Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Our children do not love our chickens like we love our chickens. They don’t share our pleasure in the beauty of these funny fowl.  They don’t find the humor in their poultriesque profile the way we do, with their oversized breasts, skinny pale white legs, and ungainly gait (the chickens, not our children). We worry about our hens in the middle of a frigid night.  We feel sorry for them when daylight runs short come late October, and think how boring it must be to be so cooped up for so many dark hours.  Pity them after a rainy day around the pen, their bright white feathers  so bedraggled, sodden, and dark with mud. 
When we insist that someone else open their hatch in the morning, we wonder if they greet the chickens with a “Good Morning, Girls!” like we do.  Or, at night, if we can compel someone else to go lock them in, do they wish the hens a “Goodnight, ladies?”  (Don’t think so)  Who else but Bill and I stand rapt as they race down their gangplank, our noses pressed up to the mesh, to study which bits and pieces of freshly dumped compost are considered the choicest morsels?  (No one else.) Doesn’t anyone else in the family get that a simple pizza crust, or the soggy remnants of their leftover cereal, or the skins from a peeled apple can brighten the day of a chicken otherwise faced with scratching around the same patch of barren dirt day after day?  And, by the way, it is not crazy to bring home a restaurant doggy bag for the chickens.  You know the saying:  one man’s leftover salad is a chicken’s feast.
Our children generally tolerate our attitude toward the chickens--except when it involves them.  The open bucket on the counter in which we collect every crumb and scraping and remnant of food is a frequent source of conflict.  “Get it out of here,” Zander commands as he eats his breakfast nearby.  “I can smell it, and I don’t want to look at it.”  Don’t you care about the chickens?  “They are low on my list of priorities right now,” he’ll say.  Sure, they’ll eat those delicious eggs everyday, but what are they willing to pay for those eggs? Too little.
These days, our children are pretty useless for closing down the coop after dark.  Having recently seen a spate of scary movies and having been introduced to the delicious terror of the Ouija board, they will not set foot out near the coop in the blackness.  So it’s me or Bill, unless the kids can be coerced to go as a team, armed with flashlights.  We just can’t risk leaving the hatch open over night.  The chickens are sitting ducks against those clever creatures of the night, the foxes and raccoons.  During the day, should the chickens make a break from their pen, which sometimes happens, it’s as good as serving them on a silver platter to the hawks that find their heads the most delectable part.  (These are some of the ways we went from an original flock of 30, down to six.)
People wonder why we keep chickens?   “Lawn art,” we’ve always said.  They’re beautiful to watch.  We’ve never given them names, as it’s just too hard to discern one from the next.  But there was once one very special chicken who stood out from the crowd.  It was easy.  She was the only one left of her crowd; they’d all been eaten somehow.  read chicken's full story here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


OK.  This is not a scam.   It doesn’t cost anything.  It is not hard. It doesn’t involve extra time.  But it works, and it works really fast.  Take it from Bill and me.   We started this trial last Friday, and by Saturday we saw changes.  At first it was directed at one of our children who was being, shall we say, difficult.  But it was so effective, it made sense to apply it to all three of our kids, and we wonder: why we didn’t figure this out sooner?

The secret to better relations between parents and teens?  Good old fashioned “behavior mod” as psychotherapist Dr. JoAnn Magdoff calls it.  We are doing something called “LISTENING” to our kids. We are not offering unasked for opinions, positive or negative.  We do not make helpful suggestions.  We do not tell them how they can do things better than they’re already doing them. When asked for help in making a choice or a decision, we offer two or three options (all options we’d accept) just like when they were toddlers.  Remember, “Do you want to eat apple slices or carrots?”  “Do you want to wear your purple fleece or your gray sweater?”   “Do you want to take your nap on the bed or the sofa?” We put our kids in control of the decisions they make, while making all outcomes perfectly acceptable ones.

Our kids do not want to hear how we would do something.  They do not want to hear that their plan to meet at this one’s house to go to that place makes no sense.  They do not want to hear that the lunch bag you put their lunch in is more practical than the one they'd rather carry.  Get it?  “Sit on your hands,” says Magdoff.  “Keep your opinion to yourself.”  They will do stupid things.  They will make bad choices, yes, and often.  They will, however, be much more willing to tell you things, show you things, and even ask what you think if you refrain from telling them how what they’re doing is not the best way, your way, or in any way not good enough.

Our kids are opening up to us more.  They're telling us things.   They're in a better mood!  So what if they don't wear a warm enough jacket today? If they are cold, tomorrow they'll make a better choice--without us even telling them to!

How could we not have been doing this all along?

NOTE: Our kids are definitely not following this blog, so the secret of our technique seems pretty safe. Don’t give it away!

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Travel

My work involves travel. It used to be constant. That wore thin. Now I'm more careful about how much I travel and for what reasons. Traveling takes a toll on a family and a relationship and even a carefully monitored schedule can create serious problems. For someone like me who goes on location to earn a living, I have come to realize that distance creates distance. No matter what the means and frequency of communication, being gone creates a gulf that can become a rift.

When our first son, Zander, was born, he and Andrea and I moved about as a compact unit. Accompanied by my photo assistant, we'd move from assignment to assignment throughout the Caribbean and Europe, touching back home between trips to throw in a couple of loads before heading back out to the airport with fresh clothes. By the time Zander was 18 months, we figured he'd been on almost 200 flights. Tucked into a backpack with the sheepskin ("Lambie") that was his bed, Zander slept on floors, under tables, and in corners at some of the finest restaurants my work took me to.

When Simon came along, we simply upgraded from a single stroller to a double. Week after week in hotel rooms, eating out, and being part of a photo crew kept us together as a family, even though we weren't home. "We ARE their home," Andrea told her mother who was concerned about the effect on the kids. We always said our kids became what and who they are because of all the places they have been, the cultures they have experienced, and the people they have met along the way.

By the time Maxie came along, Zander was starting school, and the expense of traveling with a group that size was prohibitive. I did not need to major in Economics (which I did before art school) to know that a job should not cost more than you're paid. The closeness we held dearly as a family had to change. I continued to travel but now it was only me and an assistant. After 13 years of doing it all the time, I had a jarring revelation. Zander fit into a backpack only yesterday and is now applying to colleges, his stroller-mate brother is a varsity soccer star, and little Maxie’s wearing makeup and stressing over what to wear to school. Over the years, I made nearly every soccer, lacrosse, or softball game and felt I was as connected as someone as jet lagged as I could be and the living was a good one for us.

I still love to travel but now, when someone asks me what exciting place I’d just come from, I might still be able to say, the Greek Islands or Patagonia, French Polynesia or Monte Carlo, but I most likely will admit that I’ve been trying to stay home.   I almost always sense a bit of disappointment but while what I do can seem like a dream job, what I like best and what I miss most is being here every morning as they go to school knowing these mornings will soon end.   Then another phase will begin--it'll be Andrea and me back on the road as a unit finishing off the list of all the places we’d love to go or taking on another assignment together.