Working, not working


My kids are used to seeing me tapping away at my computer keyboard. When they were tiny it didn’t mean much to them, but now they understand that writing is my job, and when I am on the computer, I am often working on a column. It was an amazing shift when recently the sight of me typing caused them to stop mid-shout (“Maaaa–!”), turn and go ask their Dad for help instead.

The other day, I was sitting in the den staring at my laptop’s screen when my daughter quietly walked up beside me. I had intended to begin working on this very column, but I was tired, uninspired and had started researching heritage chicken breeds instead, because, well, that’s the kind of thing I do when I am a little grumpy and avoiding work.

“Mama!” my daughter gasped indignantly from just behind my shoulder, “you aren’t writing your column, you are looking at chickens!”

“Weeeeelllll… maybe this is for my column,” I said slyly. “Maybe I am writing about chickens,” which, I reasoned silently, was actually a good idea seeing as I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. Writing about spring and baby chicks was as close to spring and baby chicks as I was going to get for a few more months.

“Mama,” my daughter said, glaring at me through squinted eyes, “looking at chickens is NOT writing.”

She had me there, so I switched tactics. “What do you think of these?” I asked next. “Do you think we should get some?” I said, pointing to the fluffy-headed Crevecoeur hen I was perusing.

“No! Too creepy!” she exclaimed as she tucked up her knees to perch beside me. I could see what she was saying as we watched a closeup video of a flock of Crevecoeurs hunting and pecking, their showy feathered hairdos jerking and fluttering with each darting head motion. The resemblance between these chickens and tiny dinosaurs was uncanny. Their elaborate, extra-fluffy feathers seemed to accentuate their reptilian qualities by somehow making them look like two-legged lizards in shoddy disguises.

Just then my son walked in, no doubt drawn by the telepathic knowledge that his sister was getting screen time when he wasn’t. “What are you doing?” he asked, sitting down on the chair’s other arm. He immediately started laughing with glee at the sight of the wacky chickens in the video.

“What do you think of these hens?” I asked him.

“I love them!” he replied, still laughing.

“I think they are too weird.” my daughter said stoutly, leaning back, arms crossed.

“How about these?” I asked, toggling back to Buckeye, a much more traditional-looking chicken, and the other breed I had been reading about.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Those are the ones I liked!”

How convenient, I thought, grinning to myself since those were the two heritage breeds listed as endangered by the Livestock Conservancy that also happened to be available at a small family-run hatchery only a few hours away. I’d already decided chickens would make a fabulous 4-H project, and raising an endangered breed would be a good social service project. My plan was to choose just one breed, but maybe each kid having their own wasn’t such a bad idea. The little red barn and barnyard behind our new house could easily be equipped with two different chicken pens.

Suddenly, my daughter remembered how we’d all ended up sitting crowded in a pile looking at rare breed hens in the first place, and leaned across me to address her brother: “Mama is supposed to be writing her column, and instead she is looking at chickens!”

Her brother immediately started laughing again. “Mama!” he shouted, his voice full of jolly accusations.

I started laughing too. “Well, now I do have a column to work on. You both helped me, and it’s already finished — I just have to write it. And it IS about chickens, by the way,” I said.

Both kids looked at me quizzically. I just smiled, shooed them away and got to work writing this.


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