There is nothing more cruel to a chicken-obsessed 10 year old boy than to be promised (by a convincing-looking US Postal Service tracking number) delivery of four baby chicks by 12 noon on Tuesday and having Tuesday come and go with no chicks to show for it. Gabie had been up half the night Monday evening out of pure excitement about the eminent delivery and I think Tuesday night the disappointment (“how could the Post Office do this to us! I hope the chicks are okay…they could be freezing somewhere in an airport!!) made it even harder to fall asleep. Fortunately, I got a phone call at 7:30 the next morning from the Post Office telling me they had a “box of noisemakers” for us. I picked them up, brought the chirping package home, put all four incredibly cute fluff-balls into their new home (a large box with pine-shavings, heat lamp, water and food), woke up Gabie and watched our lives take a giant leap away from normal.
The chicks are all different breeds. My favorite from day one was the Partridge Plymouth Rock. Of all the fluff balls, she was the smallest of the bunch and the most beautiful—solid brown like a little bon bon (if you rolled your bon bon in fur and also let it grow legs and a beak). She was also the most mellow and least likely to pick on the others as they started to act out some feathery Junior High sociology experiment. We can already see the pecking order taking shape.
I’ve dreamed of having chickens for a LONG time. Honestly, I’m only slightly less excited than Gabie to finally have a mini-flock of our own. All I need is the perfect straw hat and I am well on my way to becoming a genuine Chicken Lady. (Ah, Chicken Lady. I envision her rising early to check on her hens and gather eggs. This must be done while wearing aforementioned straw hat and preferably a peasant blouse, perfect-fitting jeans, and wellington boots. The eggs must go in a woven basket (never plastic) although a wire basket will do in a pinch if it is round and the paint is tastefully chipped. Chicken Lady coos to her chickens and never raises her voice to own brood of docile-but-nature-loving children. She harvests all the food in her ample garden and never lets the zucchinis grow to the size of sea otters. She has sun-kissed skin year round but no wrinkles. She walks on loamy soil but inhabits the realm of myth.)
Finally, here I am, still without the proper hat but in possession of the chickens. And I find them to be as adorable and as helpless as newborn babies. And I find I’ve been constantly worrying about their little chickie needs all week — is the temperature exactly 95 or too hot or too cold? Has the Dominque been drinking enough lately? Should we check their little downy bums again to make sure they aren’t pasting up? How can we get the Barred Plymouth Rock to stop campaigning for student-body president by bullying her classmates? — And I’m beginning to wonder why the heck I was so eager to adopt four new infants just when I got to the point in my parenting where my kids are pretty much taking care of themselves? (certainly they can at least regulate their own temperature and wipe their own bottoms). I was especially second-guessing myself Friday night when our favorite chick (who the kids had nicknamed Partie even though we’re holding off on the naming for a while until personalities develop) started to show signs of being sick. My heart sank as I saw her getting weaker and weaker. She wasn’t drinking. Then she wasn’t walking around at all. Then she couldn’t even stand up or open her eyes. Oh, it’s a painful thing to watch, especially when you know how Gabie—who was finally in bed, catching up on a week’s worth of lost sleep—would feel if Partie didn’t improve.
There’s nothing more cruel to a chicken-obsessed 10 year old boy (and the whole family, who have quickly become attached to these critters) than to lose a baby chick. Partie died around midnight with Ethan and I trying our best to figure out what was wrong and what, if anything, we could do to help her. She hadn’t grown at all since she arrived (unlike the others who seem taller every time you look at them) so it may have been that her body was just not strong enough to make it. Or there’s the nagging sense of guilt that we should have done something differently. I’m wondering if I have the emotional fortitude to do this chicken thing. Nature can be cruel. And straw hats only offer so much protection. Baby chickens are vulnerable to all kinds of natural causes of death, even if you pamper them. So it seems a bit insane to make them part of your family circle and expose yourself and your kids to all kinds of potential pain.
And so we had cause for a few tearful exchanges with each of the kids about life and death (Nora has envisioned a heaven for Partie complete with innumerable chicken friends and all the family pets who have ever died…but she was anxious to make sure that dogs and cats never eat birds in heaven because then Partie would die again and where does one go when you die in heaven?) And then we all cheered ourselves up by heading out to the local farm store to buy two more chicks for the flock. Because once you’ve opened your hearts to a few more souls and all the potential for joy and loss that comes with the wild (and sometimes adorable, sometimes fascinating, sometimes callous) world of nature, why not get carried away?