“Brother for sale: Free. Or best offer.” “No pinching.” “I like ketchup on my ketchup.”
The T-shirt industry has been making a killing off American children for decades now. But I always felt like the industry was missing a big winner: “I survived bad parenting.”
Ideally, this would come in large or extra-large. And mom would not still be the one washing it.
Partly because it is the end of Lent. I am pretty sure that Jesus died not only for our sins, but also for our stupidity. It’s kind of umbrella coverage for the whole crooked house of cards we call our lives.
But I am also reminded of it every Easter because that’s when baby chicks go on sale at the local farmers’ co-op that always smells like feed and fertilizer. Only this time of year, it smells like feed and fertilizer and you hear the sweet little sound of hundreds of baby chicks peeping in tubs under warming lamps.
Out front on the side of the road, the old message sign reads: “CHlCKS ARE lN” — with “I”s that are actually lowercase “L”s because all of the “I”s have been worn out from overuse. (Also covered under the umbrella salvation program.)
Now for children, life presents all kinds of grave temptations such as cotton candy, firecrackers, video games, bad words and slouching. But I am pretty sure there is no dangerous elixir out there as tempting and addictive as “CHlCKS ARE lN.”
Just picking up a bag of grass seed becomes fraught with all kinds of lingering and questions and pesterings.
You know all the arguments. “They eat ticks and mosquitoes!” “You will save a fortune on the scrambled eggs we promise to start eating if you get us chickens!” “They make the best fertilizer!”
For years, I managed to dodge this deadly Easter bullet. Then one year, I decided I would outsmart the children.
I will swerve menacingly into the parking lot of the feed store, screech to a halt and then look at my children with my best Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” crazy eyes and say, “The chicks are in? You wanna buy some chicks, kids? OK, let’s buy some chicks.”
We march right in and buy six baby chicks. Seventh one, free.
The way I see it, this will all make for one very angry mother, endless work at all hours of day and night, piles and piles of bird droppings — surely to be followed by seven violent and traumatizing bird deaths that will scar the children for life.
Or, at least cure them from ever asking for another baby chick at Easter when “CHlCKS ARE lN.”
You might call it a little “game of chicken” between adult and child. Also, you might call it a “dumb idea.” Sure, the “adult” in this case won the game in a technical sense. But
Angry mother? Check. Endless work? Check. Mountain of bird droppings? Check.
There were even some horribly gruesome, violent deaths to be witnessed. Often at the gnashing teeth of our own dogs.
But there is always that one child, who down deep is an unwavering, totally committed yardbird enthusiast. A chicken-whisperer, who dreams of one day building the Taj Mahal of chicken coops. Never met a yard fowl he didn’t fall in love with.
When lightning knocked out electricity and left the baby chicks in the cold dark in the middle of the night, the 11-year-old boy braved his way all alone into the basement and curled up with the featherless fledglings to keep them warm.
After one violent mauling by a family dog, he was distraught and angry. Two birds had escaped the pen. Only one could be saved as the dog charged in on the flapping squawks.
Later, the boy told me — tearfully and angrily — “What made me so mad was that I had to choose which of my chickens to save!”
But, he brightly pointed out a moment later, the one he happened to save on that terrible day turned out to be “Sweet Pea,” the guaranteed hen that miraculously transitioned into a highly vocal and obnoxious rooster.
Sweet Pea and two very long-suffering — but producing — hens have survived. If anyone has ever belonged in the #MeToo Hall of Fame, it is those two poor hens.
But they are much loved and well cared for by a devoted young human.
Driving home from the feed store this year with seven more baby chicks peeping from their little “to go” box, my victorious son turned to his beaten father and says with boundless optimism: “Dad, I really think we should get some turkeys.”
There is always next Easter!