Hen House lessons
Last summer, we adopted 12 Guinea fowl. Birds so odd, they are beautiful. They arrived as little babies, just a day old. For the first two weeks, a friend took care of them while we were away. She cleaned a lot of poop and I owe her forever.
In the weeks they were in a nursery brooder and cage in our garage, I spent a lot of time watching them. I spent hours cleaning out the cage and even more hours worrying about cleaning out the cage.
To clean, I had to grab their wild little selves and move them to a second cage. Twelve of them. One by one. And though I am no hawk and I sing to them softly, their instinct was to fight and fight. When the cage was clean and they we’re back in there eating and chirping and scratching and craning their long necks, Maria and I would sit and watch them. In the late evening I did it alone. They are relaxing to watch. Especially glass of wine in hand.
As I watched them exercise their wings one night, it hit me hard: As a new mother, I am neurotic, over-thinking and by-the-book. No freaking wonder Maria’s early days — the days of no sleep and cracked tatas — left me fried. Frita. For years.
Every time one of these birds took a wet poop, I worried. And, I checked the Internet. I did that when I had a human infant too. I didn’t want to put the birds in a wire-bottomed cage because well, would they be comfortable? When a few of them showed a love for eating wood shavings from their bedding, I called the Farm Depot.
Me: “They are eating the wood shavings. What do I do?”
Farm Depot Guy: “Don’t put any in there.”
Me: “Will it hurt them. Will they die?”
Farm Depot Guy: “Nah. They’ll eat rocks.”
Me: “Their water is getting really dirty. Do you have a hanging waterer I can buy?”
Farm Depot Guy: “Why don’t you just put it up on a few bricks?”
I’m the typical new mother. I want it perfectly and clean. I want to buy my way to success. Farm Depot guy is like a mother of 4: Secure, natural, going with what feels right. No need for gadgets.
When Maria and I went to the Depot one afternoon to get a new feeder, we told Farm Depot Guy we were training the birds to come to us by giving them millet. It is Guinea crack and it makes it easier to get them into the coop at night. Read that in a Guinea-training book, I explained to him as he stared at me.
“Well, you do what you want, but I say that’s a waste of time and millet,” he said, dismissing me.
I got that same “she’s totally loca” shrug when I told older mothers I pumped breast milk for eight months. Waste of time.
Oh, can I tell you how many nursing, feeding, playing, discipline books I have read? How many failed exercises and theories? Waste of time.
My husband built a gigantic nursery for the birds, one that got us through until they moved to the coop at three months. I sent him about 10 links with pictures and designs for castle-like coops. “You’re a little obsessed,” he said.
And when I showed him an 8 x 8 x 8 shed at the hardware store and told him it would be the coop of my dreams, with plenty of roosting space for each of the children, he looked at the price tag and rolled his eyes. You don’t even want to know how I color-coded my Baby Bargains book.
When I step outside of my own Mami mania and perfectionism, I can see myself clearly. I can laugh at myself, tell myself to relax and enjoy the moment. (I credit lots of therapy for this…) I saw my crazy while I sat and watched the Guineas that night.
My daughter has taught me a lot about myself too. Parenting moments of success and dismal failure have added perspective and depth I would not have had otherwise. I look back and cringe at my “by the book” moments — everything from sleep issues to toddler tirades. But, taking stock of those early days of parental over-thought, going with my gut are what seem to offer me the most glittering in-the-moment experiences. It is when I let go that all feels good and falls into order.
I will not have the benefit of becoming a no-longer-phased-by-much-mother-of-many-children. So, my kid and my birds — and any other creature who comes to live with us — are pushing me forward. Reminding me that, really, all it takes is a little warmth, safety, food, fun, and love. A little bit of “cojelo con el take it easy.”
If we eat a little bedding along the way, whatever.