Sunday, January 3, 2010

Like mother, like daughter, like chickens?

I've been too preoccupied with our upcoming chicken zoning hearing to blog - we've traveled, we've been sledding, I let Emily try my cross-country skis, but I've also been researching chicken laws and the zoning hearing process. I've been thinking a lot about a comment a friend made: "You fit in just fine here, you're just a non-conformist."

I like the idea of being a non-conformist; to me that's a compliment, though I'm sure some of my students see me as way too much of a conformist. I live in the suburbs; I have two kids and a husband; I drive a Buick. I'm not sure I can claim the non-conformist label; but one thing certain, I'm not not exactly a rule follower.

Local ordinance states that "no agricultural animals shall be kept...except children's pets shall not be prohibited." I read this ordinance over 3 years ago, after the first time we brought home chicks from the Kentucky State Fair. However, our learning curve with chicken care - especially the fox incident - have meant that we had no reason to analyze this language until now. Clearly, if we didn't have children, I would be in questionable territory with the chickens. Clearly, I have found the pet which sits right on the legal line, and we as a family will be defending that choice tomorrow evening.

I have often commented to Emily that she is a kid who listens to the rules, hears the line, and then stands on that line and says "Can I step here?" Years ago, Brian and I watched the Festival of Animation, and in one short a boy's harried father tells him not to use bad words, and the boy quickly starts asking "Can I say ___? How about ___?" and then finally, over and over "Can I say 'bum'? Can I say 'bum'?" I am not sure, but I think the cartoon ended with the father screaming.

This is how I often feel Emily behaves. She's smart, she knows there are limits, but thanks to my parenting or her character, she knows the limits have interesting edges and sometimes shady boundaries. One of her consistent jobs in life is to test these boundaries, and as she knows, this testing drives me bananas.

And until today, I confess, I just assumed this was Emily, the way she came out, without questioning how she got this way. But today, when Emily was given permission to watch a movie, and interpreted the permission as applying to computer games, at first I got mad. It seemed like just one more example of Emily not thinking, of Emily deliberately refusing to understand the point of my words.

Then, I realized that what we are doing at the Zoning Board tomorrow is testing the limits of their permission, testing the point of their words. We have interpreted Zoning Code our own way, without asking them first, and now we're insisting that we're right. What right do I have to get mad at Emily for this, when we're doing the exact same thing tomorrow night?

I don't know what good it does to realize this about Emily and me, tonight. Emily, recently, has proven that she realizes a sincere apology will sometimes blunt our frustration with her limit-testing. Maybe, if I remember to approach this hearing with a bit of humility, a bit of I'm-sorry-sheepishness with my legal logic, I can at least not giving the Zoning Board the impression that I was *trying* to flaunt the boundaries of their rules. Because even though I think we'd win on appeal, even though I'm fairly certain we're in the right, I'd rather keep this process simple.

I'd rather go home tomorrow evening with the happy knowledge that we already have the pets we want. Because I fear that with people like Emily and me, the alternative would be going home and trying to figure out what other exotic non-agricultural animals we could keep in our chicken coop. Geese? Rabbits? Guineas? Perhaps I'd better ask for a list of acceptable animals tomorrow night, if the chickens are denied. At the same time, I'm not sure I want to know, because my fear in this neighborhood is that one of the species which is absolutely forbidden is me: a person who doesn't like following rules. At least, though, if that's the list, Emily and I are in this together.

1 comment:

Ser said...

I love this post, Nancy. I have had moments like this, where I realize that the behaviors I struggle with most in my children are those that I exhibit myself. It is always a sort of fascinating and helpful revelation--but it also makes me wonder why I didn't see it earlier.