Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lessons from Henny Penny

Lotte, one of the Jaerhons, takes her worry cues from me.
There are some days where I can take my time with the chickens in the morning. I let them out into the yard, toss them some scratch (because they are standing around expectantly), tidy up their coop, change their water and check their food, then visit with them. I'll pick up random windblown debris from the yard, look to see if the lilacs are budding yet, and chat with Mabel while she follows me around with her inquiring clucks. It gives me a pause to gather my thoughts and my plans for the day, to ground myself after the rush of getting the girls off to school.

But yesterday morning, I was waiting for a phone call for a project I'm working on, and that meant a hurried and very business-like trip to the coop. First, I made a hurried check on the young chicks in the bathroom breeder. Then I ran out to the coop: Chickens out, fed, watered, then back to the house.

They scattered to get out of my way, squawked a bit more, and went from being a happy flock to being a bit on edge--my edginess translated to "be afraid, be very afraid" to them. In their hen minds, they assumed I was acting like Henny Penny because the sky was falling.

That crazy morning turned into a hectic afternoon. Instead of visiting with the girls when they got home from school, I rushed L over to a friend's house, took M to a physical therapy appointment, then rushed home and picked up something at my mother-in-law's house, before throwing on exercise clothes and rushing out the door to strength ball class. By 7 pm, I was on my way back to the house, picked up the girls, stopped at the grocery store, then headed to a 7:30 4H meeting.

I felt boxed in and edgy, and they bickered and sniped in the car on the way home. When we got home at 8:30, I hadn't eaten dinner, hadn't tucked in the hens, hadn't said hello to K, and hadn't had time to hear the girls--to really listen to what their day was like.

I grouchily told them to hurry upstairs and get ready for bed, then grabbed a quick bite to eat while venting the day's frustrations on K.

But once things slowed down and I was able to take a deep breath, I saw that I'd been flying around as mad as a wet hen. It reminded me of the hens' reactions that morning--how my hurried worries caused them to worry. Likewise, my busy chaos had bubbled over and become the girls' busy chaos, and they became as grouchy and flustered as me.

The sky was not falling, and I needed to quit acting like it.

I knew I needed to stop, take a deep breath, ignore the messy house and the emails and the next plotted point on the schedule, and go catch up with M&L... to just be with them in an unpressured, unscheduled way.

I realize that some days will be like that. There will be quiet, relaxing days, and there will be crazy-making scattered days. But I tend to forget that if I meet scattered with flustered and frustrated exasperation, it will only escalate and rub off on the girls.

I thanked K for listening and for putting the hens in the coop, then went upstairs to tuck the girls in and reclaim some calm. I shooed Henny Penny away, took a deep breath, and entered the upstairs friction with as much calm as I could muster. "The sky," I said to them, "is not falling."

Their blank looks made me laugh. And my laugh made them relax. It's funny how something as untouchable as a mood can create a visible reaction--in hens and in humans.

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