Mike and I had talked about it, but I knew we’d never really get around to doing it.
But this summer, I did.
I told a young friend (my millenial boss, actually, at the time) who was way into vegetable gardening and knowing where his food came from, which I sort of am too, that I was serious about trying backyard chickens. I checked the local regulations and by my calculations my yard is big enough, and the coop would be far away enough from any neighbor’s house.
But it was more than just wanting to try it.
It was a conscious decision to do something that scared me a little. To try something a little wacky. And to not let fear (of breaking rules, or germs, or chicken poop, for that matter) get in the way.
Because far too many of my decisions in life have been based in fear.
Fear of disappointing my parents, primarily. Which guided many of my decisions until I got married, when I finally realized that there was no way not to disappoint my Mom. She was professionally dissatisfied. Don’t try this at home.
When I was about 17 she whinged and whined at me for months about my hair – “oh, you can’t go out like that! Do something about that! Get it cut!”
So I did.
And when I came home from my haircut, literally the moment I walked through the door, she wailed, “Oh, your hair!” Not in a “what a great cut” kind of way. But a “oh my God what have you done” kind of way.
When I started a graduate program that I thought would help me advance in my job, she wailed “oh, but what about your singing? You won’t have time!”
So I quit the graduate program and found a voice teacher.
Whereupon she wailed, “but what about the masters degree?”
So, you get the picture.
Disappointing my Dad was a different matter. The only thing I could do that would really disappoint him was to do something stupid when I knew better. Which I did, with some frequency. And his silent, withering disapproval while he helped me extract myself from whatever muddle I’d made was enough to ensure I’d never try anything like THAT again, whatever it was.
Follow the fear, I was taught that as an improvisor (oh and BTW, at some point or another, if you are between 15 and 75 years old and live anywhere near Chicago, you will have had at least one improv class. Or like me, completed several of the famous improv training experiences and performed improv regularly for a while).
Because fear leads you to the truth, to what’s real, to what is worth exploring. Forces you to get out and try, fail, try again. To live fully.
And losing Mike made me really want to throw away the fear and live, dammit – which will include, I hope someday soon, trying to find a new relationship. But let’s start slow.
Which brings me back to the chickens.
I said I was serious about it, and I was kind of expecting it to take several months to get it together, but by the end of the following week, I had a coop in my backyard, and three weeks after that, mail-order chickens. Pullets, to be exact – because incubating cute little baby chicks really was too much for me.
So, presenting Blueberry, Cookies’n’Cream and Oreo Cookie, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, (aptly named by my young adult on the spectrum) and Rosie, Rusty and Rosalind, my Rhode Island Reds, named by me. Blurry, I know, but they’re fast when they get their evening romp.
Rosie is the runt – the smallest, the feistiest and the first to start laying eggs. Now they’re all in the act, and I’m getting somewhere between two and three dozen eggs A WEEK.
I cannot eat three dozen eggs a week.
So I share them with the young man who built the coop, and I spend a portion of each morning shop-vacuuming chicken poop out of the coop and replacing pine shavings, dressed in my own improvised haz-mat outfit – because it turns out chickens naturally shed salmonella, and I’m still a bit of a germ freak. So gloves, mask and apron. Hand sanitizer and a shower after.
I think Mike would have gotten a kick out of this, but I also know he would not have participated in the maintenance – the cleaning of the coop, the feeding, the water.
So I’m as ridiculously on my own with this as I would have been if he were still here with me.
But don’t think Dad would have been disappointed.