Annie In My Life

 

The following was printed (The Boise Weekly) on July 20, 2000

Chapter 19

Fowl Tips: Part II

About … I don’t know … I’m guessing 40 times a week now, my kid goes dancing through the house, flopping her arms like she’s signaling a 747 in for a landing on a stubby aircraft carrier, and singing, “Oops! I did it again … ooo, baybee, baybee … I’m not that innocent!”

One day shortly after she got the words down pat, she did it from just after lunchtime until just before “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I thought I’d go nuts. Back when she was four or five, she’d sing “I love you … you love me … we’re a happy fam-uh-leee” for longer stretches than some parents might think healthy, but I could live with that. The Barney Song is sweet, tender, and best of all, it’s not by Britney Spears.

Later, she picked up the “Tomorrow” bug. You know, “The sun’ll come out … two-mawr-oooh … betcher bottom dollar (something somethiiiing).” She sang it a godawful lot and truth is, I’d heard plenty enough of that ditty some years ago when every darn orphan you ran into was belting it out. But I told myself, “Well, at least it’s not by Britney Spears” and I put up with it.

If you don’t know about Britney Spears, check with your doctor because something’s wrong with you. She’s a pop singer and for the time being, she is to pre-teens what Our Lady of Lourdes was to St. Bernadette. I don’t care if you’ve been home-schooling your children in a sound-proof cave, they know about Britney Spears, believe me.

Understand, music is very important to my life. Not as important as eating, mind you, but more important than … say … eating yogurt. And if there’s one true thing I want most to pass on to my pride and joy, it’s my love for those great old tunes—Beethoven, Basie … some Beatles. But does she prance around the house singing, “Sonbern labt uns angenehmere anstimen und freudenvollere?”

Heck, no. “Oops! I did it again … blah blah blah!”

* * *

But … back to my kid’s chickens. Remember? Several weeks ago I told you she’d won 10 chicks in a garden store raffle and we were keeping the cuddly little poopers in the kitchen. We had to, you see. Didn’t have a humane choice in the matter. You can’t put wee chicks straight out to pasture, for God’s sake. They could freeze to death or starve or weasels could eat them. Essentially, bitty chicks are nothing more than balls of lint with an appetite and an anus, totally unprepared for the great outdoors. So we kept them in our house until well after they were able to hop out of their tub and go exploring.

You bet, it got messy. For a while there, I was cleaning out our home twice a day with a leaf blower. My wife was soaking everything from our toothbrushes to our shoes in Clorox. Yuck! But those days are over. The chicks are now chickens and they’ve found a wonderful farm-ish home on my mother’s acreage, where they spend the day scratching ‘mongst the petunias and gorging themselves on earwigs.

It’s worked out well for everyone: my mother, because now she doesn’t have to eat the earwigs herself (hah hah); my wife and I, because we’ve gone back to a more orthodox cleaning regimen; the chickens, because they no longer have to worry about inadvertently wandering into a microwave oven or falling into the toilet bowl; and most of all my daughter, because she has something else to look after. Something to protect and care about and worry over the future of.

Daily, she makes sure they have water. She dishes them out cracked corn when they need a break from earwigs. She sits with them and talks—quality time more so than quantity—and she sees to it that they all have names. We adults call them “the chickens,” but she calls them “Blondie,” “Angel,” “Spot.” Kids can’t stand animals not having names, and I like that. It’s an echo from another time. A time when there was no Pokemon and no “Ultimate Carnage’ video games and no designer labels for pre-teens and no Britney Spears.

Honestly, nothing seems to ground a youngster in a flighty world quite like tending to animals. Give a kid a hands-on communion with a critter—be it a pet gerbil or a 400 pound Yorkshire destined for the Jimmy Dean label—and you have prepared for him a base of understanding, empathy and wisdom. I don’t pretend to know how it works, but I know there is nothing hypothetical or abstract about it. And I know it’s old—probably goes back to when we had fur, ourselves. And I know the farther we get from a first-name relationship with such organic truth, the more messed up we are.

* * *

I think I’ll keep this chicken story going a while longer. There’s more to be said about chickens. Like, how many bugs a chicken can go through in a summer’s time. Or how chickens may well be God’s way of converting earwigs directly into Miracle-Grow. There’s more to be said about things the planning&zoning geniuses ought to consider as they come up with new rules for livestock ownership. And there’s a lot more to be said about what animals can do for a child’s soul.

Fortunately, I think there’s absolutely nothing more to be said about Britney Spears.

July 20, 2000

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