In twenty days, ten two-day-old chickens will be waiting for me at Farm and Fleet. My chickens, highly touted and long awaited, will be coming home. They will lay fresh eggs for our family, they will serve as my partners in the garden, and they will be the realization of my first vision for Ihm Home Farm.
My teeth would begin to ache when the hour approached. It was nearly impossible to pay attention to Sister Roberta’s geometry lesson, however riveting it may have been, as my mind bumbled along images of note cards… reciting words that I had spent into the wee morning hours committing to memory for next hour’s sophomore speech class.
I have never been comfortable talking in front of a crowd of people. Thirty uniform-clad teenagers, attention at half-mast, and one robust nun who counted points off for every stutter or “um,” was certainly considered a crowd as I stood at the front of the class to face my fears. Knowing my subject made my presentation easier but did nothing to calm my nerves, quiet my shakes, or make me enjoy high school speech.
For many years I have been dreaming of chickens free ranging on our property. Now, the chickens are on the way, and with this vision has come “chicken anxiety.”
The familiar current began running through my body as the caller ID proclaimed “State of Illinois.” This would likely mean one thing: a new foster placement. All of the things that I had been meaning to accomplish or prepare “in case” loomed before me as one unattainable “to-do” list. I forgot to get the lice remedy after the last one ran out, we have no more bananas, I was going to paint the dresser in the girls’ room…. I am overwhelmed with the thought of trying to pull things together for a potential new beginning. I could cross off a few things from my list if only I could stop pacing.
My oldest son, Elliott, who has pretty much always been far wiser than me, once said that anxiety can serve us well; it can keep us motivated. But will it help me do right by my little flock?
I am worried about my chickens. I am having trouble deciding which feeder to use, and whether I should use sand or pine shavings on the coop floor. What if I am not able to keep it clean enough, and what if the eggs could make my friends or family sick? Should I feed my new pullets medicated starter feed? What if they get sick? What if something gets in the coop? What if they get mites? Do I need to clean my boots each time I visit the coop? What if my chickens eat the wild bird seed? What if they fight among themselves? Oh, wait, I think I may be able to handle that one…
As I have worried myself through my years of fostering, I know that I now feel better equipped to understand and take on situations that I may have felt differently about without some practical experience, and without having lived through some pretty unsettling scenarios. Now I understand that the eight-year-old who is relieving herself anywhere but the toilet may be controlling the one thing that she actually can control. I understand that the stash of candy wrappers and empty juice boxes shoved forgetfully out of sight between the wall and the bed are a function of a past where there may not have been enough to eat. I know that investigations are part of this journey. I understand, too, that I may never be the first best mom to some of my children, and that trust, in the world of foster care, is never a given.
Stacks of chicken books, trips to the feed store, advice from chicken-keeping friends, hours of perusing the online chicken group; all of these have given me much to ponder. And still, there is the anxiety.
This late winter, two of my dear, longtime friends lost chickens to predators. They adored their chickens and, I know, did their very best to care for them every day. Sometimes, though, there are detours. The bus stops where you didn’t plan to get off. The worrying that we do steals away our gifts of this given moment.
Both of my friends are still keeping chickens. I made it through my high school speech class, though I am still uncomfortable in front of a crowd. We have even been through an investigation and have come out on the other side. Though there is much that I do not understand about the children that come to stay with us, I can appreciate that their behaviors have meaning, and that they have come to teach me, if I am open to learn.
I hope my chickens will be able to tell how happy I am to welcome them home. They will be scared, confused, and maybe even feisty. But they will be mine to care for, for however long. I hope that by the time I have gathered my first few eggs, my chicken anxiety will have subsided. At least, that is, until I begin to worry about how I will tend to them in winter.
If I don’t pick up my chickens in twenty days, I will never know what chicken keeping will bring. I will only continue to dream of the day that hens would populate my yard. If I let my fears stand in the way, I will miss the moment. If we come to the table with what we have, I do believe that must be better than staying behind.
Please keep a good thought for my chickens and all those who have gone before, for students that have anxiety about giving speeches, for all of the children waiting to know what their futures hold, and for all of our fears in hopes that they may become our opportunities.