Thursday, January 5, 2017

On The Farm

Advice We've Been Given By People Who Know Their (Chicken) Shit:

-Do not name your chickens. (We did.)
-Prepare yourself to see at least one of your chickens die a horrible death. (We didn't.)
-In the event that your own dog kills one of your chickens, tie the dead chicken to your dog's collar until it rots, dissuading them from killing again.  (No.)

The first chick we lost, we buried in a small, intimate ceremony in the front yard.  Willy was three days old, had no eyes and had been nursed by hand since we got her the day after she hatched. Aidin mourned for the rest of the day, reminiscing over the cute things she had done, including that one time she cocked her tiny head to the side as though she was concentrating on what he was saying.  It was a sad day, having put in a lot of care only to see our efforts fail.  Aidin picked flowers.  There is a small rock that serves as her headstone.

For the subsequent twenty chickens we lost, there was far less ceremony.

No-Eyed Willy: Illness.
Chicks 2-4: Neighbor's German Shepherd.
Chick 5: Illness
Chick 6: June (Our German Shepherd)
Chickens 7-9: Unknown predator.
Chicken 10-14: Unknown predator.  Left no trace.
Chickens 15-18: Unknown Predator.
Chickens 19-20: Unknown predator.  Left an explosion of feathers and, several yards away, a head.
*Chicken 21: As of an hour ago, still alive. Torn to shreds, currently in our bathtub but not expected to make it through the day.

Just to be clear, we began with thirty chickens and now we have ten (the realist in me is saying nine).  We have a strong, sturdy coop of chain-link fencing around a cement foundation and still, whatever is getting them is undeterred by barriers and is, perhaps, magic.

The loss of our first few chickens was rough, but there is a gradual desensitization that comes with living in the country. Well that's sort of a lie. I mean, I bawled when my cat Smith died suddenly a few weeks ago, but he was cute and cuddly and liked being held like a baby.  Chickens are basically impotent raptors. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for them. They're given zero survival skills, can't even fly, yet somehow they're made it this far. But they're not my pets. You might totally love your chickens!  You might put your chickens in cute sweaters.  Your chickens might have their own Instagram accounts and that's totally cool.  To each their own.

Now, that said, yesterday morning when Cole opened the back door and said, "Mom there's a chicken head out here. Did you know?"  Something in me really snapped.  These are my chickens.  I raised them.  I got them through their first laying, when they were all like "OH GOD WHAT'S HAPPENING??" And I was like, "You're becoming a hen.  That's an egg."

My point is, I don't want them suffer and I certainly don't want them to die.  So now we go to war with whatever the hell is decimating my flock. Traps are set and we're ready. Dear God,  Please don't let it be a weasel.  How boring. Or a skunk, for obvious reasons.  What would I even do with a skunk in a trap?  Oh boy. I honestly didn't think about that until right at this moment. Anyway,  this is what living in the country gives you.  All these hard lessons to learn, a certain familiarity with death and occasionally, the rare opportunity to call into work with the excuse "A chicken emergency."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's Like Falling

Oh man.  It's weird being back in this space.  Doesn't hardly feel like my own anymore.

It was when the rain season came.  That second typhoon season in Okinawa.  It just did me in. Dan was in Hong Kong I think.  Typhoon season in Okinawa means that it rains daily for a couple months. But not just rain.  Torrential downpours.  Wind advisories.  Staying indoors all day every day.

It's so easy to fall apart and I did during that second typhoon of my second year in Okinawa.  The electricity went out for a few days, so the AC was dead.  It was something like 90 degrees, 2000% humidity.  The boys were asleep.  I sat in the front room watching my Nissan Cube vibrating up and down in the storm, afraid that if I turned away it would flip over.  I was willing it not to. For hours I sat there watching it.  My skin was crawling.  I thought about walking outside. I imagined walking into the sea.  I imagined jumping off a building.  I imagined being dead.

Instead I left.  I took the boys and left.   I had so much resentment towards Dan by then.  It crept up on me.  The frequent moves, the isolation, the difficulty finding employment or continuing my education... I was subconsciously heaping blame upon him for a lot of things, many of which were out of his control.  So for the next year Dan and I communicated through lawyers and stiff emails about child support.  I got an apartment in my hometown.  I got a job. Through it all he remained so infuriatingly civil.  The audacity of his love for me was appalling.

By then I knew I'd made this monumental mistake, but I was so loyal to it.  So determined to see it through.  I stood at the top of a building shouting HEY I'M REALLY GONNA DO THIS.  I'M REALLY GONNA JUMP!

That's what it felt like.  Like falling.  And only one person seemed to care and I hated him for it.  You've made a fuss.  People are watching.  You're flailing and screaming and causing a scene and at some point you have to suck it up and die already. You jumped!!  No one pushed you! Why all the ruckus?!

This is hard to write.  This is hard to think about.  I hate thinking about that year.  Those days were

I still hate myself a lot of the time.  Not as much as I did then, but a fair amount.  Like if I were in the hospital a doctor would come in and say, "Great news, loser.  Your self loathing has dropped from 80% to 30%."  I've never prescribed to the notion that everything happens for a reason, nor am I grateful for that year because it led me to where I am (which is a wonderful place despite the somber tone of this post).  No.  I would do a million things differently.  I would take it all back if I could.

It's funny though.  I threw myself off a building. (Made a bunch of huge mistakes/ hurt people I love/ messed my life up for a while.  Not sure how clear this metaphor is anymore.) I made a big show of it.  But I didn't die.  I hit the ground and it was embarrassing.  People watched me falling and had expectations and I'm still here.  How humiliating, right?? But humiliation is mighty humbling and I needed it.

This is where I tell you what I learned

It took that year to realize that I can't trust myself sometimes.  I'm prone to selfishness, vanity and self-sabotage.  As a result I have to question my motives a lot.  I have to question other people's motives.  Which is probably why I don't let many people into my life anymore. It's just easier.  Dan and I bought a farm in the middle of nowhere Southern California.  We just celebrated our twelfth anniversary.   I'm clingy now.  I cling to him, cling to my family, cling to this life I've managed to salvage despite myself.

Falling is scary.  It feels good to have both feet on the ground.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Things That I Forgot To Do

I was in bed, sick and useless,  basically all weekend. It had been building for a while. Last week I started to feel tired.  Overwhelmed.  Pulled too thin like a rubber band just before it snaps.  At work I say yes to basically any new project I’m offered, both because they’re interesting but also because I don’t want to miss any opportunity to learn a new skill.  At home I try to cook all the meals and pack all the lunches and go sledding and do laundry and make sure homework is done and fingernails are clipped and no one’s watching too much TV.  Sometimes I'm even social with other adult humans! (Hi mom!) And because I’m me I want to do all of this without any help from anyone, ever.  But even when I’m managing it all, I somehow still feel like I’m floundering.  Most nights I lay in bed and think about the things that I forgot to do.

I vented all of this to a friend last week, who assured me that I was a great mom. 
“I know I’m a great mom.” I replied.  “I must be with all this crushing guilt I feel all the time.”
I was half kidding, but half not.  I really do feel guilty most of the time, and it’s exhausting. 

Even as the progressive term "modern motherhood" is thrown around, the subtext continues to encourage a selflessness that to me seems both impractical and unattainable.  I think women have the unfortunate, inherited propensity of treating motherhood as a form of martyrdom; As though your success as a mother were measured solely by what you’ve given up.  Last year when I flew from Japan to the US for a week without my children, I had several friends comment that they were shocked that I was “leaving” my kids on their first day of school.  Mind you, they were with their father, safe and cared for, and it was the first time I had gone anywhere alone in more than five years.  Instead of a community of support and compassion I was faced with judgment and criticism.  

In the face of all this turmoil I reflected back on my own relationship with my mother.  It has never been solely her physical proximity to me that offered comfort, but her emotional availability.  I know that if I need her, she’ll be there. I don't need to hear her say she loves me for me to know without a doubt that I am loved.  When I was younger and she was in grad school she was very busy, but I never felt angry about that. I felt proud of what she was accomplishing. When she would on occasion go out with friends, or date, or go on trips, I never felt bitterness or abandonment. I felt a freedom to live my life knowing that she had one of her own.  She used to host Mardi Gras parties with all our friends and neighbors, and after I was ushered to bed in the early morning hours I remember lying there listening to her laughing, and I felt happy because she was happy.   

There’s this thing that parents say sometimes when explaining something to their children.  “I’m doing all of this for you!”  First of all, it’s a weird thing to say. It’s too much responsibility to place upon the shoulders of a child.  Second, it’s bullshit.   It’s a way to avoid responsibility or justify your decisions, because surely if you’re “doing it all” for someone else, then you’re absolved of personal accountability. So following that logic, if you go through life unhappy and unfulfilled, hey, you did it for your kids.  If you don’t accomplish what you want to in your lifetime, surely your children's success will negate that failure, right? THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Someday your kids will grow up and they will see you for what you are.  Not some perfect saint, but a flawed human no different from them.  They will not buy into this whole martyr thing then, if they ever did.  They will know of the sacrifices you made for them, but wouldn't you rather they remember the sound of your laughter?  Wouldn't that be more of a comfort and inspiration?  

We all know in theory that it takes a village to raise a child, but as a mother it’s hard to relinquish control to your village.  It’s hard to let other people, even family, help you raise your children.  It’s been hard every snow day in the past month to rely on friends and family to check on and entertain the boys while I work.  It will be hard to watch them get on a plane without me this summer. Alternately, it can be hard to withhold judgment when we see someone else seemingly doing this mothering thing with more ease, more help or more grace than we feel we have.  Motherhood is tough enough without all the outside influences and subliminal messages we're bombarded with on a daily basis.  Don't feed the machine.  It's broken and outdated and turns women against each other. We all mother differently.  Our children will be brilliantly diverse, isn't that great??! 

 I constantly find myself slipping back into this mindset of feeling like I should value certain ideals that I just don't.  So I get very silent and listen to myself.  I tune out the voices criticizing me for wanting a different kind of life.  I'm immensely lucky to have this village, so I'm going to let them help me.  I'm going to try to lead a life that I love, and in turn give my kids what they need, which is me, happy. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Want and Will

Growing up I was taught that God heard and would answer all of my prayers.  True, the answer might not come in a way I expected or hoped for, but it would always come.  A LOT of my childhood was spent in prayer.  I prayed in the morning and every night before bed.  I prayed at church.  I prayed at dinner. I prayed when I did something wrong, looked up at the sky and imagined God's all-seeing eyes on me, full of disapproval. I prayed when I did something right, felt prideful, then guilty.  I prayed for my pets, my teachers, my family and my friends. However, in true human form, I mainly prayed for myself.

"I cannot find my shoe and I have looked everywhere. Please find my shoe."
"Melanie is a horrible tranch.  Please make her be nice to me.  Or die. But only if it's her time."
"Please make Zach want to go out with me."
"Zach does not want to go out with me. Please make Zach move. Or die. But only if it's his time."

 Yeah, I was fairly terrible. But then most children are. Children are only able to see a very finite future for themselves and that makes them careless and impatient. They cannot imagine the myriad of unforeseeable events that will shape and change their lives.   A child does not see the danger in becoming too attached to the idea of a thing or a person.  They want what they want without a thought as to why or what the consequences might be. A child with severe allergies would happily reach for the very thing that might kill them without an adult nearby to stop them.

So I was that kid who wanted so much, so fiercely.  I bowed my head and fed my desire to the sky and called it prayer.  Over and over I did this, until I reached adolescence, when I began that awkward journey into adulthood and constant praying was discarded along with all the other silly kid ideals I'd once held.  But unlike my belief in prayer, my faith in wanting never wavered. I started to look like an adult and speak like one, but the desire remained. Even when I felt like it might kill me, I let it linger.  My one last silly kid vice.

I'm thirty now and I only recently started to pray again because I radically redefined what that meant to me. I still deal mainly in supplication, but it has taken on the form of introspective meditation rather than pleading for specific things. It's my way of releasing the want.  Reminding myself not to be taken by the idea of things or people or places.  It's a constant clash between that reactive kid who wants so much and the adult who needs to extricate herself from cyclic temporal and emotional traps.  It's tough to detach in this digital plane where there is so much to desire and comparison is currency, but it's a battle of wills and this want has been winning a little too long.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Hard Easy

I once bought an old kitchen table with the intention of painting it white.  I did, but I used the wrong paint so it looked terrible and uneven.  I should have stripped it and started over but I was lazy, so I just got new paint and painted over it.   The paint rippled and bubbled and looked even worse, yet I did that twice more before coming to terms with the fact that this table was a total loss and I didn’t care anymore.  The easy fix had become too hard. Repairing everything I had done to cover up my mistakes seemed too daunting. And somewhere in the dead of night Bob Vila awoke in a cold sweat and shed a solitary tear.

My head has become this manic courtroom waiting for a judge to pound the gavel and call for order.  I can’t stop thinking about that table I left in Japan and how beautiful it could have been had I taken the time and done things right.  I can’t stop thinking about all my mistakes and missteps, caked in cheap paint, quietly bubbling up to the surface no matter how many layers I blanket over them. I look back on the past few months and it almost seems as though I've been in a period of mourning.  Detaching yourself from the image of what you thought your life would be is no easy thing.   I'm not exactly sure how to articulate it, but I have become increasingly aware that I don't feel good.  I feel like a phony somehow. As though these layers have taken on a life of their own and have been running the show.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Gaslight is a 1944 film about a woman whose husband deliberately attempts to make her think she’s going insane. He moves things around, creates auditory and visual illusions and ensures that she is the only one present to witness them.  He flickers the gaslight lamps to frighten her and makes the benign seem sinister and unfamiliar.  She becomes paranoid and confused, often hysterical when things happen that no one around her acknowledges. 

I suspect that’s how it was for my Mormor, or grandmother.  Alzheimer’s moved things around, erased memories and replaced them with smoke and mirrors.  Of course she was sometimes hysterical.  Of course she became angry and paranoid. Her mind was no longer her own, and as the disease took up more and more space she was quickly lost.  I had always thought of Alzheimer’s as a gradual degradation, but hers was swift and merciless; a horrible end to a most spectacularly beautiful life. 

She leaves behind a legacy of strength and elegance. A fierce love for her family and the most unselfish desire to help others I’ve ever known.  She sacrificed so much in her life to ensure the happiness of people she loved, but did not once complain or draw attention to it. 

One thing I keep coming back to was the way in which she carried herself.   Always with grace and the kind of confidence that comes from knowing exactly who you are.  Her illness robbed her of that self-possession and that quiet dignity.  She became angry and increasingly violent.  She no longer recognized the people she had loved the most in her life, and in the end, her brain stopped functioning.  Her passing is a blessing in that she is finally free of a body that ultimately betrayed her. No more smoke and mirrors.  No more flickering gaslight in the night. Just peace.