clock on the wall behind the teacher. Three minutes until my eight o'clock appointment.  My house was 25 minutes from the daycare.  My house is 25 minutes from everywhere.

"He needs shoes."  She said it with compassion in her voice.  A mom's voice.

"They brushed their teeth."  (Today.)  I didn't care how pitiful it sounded.  I didn't want to be labeled as that mother.

She took pity on me, and showed me to the lost and found, where I found some nice, white sneakers that were just the right size.   Nice white sneakers treading through the house wouldn't have been such a big deal.  But rubber milking boots?

I don't want a spotless home.  I just want a home without manure stains on the carpet.

Remember the book, Love You Forever?  by Robert Munsch

Remember the line, "This kid is driving me crazy!"  Yeah, my kiddos do too.  They say it aloud in unison when we read the book together.

And remember the part where late at night, the mom crawls in and sings to her son?  I usually get choked up the first time she does this to her little infant, and am generally in full blown tears by the end of the book.  Come to think of it, A and E don't usually pick it out for a bedtime story anymore.

And isn't it the truth?  I don't sing it, but sometimes, late at night, after the chicken poop has been scrubbed from the floor, after the fish, chickens, dog, and cats have been fed, after the dishes have been done and my babies are fast asleep, I tuck them in one last time, breathing in the soft quiet, wanting to bottle up the feeling in my chest.  Wanting to rewind and redo the moments of anger and lost tempers, but remembering that tomorrow is a new day.