Summer is quickly approaching, and with summer comes all the fun activities, trips, and time spent making fun memories with family and friends. As I am sitting here, thinking about all the memories of what our family has done over the years, I can’t help thinking about one of the kids’ highlights of the summer. The week of summer camp! For pretty much the last 20 years, I have directed and planned a week of summer camp each year.
Then my mind quickly flips to the opposite end of the spectrum. The 4 days of Hades. (That’s what 4-H stands for,you know. Oh, I’m just kidding. Actually, it was more like the two weeks prior to the 4-H Fair. Especially having four kids involved. It really wasn’t that bad, but it was stressful. Being homeschoolers, 4-H was a big part of our yearly schooling. We would have tons of projects… each kid would end up with about 5 projects each year, so times that by 4. That’s 20 projects each year to register at fair!
Each year we would ask the kids, “what do you want to do for 4-H this year?” Some would want to do fine arts, another would do photography. The kids would also always want to do the traditional things you think of when you hear 4-H. You know, like farm animals, small pets, etc.
Side note: Silas always wanted to do goats. He had the idea of getting two kinds of goats. He wanted to get fainting goats and screaming goats. He thought it would be funny to have the screaming goats scream, and then the fainting goats would, well…faint. We never did this though. We should have.
Living in the suburbs of Chicago, our choices were limited as to what animals we could allow them to choose from. So cows, pigs, and even goats were kind of off the list. What we could do was dogs, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and with pushing our luck with local ordinances, chickens.
Okay, I have to pause and lay out a warning here. Working with some animals can be challenging, and the unexpected can happen. So with that said, if you have a weak stomach or can’t handle life and death situations, you may want to stop reading, though the story is somewhat humorous.
Okay, so now that we have that out of the way, we can go on. One year, my kids and Chrissy thought it would be amazing to do chickens. They didn’t want to just get chicks, they wanted the entire experience from hatching them to growing the chickens.
I remembered doing this in second grade, and it was pretty cool. So I said, “Sure, lets do it.” We started to study and read all we could to make sure we did this right. We even sought out advice from other fellow 4-H people who had successfully raised chickens. We did our homework and collected all the necessary supplies we needed for our experiment. Chrissy even printed out charts and graphs that the kids would use to track the process of our eggs.
We cleared a place in the laundry room for a table that we could set our supplies on. We borrowed an egg incubator, got our eggs, and we were set to start hatching! So, every day the kids would take turns logging and charting the process of the eggs. As we turned the eggs each day, the excitement was building for our first sign of the hatching to start.
Finally, the day came… we had a crack in one of the eggs, then what seemed like days afterwards, our first chick emerged from it’s shell. The chick was wet, dark in color and well, pretty ugly. After some time it dried and fluffed up and started to chirp all cute-like. Then one after another they started to hatch.
We thought, we got this. But then the part of doing this that no one talks about happed. We had our first deformed chick hatch. I believe one of the kids saw it first. They came and got us saying, “I think something is wrong with a chick!” Sure enough, this little one had not formed correctly. Everything that was to be on the inside was on the outside. The chick didn’t live, but for a few minutes. Then, we a few more of the same horror show. Out of 12 eggs, we had 8 hatch. Out of the 8 that hatched, we had 3 that were deformed. With the remaining 5 chicks, we had two that were just weak and got sick and had to be euthanized. This was not a very fun thing to do or go through. So, we ended up with 3 chicks. Not a total loss.
So around this time there was a movie that came out called Chicken Run. This was a funny movie about a brood of chickens that want to escape their fate. Here is a description from iTunes:
“This exciting and original story about a group of chickens determined to fly the coop–even if they can’t fly! It’s hardly poultry in motion when Rocky (Mel Gibson) attempts to teach Ginger and her feathered friends to fly…but, with teamwork, determination and a little bit o’ cluck, the fearless flock plots one last attempt in a spectacular bid for freedom.”
Our kids loved this movie, especially Jonah and Silas. Looking back, I believe the boys thought that the methods the chickens used in the movie to learn how to fly were factual.
So back to our chicks, the last 3 were growing nicely and doing great. Chrissy and I had openly discussed taking the chicks out of their pen in the laundry room and moving them to the garage, with the occasional run in the back yard. So we decided to move the chicks to the garage where they stayed in a bigger pen. The kids would take turn going out and tending to them each day.
One warm sunny spring day Tori, Jonah, Silas, and our dog Lily were playing outside as they normally did. We had a long wire dog run trolley system for Lily. The wire spanned about 50 feet from one tree to another, with some slack in it from years of use.
Chrissy was in the house cooking, or cleaning, or something. All was well. An abnormally uneventful and pleasant day so far. At least that is what Chrissy thought, until the back door flew open and Tori ran in uncontrollably sobbing. It was that kind of sobbing that can make any beautiful girl a mess.
Chrissy heard the noise and ran to see what all the commotion was about. As she saw Tori in the standing in the kitchen flailing with emotion, she tried to make out what she was saying, “It’s dead! They’re all dead!”
It was really hard to understand what Tori was saying through her blubbering. Chrissy grabbed Tori ‘s head squeezing her chubby little cheeks and said in that loving yet frantic motherly way “ Who’s dead?” This is about the time the boys came flying through the door wailing. “We didn’t mean to!” By this time, Chrissy is freaking out! She looks at the boys and said “ What did you do?!”
Chrissy thought something happened to Lily. She looked down at at Tori with the mom look. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the look that strikes fear into the hearts of grown men. It’s like moms are equipped with these laser beam eyes that can shoot right out of their eyes and into the depths of your mind.
They scan your deepest, darkest thoughts and memories. Then they look at you like their toying with you, and ask again a question that they already know the answer to. Chrissy spoke slowly and concisely, pronouncing every syllable. She asked “What happened? Still holding Tori’s cheek as moms do when they want an answer. Through the sucking of breath, Tori’s squished little mouth spoke out, “it was the boys!”
Chrissy whipped her head around using that mom super power, scanning their souls. With one fluid motion, she loosened her grip on Tori’s cheeks and stepping towards the boy, she glanced out the kitchen window to see the dog still moving outside. So, she knew nothing had happened to Lily.
She refocused her gaze back on the sobbing boys. Jonah, shaking his head and trembling. He kept muttering “We didn’t know.” Over and over. Chrissy turned her focus to the youngest, Silas. Bending over looking into his face, she said slowly “What happened?’ He looked up at her through his tears and said, “I’m sorry mom, We thought we could teach them to fly.” “Who?” Chrissy said.
Jonah piped up, while sucking back snot, stuttering, “the Ch, the Ch-i-cks.” Chrissy yelled “WHAT? That was our 4-H project! All of you sit down! Now tell me what happened. Jonah spoke, still all sloppy and crying. Without any hesitation he threw his little brother under the bus. “It was Silas’ idea!” he exclaimed pointing at Silas.
When Silas heard that he looked up as his bottom jaw fell open wide and his eyes grew huge. “What?” he said then broke out into tears again. “Calm down.” Chrissy said. Now “What happened?” she asked again. This time Tori spoke up. “The boys “ Now Jonah’s mouth was wide, catching flies in unbelief that he was lumped in with Silas.
She continued “They were playing with the chicks, when one of them said, ‘let’s teach them to fly.’ Then… She started to cry again. “They pulled back Lily’s line, (the dog run line) and put the chicks on it and, and, and….”Silas interrupted, blurting out “We let it go!” he broke out into fresh tears. Now Jonah jumped im. “And now they’re dead!” then he started to bawl.
Chrissy looked at them and told them that what they did was not a good choice and explained that they were not big enough to do something like that. She explained how big of a deal it was to have something like this happen and that these chicks depended on them to be safe. She told all three of them that they would have to have a formal burial for the chicks in the back yard when dad got home.
Then she asked, “Where did you guys ever get the idea that the chicks needed to learn to fly? Let alone using lily’s dog run as a sling shot?”
Silas said “Well, you know that chicken movie we watched?” Chrissy looked at him, all confused. Jonah jumped in, “Yeah the one where the chickens didn’t know how to fly, remember?” Chrissy was still not placing the movie. “Okay so what about the movie?”
Tori said, “ The chickens needed to learn how to fly so they could escape from being killed by the farmer.” “Okay, so what does that have to do with this?” Chrissy asked. Silas said, “We wanted the chicks to learn how to fly, so they could escape if they had too!” Chrissy said, “But why did you sling shot them off the dog line?” Jonah said, “ That was how they did it in the movie!”
Chrissy then started to understand that the last few weeks of hard work, hatching the eggs to raising the chicks for our 4-H project was just lost, all because of a kids’ movie that we watched. I think that’s when Chrissy started to cry.
Side Note: There was still hope– we had one chick left. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive for the fair either.
This is the life of a Hunter. Good, bad or indifferent we look at what happened, and try to learn from whatever it was that happened, and thank God for the lesson. We have a few of these 4-H stories that you will hear soon. I may even tell the heartbreaking story of Tori’s 4-H rabbit, and how we accidentally discovered that a Goo Gone and Shout Stain Remover mixture can be deadly for rabbits locked in a laundry room.