Angela Barnett hails from Taradale and her tūrangawaewae is Piha. She's a writer, body image activist, mother, and lover of wigs.
OPINION: On our second night with five baby chicks, we couldn't hear the TV.
"Can you turn down the chickens," said my partner.
Peering into their box I found blood down the spine of one of them while the rest of the brood pecked at the same bloody spot in a frenzy like sharks. It's possible I screamed.
Google suggested tedium was one reason for chick bullying–and could end in homicide. Bored to death! Panicked, we dangled a CD into the box (for pecking), put up some Christmas lights (for distraction) and played Adele (for entertainment).
All was calm when we went to bed, but I was horrified at what the chicks could do to each other, and what I might have to do to sort it out.
At the time I was harbouring a secret: I'm scared of gallus domesticus (which sounds more like a hero found in a Roman gladiator ring). I'm also scared of dark wizards and demogorgons, but the chicken fear seems more irrational. Considering I've eaten at least 2000 chickens in my life, really the chickens should be scared of me.
After our second child was born, we moved to a forest in Northern California. My children hate it when I say that as it sounds like we moved right into a Grimms' fairy tale, so the official line is: "We went to live and work at a summer camp in the Redwoods", but not as fun.
Once there, we wanted a pet, but nothing we'd have to ship home so thought chickens would add to our off-grid, off-the-land (felt like off-the-planet some days) lifestyle. The morning after the box pecking, all five were alive, huddled together like a feather hat. My partner went off for the day, and the kids and I left them alone for an hour, but returned to fresh blood and raw flesh down the spine and neck of the Pecked One.
I wish I could say I behaved like a sane paramedic at the scene of an accident. I squealed.
Our son, who normally burst into tears at the sight of blood, was gawking at his squeamish mother. Our younger child gave a sympathy squeal. I wanted to ignore the horror movie in the box, but my children expected me to sort it.
This was the hardest thing about living in the forest – there was no-one to call. If the generator went off, plunging the bathroom into darkness when the kids were in the bath, you had to fix it. When a scorpion leaped out of the wood box, you had to get it. When a baby chicken was being pecked to death you had to save it.
I was lamenting not getting a cat. At least my patting skills are impressive.
Moving the chicks to their coop–which was ready and waiting for them to get bigger–was the only option, but that meant picking UP the flighty, pecky, flappy creatures; something I had managed to avoid when we brought them home without anybody noticing.We think, when we become parents, we might turn into a grown-up. Those people who seem to have it all sorted. The ones who know how to order butterflied lamb at the butcher, attend to any first aid situation, and get their eyes tested regularly.
But the saying "wherever you go, there you are" is never more apt. The fears and doubts you had before are still there. You're still there. And suddenly you have an audience who is always watching you, and your fears and doubts.
"I'll get them," said our boy, when I announced the chicks had to leave their torture box. The boy who hates blood fastened his quick 5-year-old hands around the torso of the Pecked One, not concerned with the gunky bits of flesh hanging off her back.
When it came to squawky birds, he was braver than me. Fearless! Swooping, cornering, grabbing them one by one. He was the teacher and I was the child as he held the Pecked One and told her to stand tall, don't let the mean girls win.
He settled Hennifer, Hengela, Chicki Minaj, HenHen and Princess Layer in their spacious coop and threatened a cold shower if they kept bullying.
His love of chickens was greater than his fear of blood.
In a flash, my love for him was greater than my fear of chickens.
Amused by my chicken phobia (alektorophobia) my partner said, "Can't wait to see you extract eggs once they're laying."
But by then, with some secret training from the 5-year-old, this grown-up was planning on not being such a chicken.
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