All is quiet. It’s 4:30AM. The boy is asleep. I write. I drink coffee. It’s my favorite time of day, the time when silence fills the soul with enough peace to survive the next twenty-four hours.
At precisely 6:10AM, the hen begins to crow. The boy pops out of bed. “Hi, Mom!”
“Go back to sleep, it’s not time for you to be up.” This is “me” time. It’s the crack of dawn. I was named after this sliver of day. It’s all mine.
“It is time! The chicken’s crowing. That means it’s day.”
I’m not happy with this chicken.
It’s a curious thing, hens crowing. The other day it crowed for the first time. We have eight hens. I didn’t expect any to crow.
“Did you just crow?” She crowed again. That means “duh” in chicken.
“Can hens crow?” I googled.
Google says in the absence of roosters one hen can become the dominant hen. She can learn to crow. It was the hen I picked, the white Americauna I wanted because it lays pretty blue and green eggs.
Cranky is the only hen that got a name. She is not a nice bird. She bosses all the other chickens around. She never comes to me for treats. She crows in my face. She kicks dirt like Billy Martin. She’s mean.
I try extra hard to bond with her–she must be misunderstood–the only plain white chicken in a flock of green-tinted brown and gold birds. One day she took a piece of apple from me. It was a moment of connection–we finally understood each other.
Until she started to crow at 6:10AM, waking Declan. I enjoy the sounds of the country, but do not enjoy a wide-awake 8-year old when I am trying to write.
“Seems you got a rooster,” says my chicken-owning friend.
“No, Google said it’s a dominant hen.” A “trans-hen-der” chicken, someone suggested. “It’s not a rooster.”
Every day at precisely at 6:10AM, I wonder a little bit more if Google could be wrong. “If it bosses like a rooster, crows like a rooster–it’s a rooster,” says my friend.
Sometimes we miss the obvious in the face of all proper evidence. Denial is a powerful thing.
I’m not sure what to do with this I-think-it’s-a-rooster-bird. Even though I’m in the country, I do have neighbors. The new ones to one side have not moved in yet, so they can’t hate me. The ones on the other side share their summer music so loud I don’t mind sharing my rooster a few weeks while I sort this situation out.
That’s not very neighborly but it might be practical.
“Want a rooster?” I ask a rural colleague.
“For coq au vin?” he asks.
Now, I feel guilty. I need to look for another option–a farm, not a crock pot. I’m a vegetarian–I promised these hens a life filled with love and happiness.
Declan got wind of the great chicken relocation scheme and came to Cranky’s defense.
“No, Mom, you can’t give my chicken away…if you do, I will fight you and defend my chicken!”
I’m a bad parent. People eat chicken. School-lunch chicken nuggets are the only meat Declan eats. He once made me tweet the principal to ask about the school’s chicken nuggets school. The ones I made from scratch were “bad.”
Chicken doesn’t grow in buckets at KFC or in blo0d-soaked styrofoam packages at the grocery store. It’s better for Declan to know the truth about where food comes from and to learn to source it properly. These are lessons I teach at school when kids walk in with Pop Tart after sugared cereal.
Declan’s learning this from the farm down the street where the farmer tells him which animals are meat animals and which ones are pets. There’s one cow she promises is a pet. Declan calls it his cow. She is very transparent about the cycle of life and food–it’s an important lesson. If we appreciate such things we will eat better and waste less.
When I was little, my dad brought home lobsters. I thought I was getting new pets. They would be my friends. We raced the lobsters. We played with them.
Then, they went into the pot. It was the kind of childhood memory that sticks with a person and becomes larger than life. I don’t want to do that to Declan with his chicken. He doesn’t yet know that when an adult says an animal went to “The Farm,” it really died a horrific death.
I look at Cranky the Chicken.
It’s funny how in an era where we’re still crusading for women’s rights and equality, males come up on the short end of the stick in other species.
“Do not take my chicken!” said Declan. He has been checking the cage several times a day to see if Cranky is still there.
Yesterday we got our first two eggs. I’m pretty sure they were not Cranky’s, but he blinked twice and took the credit for the girls’ work like a bad boss. They’re cute little eggs, a little smaller than usual–almost too cute to eat.
I thank the chickens. Cranky crows. The farmer down the street has not committed to taking him yet, but I’m still working on it. “Don’t worry, Cranky…you’ll be safe there!” I tell him.
For now, I enjoy our 6:10 conversations, grateful I’m already awake.
“Hi, Mom!” says Declan.
It’s the official start of a new day.