How to Raise Your Chicken

How to Raise Your Chicken
When I picked my son Ethan up from school last Monday, he took me into the library and showed me something really marvelous; a brood of newborn baby chicks, just hatched. They huddled together, more than a dozen of them, a mass of yellow fur, sleeping. And as I got a little closer, they seemed to all wake up at once, sticking their little beaks up in the air and cheep-cheeping and climbing all over one another.It was adorable. I could scarcely tear myself away, nevermind the fact that I’d just come from the Jewel-Osco where the voice on the loudspeaker – “Cheap cheap, it’s cheap chicken Monday!” had persuaded me to buy a bucket of fried chicken that was still waiting in the car.When I returned home and mentioned the brood of chicks to my wife, Angela was eager to go see them for herself. The last time the elementary school had brought in chicks, they had a webcam pointed at the clutch of eggs so that you could watch them hatch if you tuned in regularly. Angela had left that video feed open on her laptop for days, like she was binge watching something on Netflix, just waiting for those eggs to hatch with baited breath and bitten fingernails.

Now, given her love of the bird, it shouldn’t surprise you that she suggested we get a chicken of our own. That’s apparently something a lot of folks do these days, raise their own chickens; they say the eggs are fantastic, and you can compost the shells, and use the manure in your garden. For my part, I thought this was a terrible idea; I mean, life is crazy enough with two little kids. Lord knows I don’t need some chicken strutting around the house like the cock of the walk, getting feathers all over the place, standing in the bathtub, staring back at me defiantly when I need to take a shower.

“You keep the chicken in the backyard,” my wife replied wearily when I explained my concerns. “Ever heard of a chicken coup?”

I softened to the idea a little, then, but my imagination still conjured up all kinds of problems. There’s the cost, and the upkeep, and all of the trouble that comes with raising livestock. Not to mention the fact that the latch on our backyard fence is broken; there’d be nothing to keep the bird from pecking the gate open and slipping out. Next thing you know I’ve got a police officer standing on my doorstep, asking if this chicken they picked up for jaywalking belongs to me, and why it crossed the road.

I just don’t need that kind of drama in my life.

As it turns out, there’s an ordinance in the city of Wheaton against raising any kind of livestock. No chickens allowed. But they still let us have children, however ill prepared we were for it.

***

When we first became parents, we decided that we weren’t going to rely on books to tell us how to raise our kids. Every child is unique, and every parent has their own philosophy. Human beings have been nurturing their young for millions of years, and while the times have certainly changed, our fundamental instincts are still ticking. We can do this, we told ourselves.

You know, it turned out to be a lot harder than it looks.

Occasionally desperate, I’d read an article or flip through a parenting book. People always say there’s no instruction manual for raising kids, but man, there sure a lot of books that pretend to be just that. But they’re seldom helpful, and if anything, they seem to contradict one another. They can also come off as condescending, sage wisdom from perfect parents who have it all figured out. I was just reading something about a book called How To Raise Successful People. “I raised two CEOs and a doctor,” the author boasts in Time Magazine. “Parents constantly ask me for advice — okay, sometimes beg [me for it],” she writes. I read this from the armchair in my living room, the one with the ketchup stains on it, as I surveyed the toys strewn across the floor, the overturned nightstand, and the three year old running across the floor with an Oreo in one hand and a chicken nugget in the other, his diaper sagging with a terrible weight. No one asks me for parenting advice, and they certainly don’t beg me for it.

Nurturing children is hard work; nurturing anything, really, is hard work.

When I was a kid, I had three fish. I named them after the members of the British rock band Motorhead: Lemmy Kilmister, Wurzel, and guitar legend “Fast” Eddie Clarke. I remember how they used to swim up to the edge of the tank whenever I came in the room, as if they were happy to see me. But one day, they started behaving oddly, and I noticed little bits of their fins had begun to flake off. The guy at the pet store told me the PH balance in the water was off, gave me some drops to put in there and clear up the problem. But it didn’t work; and the fish didn’t make it. Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard to save them. I thought of them, last year, when the real Lemmy Kilmister died of congestive heart failure; but then, he hadn’t done much to nurture his own health, having smoked like a chimney and drank an entire bottle of Jack Daniels every day for thirty years.

When the fish died, well, I guess that was the first time I realized the high stakes of nurture and negligence. What it really comes down to is how much you care. Take a flower, for instance; you can water it, give it sunlight, talk to it, but if you don’t really love it, you’ll eventually neglect to do those things and it’ll end up looking like this. It was alive and well last September, when someone gave it to me; but I’ve kept it in my office because it appeals to my gothic sensibilities.

I take much better care of my children, of course. But if this is any indication, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t raise chickens.

 

Excerpt from sermon “How To Raise Your Chicken” by Rev. Seth Ethan Carey, May 12, 2019

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