About a month after moving into our new hobby farm, I told my friend Michelle that I was homesick. The whole hobby farm gig was beautiful but it was also a lot harder than we expected. It felt like we were on an exhausting vacation and I was ready to go home. She encouraged me to make a memory with my children to make our new house feel like home. I mulled over her advice and pondered what we might do throughout the day. At 4:30 PM, quite by accident, we got our memory.
Ten-year-old Gillian burst into the house looking alarmed and breathlessly announced, “I think the neighbor dogs did something to the chicks!” I dropped everything and ran. Sure enough, they had. Seven dead baby chickens were strewn about the yard.
This was not the memory maker I had in mind.
Standing there amidst the kid’s tears, shock, disbelief, and surrounded by chicken carnage, a thought kept running through by mind: I have no frame of reference for how to handle this. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I wanted in that moment to go back to my other life in the ‘burbs. Where we never would even have chickens (or any pets for that matter) let alone worry if a predator would get them. The only animal issue I ever dealt with in my old neighborhood was a nuisance barking dog. But here I was, needing to tend to the feathery mess, tend to my kids hearts, and tend to an awkward situation with my brand new neighbors.
Thankfully the hubby was home. He started digging a grave while Gillian and I searched for a nice big rock for the top. He dug deep so our hole-digging puppy couldn’t get to the bodies. We let the kids watch him dig. We let them ask questions. They were so sad. We hugged them and consoled them and explained animal instincts. Dave called the neighbors to let them know what had happened. They felt awful. We felt awful. It was awkward.
Of course in this day and age an event like this warrants a Facebook status update. Well-meaning friends offered encouragement. Some folks said this was a good opportunity for a lesson in farm living or death or animal food chains. But those lessons were inherent to what happened. The kids could plainly see the chicks were dead and they knew how it had happened and why. They didn’t need a lecture to drive home how sometimes life is rough, especially on a farm. They were experiencing it.
In my heart I sensed there was probably a more meaningful way we could coach our kids through this. I prayed for some assistance in figuring out what that was.
I don’t dare take credit for what the Holy Spirit accomplishes in spite of me. But God has a way of using imperfect people to teach important lessons in life. And when any parenting questions are brought before God, He usually teaches the grown ups a thing or two as well. He proceeded accordingly.
It started when we talked our oldest daughter through how she might handle it when the neighbors came by to apologize, which we sensed they would do. We explained that they never ever meant for this to happen and to try to think about how she would feel if our dog did something like this. It was an accident and they probably felt bad about it. We gave her verbiage and reminded her to be gracious.
It was a lesson in forgiveness and grace.
And when the neighbors came over with their kids in tow and tears in their eyes to apologize, she did great. She smiled and said it was an accident. We reassured them that of course they didn’t mean for it to happen and tried to put them at ease. They sweetly offered to buy us new chickens and we all laughed about how none of us even knew where one buys chickens. Our kids and their kids watched all this play out between the grown ups.
It was a lesson in understanding and empathy.
Later that night when we were tucking the kids in bed we prayed and thanked God for such great neighbors. We talked to the kids about how while it is very sad that the chicks died, the relationship we have with our new neighbors is more important than chickens. That people are more important than animals. Always.
It was a lesson in perspective.
So yes, we did have ourselves a memory and it turns out we got some beautiful lessons in as well. I sensed that some day we and our neighbors would all laugh about the day the dog killed the baby chicks. And we do. Because they are now dear friends.
I am so thankful that God in His wisdom whispered into my spirit to look for deeper lessons. And I am thankful that God made sure I learned these lessons right alongside my children.
RIP: Shoe, Tricky, Isabelle, MacKenzie, Sunshine, Shadow, and Oreo