all you really need…
Is just a small little change…
all you really need…
Is just a small little change…
Our haying for 2016 is done.
Over the past two days we’ve moved 200 bales of hay, a small haul for a small farm, just over five and a half ton. We’ve spent over ten hours in the amazing bake of Alaska sun. We’ve laughed, we’ve snarled, Mama secretly cried a few times over memories and tiredness and quiet grief over a pony we don’t need to buy chow for any more, Daddy not-so-secretly got a sunburn on his bald spot, and we’ve bonded as a family.
Tucked in alongside hay trips, we’ve learned how to put stitches in a lamb’s leg, we’ve met new people who love 4-H and want to support us in small and big ways, we’ve reunited with some favorite music that speaks of the Great North like no other, and we’ve gone out to eat for the first time in forever.
I thought after Beau died that maybe we weren’t meant for the farm life.
I thought maybe we weren’t good enough for this life with animals and farm folk and feed stores and hay fields.
But after this weekend I realize that the farm life isn’t a matter of who’s good enough or not good enough.
It’s a life that changes those who choose it.
And that with each passing year, with each turn of the season…
you buck bales a little quicker and you learn to steer a little straighter and you get more efficient at driving the field and your muscles get a little bigger.
And just like the hay…
you reach toward the sun and you grow.
Hug a teacher today. They devote their life to the lives of others.
So thankful for you mama.
Your hard work has changed the world.
It’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…
They’ll never be the same.
She wanted a pony but thought we probably couldn’t have one. She’s always been so conscious of what things cost the family.
My thoughtful girl.
We had the minis…everyone was learning horsemanship. We had friends and lessons where she could ride big horses whenever she wanted.
But one night she said something at prayers that made her Daddy’s eyes water.
God please help me be happy for other people who have their own horses so that I won’t always just want one for myself.
And my husband whispered later that night…
We’re gonna get that girl a pony.
We brought Beau home after a friend told us he’d be a great match for our girl. He was so big compared to our minis, he was a Clydesdale on the barnyard. It made my head spin when I first walked him.
He’d been a Pony Club pony. He had such good manners. His girl had trained him well but she needed a bigger horse to do the kind of horse activities she wanted to do, her mama said. Her legs were getting too long.
That mama cried when we pulled out with him in our trailer. That pony had seen her little girl grow up.
And when my husband walked up to my girl with that pony and gave her the lead rope, she cried too. She couldn’t believe she was a little girl who had her very own horse.
It was the happiest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.
Beau went from being a fancy pony to a farm pony, and while secretly this mama thought maybe our farm wasn’t fancy enough and that maybe a fancy pony is meant to be a fancy pony forever, a horse friend that knew him in both lives said “No. He fits here. I can see it. He’s relaxed. He loves this farm.”
So Beau was our fancy farm pony.
And my girl said, See that patch of brown right there on his flank Mama? That color right there is my favorite color in the whole world.”
He came out of his first winter here a little thinner and weaker after a bag of bad feed had us learning how to give a horse a shot, and our vet came to put his vet hands on him for us and he told us Beau was just fine and that sometimes a horse just doesn’t winter very easily, but that we’d learn exactly what he needs as we got to know him better. Just our love and a little medicine will have him back to his big old self in no time.
We had the love and we had the medicine, and we got him on a feed that was better for his body. He went to a horse camp with my girl that spring, and even though she learned that sometimes the circles of horse folks can be harsh and assume the worst of a person by the size of their horse, my girl and her pony had a great time at that camp learning new things about each other and they grew in trust and they grew in skills…
And our vet was right.
In no time at all he was back to his big old self.
Over years, my girl’s legs grew a little longer, and Beau grew a little older and they were partners and they were friends. On our barnyard, he was the big boss of the herd and even as herd boss, he was sweet. The minis doted on him, and in the dusk, they’d find shelter under his tall-to-them flanks. Twice a day my girl would feed and water the horses and because she was horse manager on the farm, she knew them well.
She knew that she liked them to go in order when the farrier came: biggest to littlest.
She knew that Beau didn’t like it when his minis were away from him, even for a minute.
She knew when her body was growing too big for a pony.
She knew that even though riding him may not be an option, she could still teach him and learn from him, so she decided that together, they’d start training to drive a cart.
She knew he would pick it up easily.
She knew how awesome it was that he didn’t even flinch when she started walking behind him with her long reins and teaching him Gee and Haw and driving him all summer all over the round pen and the yard and up the driveway.
She knew what a great teacher he would be for her younger sister and little brother and started teaching them how to work a pony in the round pen.
She knew that the biggest mini was a little like a toddler and that the littlest mini was like a friend feeling left out, and she knew that Beau would peek over the pony wall of the stall every morning to wait for his girl to come out and say hi.
She knew that he was gentle and that he was kind.
And she knew him well enough to know that something was wrong when she saw him standing weak at feed time, and she texted me immediately and got me coming home and on the phone with the vet. We got a shot in him right away, gave him his own room in the barn, and in the morning Doc came out and said colic was working on our boy. Told us to use our hands and our medicine to help him feel better.
He pepped up a bit midweek and his minis were glad to have him back with them in the big pen where he went right back to bossing and big-brothering them to whinnies.
His downturn was a surprise and before we could even celebrate that he’d been improving, we were camped out in the barn with him tucked into his blanket and us tucked into our Carharrts, him looking at us with big brown eyes puzzled at having his whole family sleeping in the barn in lawn chairs.
The little heater for ice fishing kept people and pony from freezing, and he stood on all four feet and drank water and nibbled hay and the doc said keep doing what you’re doing because that’s what’s keeping him here. He put a tube in our pony that night and gave him oil in his tummy to help coat things and protect him from the environmental toxin he suspected our boy had in his system. Our extra warm winter…our very early spring thaw…it’s messed with the soil and plant life this year and horses in high numbers are colicking all over he said.
But I told myself that our pony was strong and he’d be okay every time I put my hands on him and I’d pray to God, the one who created horses. Father please help us keep him strong enough to heal and we’ll keep on loving this pony all his days.
Our pony’s girl, my girl, she’d be dozing through the middle-of-the-night hours, tucked into the little pallet bed she’d made out of pillows and sleeping bags all folded up into the garden cart attached to the four-wheeler over in the corner barn.
We played the radio soft and she told us to keep it on the country station because that’s what he liked the best.
His same low nicker every time he’d see his girl was like music on the heart.
Shock after the nasal tube panicked him and I had Doc on speed dial while Matt set up flood lights over the paddock and neighbors came and friends brought stethoscopes and we monitored his heart rate as he sweat his panic out and mouth-breathed and coughed up blood clots like pudding. I never would’ve thought he was going to make it through the night but each time he coughed, he’d settle a bit more, and then at 2 a.m., he coughed up one last clot and calmed.
The doc set aside his morning and came to see him and said from the sounds of his night, he was surprised to come out and not see a dead pony. But our boy was on all fours and blinking his big brown eyes softly at Doc, and if it weren’t for his heart rate still being high and the bloodstains on the straw and on the gates and on his nose, no one would ever guess our little pony had been on death’s door just seven hours before.
We took him out into the sun and he napped like he always does on spring days.
We wondered if we’d know when it was time. Doc said his heart rate needed to come down and if it didn’t, we’d probably know which way things were going to go by noon or so. But noon came and went and Beau stood with his face in the sun and my husband said God can heal ponies too and if Doc said it’ll take 36 hours for that oil to kick in, well, we’ll give him every minute of that 36 hours to get better because it’s not fair to Beau if we don’t, and that’s our job as his people, to give him every chance he has to fight.
We kept a little bit of hay and a lot of water in front of him and we encouraged him to lay down and rest a bit, but he insisted on doing what he normally does, take the occasional sugar cube from his girl and kick his back leg in some, all while blinking a napping blink and bobbing his head lazy like in the sunshine with his minis slinking around him and stealing bits of his hay.
His heart rate came down some when he was in the sun. So for two whole days of daytime hours, he lived with his sweet face pointing south in our front yard, the Alaskan spring sun warming his white blaze and black forelock while his kids and his minis and his chickens went around him…next to him…under him…with him…
We slept in the barn again for the third night and even though his 36-hour mark had come and gone, our boy was still not showing signs of being in big distress. We still felt like if we cut his time short and opted to euthanize now, we would be giving up on him since he was still fighting so quietly and valiantly.
But there was no doubt that he was starting to weaken.
When a call to an equine vet with a clinic four hours away through the mountains gave us disbelief that our pony was still standing after almost three days with a heart rate that would’ve killed any other horse after just one day, we wondered if maybe we should load our little boy up for some big city care.
We consulted with our vet and another vet closer to home, and she showered us with words of love and kindness, having been through this with her own animals and knowing all too well the pain of trying to decide when it’s time to relieve our animal friends of their burden of illness. She confirmed what we were feeling: yes an elevated heart rate indicates trouble; he was definitely a sick boy. But being a pony, his heart rate would be a little higher than a full-sized horse, and without a baseline on him, we didn’t know if he normally ran a little higher regularly, and most of all, if he is still standing on all four feet and seemed peaceful enough to fight it out, why not give him every chance we could to let him do that?
When making a game plan for that night and weighing our options -euthanization, continuing to sit vigil, trying to load him quickly and haul him up north for specialized care- my thoughtful girl thought about it, then came to me and said she’d like to keep her pony at home where he’d feel safe and not have to be scared on top of being sick. His minis are here. The ride would be long and scary for him and she couldn’t ride in the trailer to help him not be scared, and he might not be able to stand that long and he wouldn’t want to lay down.
This is his home Mama.
One more night -even though we all knew he was getting on time to run out of time- we put on our layers and we boiled water for tea and we went to the store for another small box of sugar cubes and we put needles in our pockets for his shots and we freshened the clipboard full of our times and our notes about our boy and all his round-the-clock care.
Every walk, every pet, every shot, every movement…every moment…
Even my horse-scorning big boy who delights in telling his little sister how much he doesn’t like horses, he slept in the barn and he hauled water and he held her hand when we prayed and it’s different when it’s your little sister’s horse and shouldn’t a whole family hold out hope for one little pony?
My husband led us in prayer at every turn and we’d bow our heads and we’d cry our tears and we’d ask God to help Beau. To help him in his brave and courageous fight. To help him poop. To help his heart rate come down. To help his little body heal. To help our hands help him.
I came back to the barn from a house trip with hot coffee and tea at sunrise that third morning and there, right there over the barn was a huge arc-shaped cloud. I stood in the driveway and wondered if it might look a little bit like a white fluffy rainbow. It had that wispy cotton candy texture to it that the kids told me is called mare’s mane.
It took me a minute to realize that a shape was at the base of the arc and that if you looked just hard enough, and a little tear-stained and barn-weary enough, it could almost look like a little horse coming down to a perfect landing from a beautiful and arcing jump.
A fancy-pony jump.
And I knew when I saw it that it would be Beau’s last morning here on our farm.
He showed us that morning that his strong and courageous little body was growing tired of standing on all four feet and that our hands weren’t going to be able to help him win this one and that it was time for us to call the vet out.
Doc didn’t even have time to get heading our way. Not even a half hour later we were all cheering Beau gently and encouraging him through our tears to go ahead and lie down when we could see he’d decided it was finally time to get off his strong little feet.
He died minutes later, at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, and it was the saddest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.
Farm kids are tough but farm kids grieve and my littlest daughter brought Kleenex and my baby asked Why? Just why? and my menfolk let unashamed tears run down their faces and we all cried together and mourned the beautiful creature that God had sent our way. We loved that pony.
My girl asked her daddy if we could lay him to rest on our new land, a piece of simple north road we bought last year just a quarter mile away, a chunk of our future, a homestead we plan to settle in the upcoming months.
So the same Daddy that bought his girl a pony brought home a tractor to bury that pony. She chose a beautiful clearing under a tall birch, and while he dug, we watched and we fetched logs when he’d get stuck and we rested and we loved.
We were exhausted and we were sad and we were thankful…all at the same time.
Our girl’s fancy farm pony taught us so much in our four short years with him.
He taught us that being fancy was a good thing.
And he taught us that being farmy was a good thing too.
He taught us that friends come in all sizes and species and that sometimes friendship doesn’t look the way everyone else thinks it should look.
He taught us that a low rumble of recognition is a gift to be treasured.
He taught us to pay close attention because not everyone speaks loudly.
He taught us that good training is also a good teacher.
He taught us that true friendships adapt.
He taught us that a quiet fight is a strong fight.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the shock of what happened this past weekend on our farm.
I don’t know if the trauma of caring for an animal so closely that literally every moment is filled with them, -their breathing, their movements, their improvements, their subtle decline- and then watching the life leave the eyes of that animal as it falls to the ground after standing so bravely in hope is something I’ll ever be able to fully process.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk outside like I did this morning and not cry in grief when I see reminders of him on every inch of our barnyard. This morning it was the indent in the thick bed of straw that was the same size and shape of a miniature horse and was situated in the exact spot where Beau’s handsome head fell when he died.
I don’t know if I will.
The grief is so deep, this saying goodbye too soon to a friend of your heart…when you didn’t even know they were going to leave.
My daughter, -exhausted and processing our weekend like her pony did, stoickly, when I told our flower-bringing friend that the whole barnyard has shifted on end with the loss of one little-but-mighty pony- she said “Mama, it’s kind of like the universe. Everything effects everything else. One little change makes the whole universe different.”
That’s exactly what it’s like.
One little pony…and the loss of him…
It makes the whole universe different.
And it’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…
They’ll never be the same.
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
In loving memory of Beau, a brave and strong and courageous pony.
Today is Saturday.
I mean, technically it’s Wednesday, but it’s my Saturday. That’s because yesterday, which was Tuesday, was really my Friday.
But every-other week, Tuesday is my Monday.
If you’re nodding your head right now, you are living and breathing among the wild ranks of shift workers.
If you’re scratching your head right now, you’re a nine-to-fiver.
I once made the mistake of saying out loud to the person I was talking to on the phone that it was Monday. Except the calendar said it was Thursday.
He called me crazy.
It takes all of us.
And us shifty folks, well, there might be a little truth to the You’re Crazy statement.
Because the crazy truth is, there are a lot of us crazy folks beholden to live life on a schedule of weird and wacky shifts, and it takes just a touch of crazy to make it work smoothly (and yes, I just snorted a little when I wrote “smoothly”).
In spite of the crazy, or maybe because of it, our family is one that has made shift work work for them, and here are some things I’ve learned along the bumpy and every-other-week way.
1) Your schedule will never be “normal” again. Ever.
Normal, in the M-F, 9-5 rest of the world sense, is gone from your life forever. Oh, you’ll strive for it, and you’ll look curiously at the bankers with their hair all done-up in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, but you my dear, won’t ever know that sense of daily regular, because in the middle of your Tuesday afternoon, you’re either working like a dog for the twelvth day straight, or partying it up like you’re on Hawaiin vacation. Kiss normal good-bye. The sooner the better. Don’t fight it; that will just add angst and turmoil. But more about that later.
2) Be prepared for odd looks should you be a) working like a dog for the twelvth day straight or b) partying it up like you’re on a Hawaiin vacation in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.
These odd looks stem from one of two reasons:
a) Tuesday is still early in the week. You should be looking early-week fresh and not like you do: wild and crazy-eyed with all your hair sticking straight up and your FR shirt wrinkled and stained like you’ve been wearing it for 12 straight days (which you have) while your safety glasses frame your nutty mug like a pair of goggles that are permanently affixed to your crazy face (they are). OR…
b) your shuffle through the grocery store for popcorn and jalepeno cheese dip has you wearing your Saturday casual while your sloppy bun frames your slightly puffy, make-up free face…puffy only because you stayed up past ten o’clock the night before which was your Friday (Monday)… and this casual package implies that you’re an unemployed slacker mom who’s mooching off the rest of society, doing nothing but slogging around in pajamas and eating junk food for all your days. I promise you, it’ll happen.
3) You will very quickly learn all about yourself.
Namely, the depth and level of your strength. Whether you are a mama of littles holding down the fort while your man is on his four-weeks, or whether you’re a hard workin’ husband who hasn’t held his baby’s chubby hand for too many days, or who has gone to sleep without the warm hug of his wife for too many nights, you will soon learn just how strong you can be when you have to be. Something inside of you will take over and the ache of lonliness that once would’ve threatened to crumple and cripple you will become an entity almost separate from yourself and you will only allow yourself to take it out and inspect it in the few quiet moments of the day when there isn’t more work to be done.
It sounds dramatic but it’s true.
You will become strong. Very strong.
4) This strength will serve you well when everything in the whole wide world decides to break down/fall apart/turn to crap as soon as the shift begins.
Oh, it will happen. It’s the law of the shift worker that at least once, -but more often, many, many times- as soon as you go away, everything turns to youknowwhat. This either a) causes the one who is back home to carry a heavier-than-bearable burden, threatening the above-mentioned strength or b) cause you an immeasurable amount of stress as you try to handle break-downs and crises back home between break time and lunch hour at the job job and you’re trying to do your very best to balance both. This part is stressful. Verrrry stressful.
5) Your life will alternate between two conflicting personas.
This ties into Number 1 but it needs more words because this is a definite issue in our home and one that I’m assuming other shift-workers and their families struggle with. This one is the hardest for me.
The on-week, we’re all about nose-to-the-grind…keeping the train on the tracks…workin it to the bone. On the off-week, it’s like one long, constant string of Saturdays, a manic seven days of fun and field trips and projects with nary a routine or schedule. You will relax, you will soar with the family time, you will so enjoy the lazy days…the productive days…the full days…the free days…and then…
It’s time for the all-too-quick SNAP back to reality when it’s time for the on-shift to begin again. No amount of preparation or mental talk has been able to help this transition for me. It can seem like a constant flip-flop, flip-flop, and have a tendency to feel like working two full-time jobs with no weekend in between.
Unless you just let go and run with the party feel. And if you do, the one who’s at home is left with the aftermath of the seven-day/two-week/four-week manic fun-binge, and the one who’s back to the job site starts the hitch tired and hung over on family and fun while EVERYONE reels from the blunt transition to “normal”. It is a constant angst for this family. I’m sure there are folks who navigate the back-and-forth better than I, but after years, every change-out still leaves me a little shaken and trembly as much of my effort goes into making the transition smooth. (There’s that word that makes me laugh again.)
6) You will soon become an expert on things you never knew you would need to know.
Writing letters…hauling a horse trailer…running an ice auger…eradicating scads of gypsy moth larva sacs with a blow torch…Skyping…cleaning up the vomit/pee/poop…all the things your other half usually does, -or would normally do- those are yours now. You’ll get really good at them too. And one day you’ll quit wondering how it happened that you’re doing all this stuff you never wanted to know how to do. It’s that strength thing again.
7) You will learn how to argue quickly.
Notice I did not say “you will quickly learn how to argue”. While shift work CAN cause an increase in arguing for some folks, I’m talking here about the actual time spent on an arguement. You will get very quick with your disagreements. When it’s on-shift time, work is the priority and could interfere in even the briefest of conversations at any given second, so discussions are short, quick, and to the point. No one wants to hang up mad, so you’ll learn to settle disagreements quickly whether it’s by voice…or by emojis. 🙂
When it’s off-shift time, peace is priority, so discussions/disagreements/arguments/fights need to be put to rest quickly so that the fun can be gotten to. This can make for a little bit of a bipolar-type day, explosions happening one moment, happy schmoozy family times happening the next. When time is short, arguments need to be short too. Ain’t no one got time to let things drag out when there are days-long projects and fun to be had.
8) The one-who-works-away will miss half a life.
This is especially true for those men and women who work off-shore/on the Slope/overseas. Being physically removed from your family means you will not be physically there for your family. It is a simple fact, and for the shift-worker and their family, it is a part of their life that they carry around always. They are very aware of the sacrifice they are making. For the family man, it is a huge sacrifice. Some may call him selfish. Some may wonder why he doesn’t just find a town job or something closer to home. More on that later, but being away half the time cannot be discussed separate from the flip side of the issue.
Which brings us to number 9…
9) The time off can’t be beat.
Many families here in Alaska work a two-week on/two-week off schedule, referred to as a “2 and 2”. In our family, we’ve done the work week that consists of four, ten-hour shifts (4 tens), the 5-day, 9 to 5 week (town job), the five, ten-hour-shifts week (5 tens), the 7-days of 12-hour shifts (7 twelves), and we’ve done the four weeks on, one week off away from home job (4 and 1, which usually turned into 6/7/8 on but that’s another story).
While being physically gone half the time is hard, there is nothing, no thing, that beats having the family together for long stretches of hours and days and weeks. Nothing.
Having the family together for a long string of days brings such a quality of life and memory-building opportunities, it makes the time away more bearable and understandable. It allows the one-who-works away to immerse him/herself in the day-to-day life of the family in a way that usually isn’t possible with a 9-5, and it lifts the weight of the home management responsibilities off the one-who-stays-home while the whole family carries the load together during the off-hitch.
Vacations can be lengthy, times of rest can actually be restorative, staying up late can actually happen, sleeping in can be a reality. The off time can’t be beat.
10) You will be criticized.
Yes, really. People will criticize you for your job choice. People will call you selfish, say you are sacrificing your family for the money, and they will think you are a overtime-hungry, materialistic bachelor-type.
But just like teachers don’t choose their profession just because of the summers off, or surgeons don’t choose their field for the long hours away from their family, the shift-worker hasn’t chosen their profession just because of the schedule.
My grandfather worked 20 days on/eight days off for over thirty years to raise his children and his grandchildren. My husband’s dad was an over-the-road truck driver for decades, raising six kids on a job that took him away from home for weeks at a time.
Shift work is simply a job.
Shift workers have chosen their profession because it puts food on the table. They’ve chosen their profession because it fits their skill set. They’ve chosen their profession because someone hired them, it’s a career, it’s a way they can provide a living for their family and a resource for their world.
It’s a job.
And to those who think, -even if quietly in their minds- that the shift-worker really should find another job, one that is easier on a family, I’d like to say this:
You go find another job.
How easy would it be for YOU to switch careers?
How long would it take you to put together a resume…scour the help-wanted ads…go through the interview process? How would that look for you to learn a whole new skill set…make a career switch…try to find something outside of what you know or have been trained for? Maybe go back to college to get a degree, or go back to college to update your current degree. How easily would that work for YOU? Especially when you have a good paying job that provides for your family right now.
People who work odd shifts are not a special set of folks who secretly yearn to spend their nights away from their family. They are not an elite group of people who have special demands, needs, or desires.
They are simply folks like everyone else who saw a path toward a paycheck, started walking it and ended up in a job that requires round-the-clock employees. Whether that job be a police officer, a nurse, a lineman, an oilfield worker, an airline employee, a bartender, a night custodian, or any of the other hundreds of jobs that call for shifts…it’s a job. It needs doing. The folks who work those jobs are providing a service to people, to their communities and to this world, but most of all, they are serving their family.
It’s a job and jobs are hard to come by, especially in Alaska right now as having hours cut, being sent home, getting laid off, or having positions eliminated are all becoming more of a reality for far too many in our slumping economy.
Shift work is just a job like any other.
And yes, shift workers keep nutty hours and crazy days.
And yes, you may get very confused when you talk to them about work schedules and calendars and what day of the week it is.
You may even be a little jealous when they stroll into the bank in their Hawaain shirt and Saturday afternoon attitude when it’s only Wednesday at noon, or irritated when they look like they just rolled out of bed even though it’s 3 p.m.
But the next time you see a gal in a work boots and a high viz parka turn away from you on the airplane and pop her earbuds in, making it clear she doesn’t want to talk to you or anyone else, don’t think the worst of her.
She may be leaving her family behind to go work a weeks-long hitch at a job thousands of miles from her loved ones.
And the next time you see a wild-eyed guy in an untucked FR blue shirt grabbing sandwiches in the deli department at 8 a.m. and he’s got a grimace on his face and a Rockstar in his dirty paw, don’t look at him disapprovingly because he’s not wearing Tide-fresh clothes or his hair isn’t brushed.
Smile at them. Because even though their schedule is different, they’re just like you.
Smile because even though it may be your Friday, it’s really her Monday.
Smile, because today may be his last of twenty-one straight days on twelves.
Smile…because now you know.
Smile…these folks are shift workers.
Way back when, my husband used to call me and one of my besties a coupla’ hens.
We may have sounded a bit like em when we’d get to clucking about life and all the funny stuff that comes with it.
I never took it in a bad way though…it was more of an endearing little compliment, especially because his eyes would sparkle when he’d smile at us.
Like he thought we were cute when we’d get to giggling.
I don’t think it was an endearing compliment though, when one of the gentlemen on a neighborhood chat page called a handful of us women “hens in a house”.
Something tells me his heart wasn’t swelling in adoration over the feminine laughter that can tend toward a cackle when something’s really funny.
No, I didn’t get the impression he was complimenting us at all.
We were disagreeing with him you see.
And not everyone likes it when you disagree with them.
That’s when they’ll resort to name calling.
And that night, as I read his comments and the ones that followed from various hens, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one mentioned the very first thing that popped into my mind when I read his comment.
Yep, you know what’s comin’…
I sure don’t want to focus on this poor guy too long because some folks just have a knack for saying what’s on their mind without thinking it through. And, because I’m a writer, I always have to think things through twice; once before I say them, and again before I write them. So I just sat on his comment a while and thought I’d let it slide on by like we all do when someone opens their mouth and lets something rude slip out.
But as I read the thread, the irony of his analogy did make me giggle as I knew there were at least two of us in the chat group who are die hard chicken farmers.
He may or may not know how much us farmer types admire hens and how hard they work, as if their industriousness is bred right on into them, or how entertaining they can be with their individual and adorable poultry quirks, or how loyal they are to their farm and their offspring…but it was funny to me that what he thought was an insult, several of us could actually view as a compliment.
As I lay my head down that night, and then again the next morning, I couldn’t help but write in my mind (because that’s what us writers do even when we don’t realize it don’t we?) about all the different traits of chickens.
And then my thoughts settled right in on the three different kinds of roosters.
So my son, he knows roosters. One of the types we have on our barnyard right now are called bantams. They’re tiny. Wittle bitty guys that fit in the palm of your hand. One is fluffy and purty, a silkie, the other has little snow-shoe feet with feathers fluffing off of them and he tiptoes around like a little old man on the ice. He’s a high falutin’ D’Uccle.
The funny thing is, they don’t know they’re little. They strut around like they’re big shots on the barnyard and when they see something they don’t like they’ll puff up and get ready to let out a big ol’ crow. Except their manly COCKADOODLEDOOO coming out of their itty bitty body sounds more like a COCK-UH-UHHNNNNnnnn like they started to yell but just ended up clearing their throat instead.
We call these roosters “the babies”. They’d probably die in disgrace if they understood, they think they’re roosters after all, but as my son says, “Mom, they’re so cute. They can’t even reach the perch to sit with the hens. I have to pick them up and set them up there just so they can go to bed with the flock at night.”
We laugh at how cute our little roosters are…trying to be just like the big boys but really, not even being big boy enough to have a big boy walk or talk.
Then there are the roosters we all think of when we think “ROOSTER”.
That’s right, the mean and nasty ones. We had one once but he doesn’t live here any more. In fact, he just doesn’t live period.
See, Sir Lolly started out nice enough. Just another little cockerel in the flock. He played nicely with the hens, he wasn’t mean to the kids, and he was growing into a real gentleman.
But when Lolly started to get his spurs, he started to turn mean, and no amount of sweet talk from his owner, my littlest boy, would change him. My youngest even tried preaching to Lolly. He’d climb up into the bed of his Daddy’s pickup truck and give Lolly the lo down on the greatest stories of all. He’d worked his way all the way up to the Ten Commandments but Lolly just got nastier. My boy’s Sunday school teacher told him to just keep at it and that once Lolly heard about Jesus, he’d probably repent from his bad behavior. (We kinda love our chickens round here.)
But Lolly never heard the gospel message from my little preacher because one day, after a whole lot of bluffs and charges and noise and false alarms, Lolly charged my big farmer full on.
And then my big farmer had a decision to make.
If Lolly would go after the biggest of us, he had officially become a danger to the smallest of us.
So, late one night, my husband removed the danger from our barnyard, and between a few tears and a truck ride and a cold slushie, he explained to our little boy about how, as man of the barnyard, sometimes a farmer has to do hard things to protect those who are in his care.
Lolly was too mean for his own good. He used his spurs for nastiness and all it did was hurt others and end ugly.
After a sweet little funeral for our too-mean rooster, we left the barnyard to the hens for a while and they did okay. Hens are like that. They just carry on and do what needs doing.
But as is with farming, birds soon change hands and here came a rooster and we all watched him for a bit to see if he’d be a Sir Lolly wanna-be.
The kids even named him Monster, thinking he would be.
But he wasn’t.
He was sweet.
He let he hens eat first.
He kept the boundary line of the barnyard intact by patrolling several times a day.
He shuffled all the hens to the safety of the woods line when there was danger afoot and we realized one day he often turned his head up to the sky and watched when a raven or an eagle was flying over.
We thought maybe when his spurs grew out he’d turn.
He once acted like he wanted to chase my daughter but when she stood her ground and looked him in the eye, he retreated and went back to doing his job and he let her do hers.
Once he reached maturity, we realized he was going to be a b-I-g rooster. With b-I-g spurs. They are well over an inch long now.
But guess what?
In all the time we’ve owned this rooster, he’s never once used them on us.
He’s done a fine job of protecting his hens, his barnyard, and himself, but he’s never once been needlessly nasty or mean.
His rare displays of his strength come with a reason.
They are short-lived.
He uses his spurs only when he needs to.
He could have a whole barnyard in fear and dread of him but he doesn’t.
He simply does his job and lets everyone else do theirs.
What kind of rooster are you?
My big farmer husband is teaching our boys to be like Monster.
One who is gentle and lets others do their job.
One who doesn’t feel the need to show their spurs.
One who knows their strength but chooses not to strut it.
He is teaching them to be men who serve gently, respect others, keep an eye on those in their care, protect against danger, and show their strength in times of peril.
I want to be that kind of critter.
The kind who has your back.
The kind who will fight the enemy and protect his own fiercely, but is always kind and gentle with his family and friends and neighbors.
The kind who isn’t mean.
The kind who doesn’t need to be lifted up to sit with their peers.
The kind who knows how to talk AND walk.
The kind who doesn’t show his spurs just for show.
And with roosters like that on the barnyard, it’s a pretty good job being a hen in the house.
The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.
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Life is Messy and Things Aren't Always Little on this Crazy Little Farm
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Life is Messy and Things Aren't Always Little on this Crazy Little Farm