I grew up pre-Facebook. Pre-cell phones. It existed but my parents didn’t (and still don’t) have cable. My summer days began with one of my parents bellowing up the stairs of our old farmhouse before sunrise to irrigate. There were often other chores when we got home. And later, we’d irrigate again in the evening before heading off to play softball or basketball. Don’t get me wrong we had some fun, too. And when it rained, we went shopping. At the time, I resented my town friends who “got to” lifeguard and babysit all summer. But as an adult, I find myself muttering those horrible words, “when I was your age…” to my own children as they get old enough to take on some of the work.
But here’s the problem with raising town kids when you were raised on the farm: taking out the trash is not the same as walking soybeans. Walking the dog doesn’t teach you patience like sorting sheep. Dragging hoses across the lawn can never equal wrestling 10-inch irrigation pipe. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to come up with chores that will teach my children the values and work ethic I was raised on.
This is where Plan B comes in: my children have been hounding us for a full year about getting some animal, preferably chickens, for the little bit of land we do own outside of town. They have drawn sketches of cages and outlined how they’re going to care for them. It was cute at first and later became sort of sad. But like any current-generation parents, we gave in.
Soon, we welcomed more than enough chicks into our lives. My husband knows a little about chickens. I know zilch. So we turned to the local Bomgaars experts and the Internet gods to show us everything we need to know about raising egg layers. Not to mention, these small creatures have also infiltrated my conversations with friends. I never thought I’d be texting a girlfriend to ask about cleaning crusty stuff off a chick. As for their home, we thought it would be easy to transform an old grain shed into a chicken coop. (I should point out that we have a fairly poor track record when it comes to joint projects. They get done but it’s never an enjoyable process.)
Fast-forward past a few lost staples, several four-letter words, a hammer thrown into a cornfield and several articles of paint-splattered clothing. A chicken coop was born. With very little help from our two children, I might add. (Whose idea was this anyway?) It seemed the original plan for making this project teach our children responsibility has gone askew.
In an effort to realign our mission, I take a brief moment to muster up some patience before traipsing out to feed, water and care for our growing flock each day. It makes me wonder if my parents did the same thing to try and avoid blowing their tops over our lack of enthusiasm. In all honesty, our children are enjoying watching their newfound “pets” grow. And they’ve even gotten used to getting the work done. What I realize now is that this newly created lesson on responsibility is really a lesson on creating quality family time. And that has me wondering if maybe that’s what my childhood experiences were, too.
Which ultimately means that all those times I threw muddy reuse pit irrigation water at my sisters, I was really just letting them know I love them, right?