Friday, March 6, 2009

Chickens and Truth Telling

I promise this is the last of my chicken musings. I know I've got a bird problem, as evidenced by the shoe box I brought home from my children's school today. My mistake was volunteering in my daughter's classroom where they just hatched a bunch of chicks for their science unit on embrylogy. (Sorry honey, if you're reading this from China - what's three more?) I wrote this a few months back when I was wrestling with a question all parents must come to terms with at some point. Although, I’m betting most parents don’t have chickens (and dogs and Fed Ex men) that force their hand like this. Still, I think it’s universal.

How do I tell my children that the dog killed a chicken? Not a question most people are musing over. Although my subject matter is different, the issues are there for all parents. Do you tell the whole truth, the candy-coated truth, or a partial truth? Or, do you just not tell them at all? A chicken’s missing? I wonder what happened?

We have/had 14 chickens and one fox hound. The fox hound, Lucy, lives happily outside within the bounds of her invisible fence. The chickens, which lay organic, free-range eggs for us, live in and around their chicken pen and hen house. But sometimes they wander a little far a field, especially since we lost our rooster to a chicken hawk. They are leaderless and sometimes they forget the way home.

The Fed-Ex guy innocently drove up our driveway (too fast I am sure, but I wasn’t there to witness) and startled the dog, who startled the chickens who had wandered into the invisible fence land. Chickens aren’t that smart and they certainly aren’t that fast, so in their fluster one didn’t make it over the line fast enough and Lucy pounced. She shook it to death and then left it for a fox to cart away (which it must have since there is no evidence left). The only reason I know the exact order of events is that the Fed Ex guy happily relayed the episode the next day when he arrived with another delivery. He seemed impressed with my dog and not the least bit sympathetic to the chicken in question.

You have to understand that these aren’t just chickens. They are pets, individually named and marked with a colorful beaded anklet. We raised them in the kids’ old pack and play crib in our mudroom last spring. One of our chickens marched in the pet parade and won an award for originality. My daughter can tell you the personal habits and characteristics of each hen. Lou-Lou talks a lot and likes to be the center of the action. Mrs. Brutus lays the biggest eggs. Chicory likes to roost on the lawn mower. She knows these birds.

The kids will be home from school soon and I have to tell them something. They will notice a missing bird. How it got by them yesterday I don’t know except that it was raining and I was the one who closed the hen house without counting noses (beaks). I could easily blame a hawk again. I’m sure I would if the Fed Ex guy hadn’t given me the low down. I could say nothing, wait for them to come tell me a bird is missing, act dumb, and let them draw their own conclusions. But I am their mother. I expect the truth from them, so how can I not give them the truth? They will hate the dog for a day or two. It’s not her fault. She’s just doing what dogs do.

I guess it comes down to trust. I have to trust them to handle the truth – to understand that the dog was just being a dog, the chicken a chicken, and the Fed Ex man, the Fed Ex man. They deserve the truth from me and besides that I’m not a very convincing liar. The truth is always the safest bet. The truth will not come back to haunt you. I can only teach this to my children by living it myself. So that’s it, I will tell them the truth, trust them with it, (and then be sure to mention that the Fed Ex man was delivering our tickets to Disney World).


  1. How do you know when someone's a good writer? When their subject matter is one that you really weren't all that interested in--but becomes interesting through that author's eyes. I've really enjoyed "Chicken Week" despite having no prior interest in chickens. Can't wait to read about your next project!

  2. That made me teary... such a beautiful story. Tops SmartMama by a landstorm! Wow.