Tag Archives: children

Flightless Birds

By Kate

We are in the midst of a February thaw. The backyard is a sea of mud and ice. This morning, four geese flew fast and low, soaring above the sugar maple. I wondered if they knew which direction they were going. I imagine it’s a confusing week for a goose. A few days ago the world was subzero, frozen solid in an arctic chill, and now a false spring has awoken birdsong and melted the ice into the aforementioned, ever present mud and muck.

Beneath a slate grey sky, my children process through the mud with a blue umbrella and climb upon our chicken coop which stands six feet high, chickenless, strewn about with lumber and fencing. It will be finished this spring, my husband says.

I grew up in the country and I live and raise my children in the city. I never imagined I would do this. When I was growing up and visited towns I pondered how it must feel to grow up hemmed in on every side by concrete and structures and people everywhere. I never really felt I could breathe until we hit city limits on the way out of town. At home, on the roof of our barn, I felt like I could fly.

My mother grew up on a farm in Iowa where the green soybean fields of the former prairie roll out to an infinite horizon. She climbed high into the rafters of the barn and the cottonwood tree. She married my father and they settled on a small farm on a ridge in Wisconsin and she wanted to raise children who were free, and she did, nine of them.

I live on a high ridge in the heart of a city. From our front porch you catch a glimpse of skyscrapers through the trees. Helicopters soar to the hospital on the hill above our home. I am trying to raise children in the city who feel rooted in the land and also free. I do not know how to do this. I do think that having chickens helps.

In Pittsburgh, if you have a bit of a backyard, you can have five chickens or two mini goats. You can have a beehive.  I am so grateful for that fact. The idea that you can live in the city but have your kids doing farm chores warms my heart. We used to have chickens, five of them, and hearing them clucking and scratching in the backyard and hauling hay in the back of the van felt like home. We had a small, stylish, well built coop. Unfortunately, the size of the coop made me feel sorry for the birds, who were trapped in such a small space, not free range at all, definitely caged in and totally miserable. This is where things went wrong.

I felt sorry for my caged birds, and so I set them free. Sadly, I neglected to actually fence the backyard. I optimistically figured the hedge would contain them, which it did, briefly, but soon they had figured out how to squeeze through it and out into the alley, out onto the city streets. “A chicken is wandering Fisk Street!” I read on a neighborhood email, while deeply immersed in writing projects inside my home. My heart dropped, and I raced out to search for my chicken. This happened more times than I would like to admit.

The cold sweat, heart pounding, public humiliation of searching for escaped livestock was actually a familiar one, for the farm I grew up on was somewhat short of fencing, and what fencing there was tended to be rather creative in nature. The children were free, and more often than not the pigs were too. A full grown pig is 7 feet long and weighs 700 lbs and can run surprisingly quickly. Pig chasing was the closest I got to athletics during my bookish childhood.

When my chickens weren’t wandering the city streets, they were roosting on the back porch. They stared balefully through the window at me. Their soft clucks took on a sinister tone. One day, a chicken strolled into kitchen. Right about then, my husband decided it was time to take a break from raising chickens. Send them to your friend on the farm, he said. I’ll build you a real coop, with a fence.

That was three years ago. We hope to finish the fence and get chickens this spring. The new coop has risen slowly, but it is sturdy and solid, strong enough for my children to climb upon the roof and gaze down the ridge, over the valley, across the river. Strong enough to feel like they could fly.

Christmas, Children, and Snow: Who could ask for more?

Christmas has come and gone now.  The snow lingers on and so do I.  Whether I am running out in the cold air or curled up on my bed reading, I’m enjoying every moment at home.   One of the greatest gifts of being at home this winter has been getting to know my nieces and nephews better.

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I’m known as “the baby-hater” (thanks for the nickname, Raph) in our family.  It’s not that I dislike children, really.  It’s that I think they tend to dislike me.  Besides, when it comes to being an aunt, I feel a bit inadequate in comparison.  Auntie Mary and Auntie Clare not only sounds better than Auntie Colleen, but those two really have a passion for children.  Clare and Mary can and do spend entire days with our nieces and nephews and come out beaming, with children clinging to them, laughing and begging for more time spent with them.  I’m the aunt who comes and visits and plays…for about 10 minutes,   I can run 10 miles and be chipper by the end, but playing tag with a group of small children makes me want to take a nap.

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I really do love my nieces and nephews, even though I don’t have the endurance to keep up with them for long.  Yesterday, Gabriel and Aurora and company visited for Christmas Day.  It was so easy for me to run up to my darling god-daughter, Antonia.  With her huge smile and indiscriminate love, she is so easy to love.  I sometimes struggle with the older ones, Claire, Adeline, and Thaddeus, who aren’t content to just sit in my lap and smile and laugh as I bump them up and down.  But yesterday, I found myself snuggled up on my bed with Claire and Thaddeus watching Downton Abbey.  The afternoon sunlight glinted off of Thaddeus’ eyelashes as hes lowly started to drift off into sleep and Claire was warm and solid next to me.  And I realized that I love these kids so very much.  I may not be the best aunt in the world, but I’m trying.

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That was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received, just spending time with the little ones.  I’ll do my best to be there for you, little nieces and nephews, but please excuse me if I sneak off for a break every now and then.

 

The Youngsters

By: Clare

I’ve always loved being around little kids. For many, many reasons. Little children are like fresh air in a tightly packed space.

This brings me to the subject of my beautiful nieces and nephew. I look forward to each and every time I see them.

This picture is blurry, but I couldn’t resist the joy on Adeline’s face as she models my mom’s vintage band hat.

We always have so much fun.

But the really special events are the overnights.

Because they understand my obsession with pajamas.

Uncle Cale doesn’t. He ruins the picture.

Little kids…they’re so darn cute.

And yes, of course, my 4-year-old nephew is gleefully holding my brother’s machete. What else would it be? He told me he’s gonna protect me from the pirates with it. What would we do without him?

Until next time,

-Clare-