I’ve been piddling around the house this afternoon, windows open, a gray-scale sky dimly lighting our living room – the wind chimes that King Ranch gave to me gently sing their deep-belly, hollow tune on the back porch. A few birds chirp merrily and in the distance, a riding lawnmower hums. Little Foot is down for his afternoon nap – his little mouth slightly open where when I lean in close enough, I can hear his breath.
I’ve never really been one to just sit and contemplate. My brain is the board game ‘Mouse Trap’ played in 10x fast forward…over and over and over again. But in this strangely still moment, I just absorb. As cliché as it sounds, time really is standing still. This new life. This ranch life. We’re doing it. Our family is doing this thing and I am thrilled. The freeway is no longer our background noise. I have yet to hear a siren. Just mowers. Chimes. Birds. Bliss.
Have you ever let your body fully relax? Try it. Just let your shoulders drop. A little more. Little bit more. Totally let go. Now do the same with the muscles in your face. Your temples. Your brow. Even that little spot between your eyebrows. Separate your teeth to relax your jaw. Try it. There’s always a little farther to go. This is where I am. I imagine that this is how Benjamin Braddock felt in The Graduate while drifting in his pool. This place of stillness and serenity really does exist, y’all. Pure, unadulterated peace.
Suddenly, explosion of terror – chicken squawk and screech shatters the silence. I jump in surprise and run towards the back window to see the source. Black feathers flying everywhere – like a slow motion busted pillow fight. Feathers flying, wings flailing EVERYWHERE. As I get closer, the scramble includes our two dogs – ears, paws, white, and brown fur blurring in all directions. No. Oh god. I’ve left the dogs outside!
“NO!!!!” I scream through the window. “D*MMIT NOOOO!!!!”
Darting around to the back door, I hear Little Foot rev up for a shout – my cursing has woken him up.
I continue into the backyard – it’s a war zone. Feathers. Fuzz. More feathers. They’re scattered from fence to fence. “DOGS!” I scream. They come running around the house, tails down, their claws scratching as they scatter across the pavement. The white dog has feathers sticking out of her muzzle; the brown one violently shaking his head from side to side. Oh god.
Slowly, as if in a movie, the camera pans across the yard, around the large rose bushes lining the fence. I see no victims. Not one chicken. Remember, we have at least seven. There is no squawking. No merry bird chirping. The chimes are still. Where are they?
Returning to the backdoor, the dogs won’t make eye contact with me. They stare at their paws, ears down. Furious, I shuffle them inside griping some sort of dog-related profanity. Little Foot is in a full on scream now.
Sweaty and with my heart pounding, I try to comfort my kid, patting his back with my shaky hand. “I’m sorry, I know I woke you up. Shhh shhh shhh.” After he calms to a coo, I prop him over my shoulder and head back out to the battle-zone. As I pass the dogs, they begin to perk up their ears, “We didn’t do anything! Are you here to love us?” My death stare pushes those faces right back down. Bullies. They were tag-teaming in their attack! My sweet dogs who have never hurt a thing – they were in cahoots! I didn’t know they had it in them!
In the yard, three chickens have surfaced. They seem untouched but they’re oddly quiet and they’re looking at me as if I’ve let them down. Heads cocked. Silent. How could I let this – whatever ‘this’ is – happen to them and their comrades?
Little Foot and I circle the yard twice – looking through bushes, behind pots, under chairs and the other four chickens are nowhere to be found. Surely the dogs didn’t consume them. Consume… Eat… FOOD! Yes! Let me get them food – that will entice the other chickens to come out from hiding (assuming they are hiding.)
Moments after sprinkling feed across the driveway, one by one, the remaining four slowly emerge. Thank goodness, they’re alive! Oh gosh, the battle wounds. They’ve been plucked in various places – some have bare bellies, others patchy necks and backs. These four, brave survivors. They’re alive. But no feathers lie flat. Little spikey chickens. How could I let this happen?
I speak sweetly to them, “Come on, ladies. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I let this happen to you. Here, have some corn and seeds.” I sprinkle more food.
They all seem reluctant. They no longer trust me. I’ve betrayed them. I’m a failure. A chicken-mom failure. I can’t even keep the chickens safe or control my dogs. How am I supposed to raise a kid? Why did I think I could move here and do this? Failure!
Defeated and swirling down a rabbit-hole of self-hatred, I clutch Little Foot tightly and sulk back into the house.
Little Foot begins to fuss – he’s still sleepy having been woken from his nap with my shouts. “Shhh, baby, I’m sorry” I whisper as I rock him back and forth. Poor guy. “I’m sorry, honey, shhh.”
His bright blue eyes with tiny tears begin to blink slowly and more heavily. His breath slows down. In no time at all, he’s back asleep. His body is heavy in my arms. I wonder just how much longer I have that he’ll rest his whole body weight on me. Sweet baby. An angel. A perfect little being lost now in slumber. He sucks his bottom lip. I hear the chimes cling-clang deeply again and notice that the riding lawnmower is still going.
I lay Little Foot back down, pass the dogs – their heads still hanging – and head back to the driveway.
All seven chickens are pecking away at their feed mindlessly and seemingly oblivious to what’s happened only moments ago. They squawk again “Bergock! Bergock!” and look up at me, still hungry. I give them more feed out of guilt. They flutter and chat and bounce as if all is right again in the world. As I back away, they follow – just like before – hoping I’ll throw even more chow down.
There is forgiveness here.
The chickens are pecking away and have moved on. Little Foot is asleep and has moved on. I pet the dogs. They are wagging their tails and have moved on.
I need to remember not to leave the dogs out in the same yard as the chickens. None died. Now can I move on?
I suppose I’ve learned something. See, mistakes happen. Dogs, who in no fault of their own, have instincts and will get left outside from time to time. Babies will be woken up from naps. Chickens will get hurt. And we can either wallow in guilt over our faults or we can learn from them. We can forgive and move on. Share some feed. Some squawks.
It’ll be okay. It’ll always be okay if you let it. Perhaps we spend way too much time beating ourselves up for our faults. We tear ourselves down over the silliest things. One misstep does not define us. If we can just learn to love ourselves for trying – for the adventure – it will make all the difference. And if we can learn to love each other for the same, imagine the world we’ll create. Allow relaxation. Remember those face muscles? Let go.
Breathe. This ranch life. We’re gonna do it.