Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Danger: Christmas Expectations

Plans, expectations, and schedules are definitely not things to stake your happiness on, especially if your happiness involves children. Or animals. At Christmas time. Christmas is chock full of expectations. And not just for the kids. We all remember idyllic Christmas experiences. Of course, we were kids then, so we probably don’t remember the huge fight we had with our little brother or the amazing mess we made of the kitchen – just the delicious cookies creaking under the weight of all those cinnamon red hots and silver bullets. We don’t remember the car getting stuck in the mud at the tree lot and mom ruining her favorite shoes, just the long search for the perfect tree, the complimentary hot chocolate, and the excitement of driving home with a tree strapped to the roof.

I’ve gotten better at curbing my expectations. My children have forced me to. Still, now and again, I can succumb. This past weekend was mapped out in my mind as the All-Christmas weekend. Friday night we would do a little Christmas baking and work on our shopping lists before settling down in front of the TV with popcorn to watch our much anticipated family movie – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (my oldest is a big fan of the books, as are his mom and dad). We would wake up early Saturday morning to attend the Santa Breakfast at school and get pictures with Santa. We’d do a little Christmas shopping, before heading out to get our tree that afternoon. Then we’d spend the rest of the day decorating and listening to Christmas carols. Sunday was church, an interruption of the Christmas festivities for the first indoor soccer game of the season, and then we were having dear friends for a Christmas dinner. Throw in a little wrapping and finishing touches on some homemade Christmas gifts and it was truly to be the uber Christmas weekend. The best laid plans.

Things began to go awry late in the afternoon, as I puttered in the kitchen singing along to Jimmy Buffet’s Christmas Island. My youngest child, who is normally my happiest child, wasn’t happy. Pretty much anything set him off. If I hadn’t been so caught up in my fantasy Christmas weekend, I might have picked up on the fact that there was more to his discontent than a long week at school and a much anticipated visit with Santa. But before I could even go there, I was interrupted by a chicken crisis. Seems the wind had blown the chicken pen gate shut during the day. Now it was growing dark and the most of the chicken’s hadn’t been able to get in to the pen to sleep in their hen house. Only six had been able to fly successfully over the fence and find their perches. Shining the flashlight on their annoyed faces as my daughter’s fear ramped up, I had a premonition that this weekend of holiday cheer was not to be.

We spent an hour looking for the lost hens and found three. I stacked up hay bales to climb up and retrieve one from a rafter in the barn. (How is it she could get up there, but couldn’t scale our four foot wire fence that sags in spots from the cat’s antics?). One was huddled behind the feed bins and one was roosting on the lawnmower. That left six still missing. We took a break from our searching to eat a quick dinner. So much for the amazing dinner I had created to launch our wonderful weekend – a decadent cream of crab soup and handmade French bread. There was no time to linger over a glass of wine and rub out tummies. There were hens in danger of freezing or being eaten by a fox.

As the temperatures dropped rapidly (the forecast was for 16 degrees over night!), we expanded our search. This turned up two more hens roosting on our tomato frames that were stacked against the bike shed, clearly in enemy dog territory. If the chickens were in the dogs’ area, they were obviously disoriented and panicked (and lucky to be alive!). One more chicken was discovered huddled underneath some bikes in the shed. That left three chickens out for the night. Once it gets dark, chickens hunker down. They don’t squawk or cluck or make noises of any kind. Two of the chickens still missing were Bard Rocks which are a dark color with little specks of white. So we were essentially looking for a small, silent dark blob in the dark. We finally gave up and decided we would pray that the hens would make it through the night. By the time we reached this decision, it was nearly bedtime for 2 out of 3 kids, so we nixed the much anticipated movie night and played a quick game of scoreless scrabble instead.

Saturday morning began before daylight when my youngest child woke with a migraine – begging for his eye cover and throwing up with every movement. He gets these migraines periodically and they pretty much level him. But today? On this weekend? So much for Santa and his breakfast.

I went out to see what had become of our three lost hens. There was no movement anywhere until I let out the rooster. He began crowing and yelling and strutting all over. He was definitely aware that some of his harem was lost. I didn’t think there was much hope, but then a squawk arose from a pine tree at the bottom of our property, far, far away from the chicken pens and the barn. Soon a very frightened hen was frantically darting for cover from bush to bush making her way back to her man. Another hen turned up later in the morning, unannounced silently sneaking back from her night out. But the third one was gone. Of course it was Thing 2. Thing 2 was our parade chicken, a great layer, and a beautiful Rhode Island Red hen. Why couldn’t it have been a bard rock? I made the mistake of thinking this out loud and my daughter chastised me with a horrified look.

After the chicken recovery, my daughter and I headed over to the school where she ate her fill of pancakes and I volunteered with the school book sale. Thinking we could still salvage something of the weekend, we went home to access the damage. I mentally laid out hopes of Christmas shopping and wrapping and convincing my husband to hang up colored lights outside. A friend stopped by to bring my son’s soccer shirt for the game the next day and as she was leaving her child noticed that one of our chickens was bleeding badly.

It took three of us a good deal of time to catch the bleeding chicken, which led me to believe the wound wasn’t mortal, despite the blood. We brought her inside and washed her up in the mudroom sink. She wasn’t thrilled at this adventure, but she allowed it. The wound was pretty huge. One entire side looked just like the chicken you see in the grocer’s meat case. On my daughter’s instruction, I slathered it in Neosporin and used a blow dryer to dry her off as best I could. As I sat cradling the wounded chicken, blood covering my jacket, holding a blow-dryer to her feathers, I wondered if anyone else’s weekend was going like this. This was not the Christmas weekend I had planned. I shook my head at my life, but I smiled because despite the blood and the chicken and the wrecked weekend, we have a good life.

We put the hen in a crate inside to keep her warm and see if the bleeding would stop. We couldn’t let her out with the rest of the hens if she was still bleeding profusely. Maybe you aren’t aware that chickens are savage beasts? If one is bleeding or injured, many times the others will peck it to death. Seems there is no compassion in the chicken world. Of course, the injured hen was my last remaining Rhode Island Red. Of course it was.

By the time the chicken was tended and the child with the migraine feeling better, there were two extra kids at my house and it was too late for chopping down a Christmas tree. In keeping with the Christmas Spirit, the kids decided to create a haunted house in the basement. Huh? That’s what I said as I listened to them make the mess downstairs, shrieking and laughing. I guess the blood was inspiring. So much for our Christmas weekend. Luckily that night I escaped for a Christmas party with my book club (no children, no hubbies, and definitely no bleeding chickens, just lots of cranberry-infused vodka and good company).

Sunday wasn’t much better as far as the Christmas celebrations. We didn’t make it to church because our hilly driveway was a sheet of ice (much like a luge course) and our friends didn’t make it down for dinner because the weather was worse up north. We did squeeze in the soccer game midday. After that, my husband retired to the couch and the football games and I retreated to my workspace and fought with my sewing machine (I don’t sew- this was for a new project you’ll hear about in an upcoming post).

So much for Christmas expectations. We still don’t have a tree. We’ll have to mail our letters to Santa. There are no twinkling lights in the trees around my house. There are two presents wrapped, and still no cookies baked. But the chicken survived. What more could I want?

I realize this post isn’t offering you any new information on Kid Friendly Organic Life, but I hope it is offering you a warning. Beware of Christmas expectations. They are not what Christmas is all about. In the end, my kids had a really fun weekend (minus the migraine). They got to play with friends, have an exciting chicken adventure with flashlights and danger and mom & dad, created a haunted house that was good for many laughs, and my daughter even learned to make an apple pie for the company that never came. It was a good weekend. It just wasn’t what I expected. And maybe that’s fine. I have to keep learning this lesson. When it comes to kids (and animals), it’s best to let go of the expectations and be grateful for what comes your way.

Like this morning when my 7-year-old came racing in to the kitchen chasing after the puppy as he shouted, “You can’t eat Baby Jesus!” at the top of his lungs. Seems the puppy was taste-testing characters out of our crèche scene and Baby Jesus was the tastiest. We rescued Jesus and laughed until we cried as the puppy came trotting back in to the kitchen dragging the entire barn backdrop and trailing a few wisemen! Nothing is sacred in our house. Except maybe a good laugh.


  1. Hee hee hee...great post, Cara! I was cracking up...glad you were able to find the silver lining in your topsy-turvy 'Christmas weekend'!