Monday, February 16, 2009

In Which I Learn A Valuable Lesson

goat gettin' her beer on...see next photos / This is Today 25

Last week, Bella was invited to her very first sleepover party. At age six. I was stunned. I can't remember going on a sleepover before I was eight or nine years old, and I think I called my mom to come get me from the first one of those. But, as you might guess if you know her even a tiny bit, my daughter was beyond stoked for this event--no hesitation whatsoever. So, we RSVPd, got the address, and headed over at the appointed time on Friday afternoon.

Right before we left, I went out to the henhouse and gathered the morning's eggs, and packed a new carton with a fresh dozen. Alex asked me, "You're taking them some eggs?" I said, "Sure." I didn't honestly think twice about it--it just seemed a natural thing to do, like sending Bella to her first day of school with a jar of watermelon pickles for her teacher. I knew from our hosts' address that they lived in a subdivision that almost certainly didn't allow hens, so super-fresh eggs would be a nice thing to have, I thought.

We left our house, which was piled with laundry (both dirty and clean) and hosting an incubator full of hatching chicks. The Christmas tree had still not made its way down to the basement storage area (St. Patrick's Day is the the traditional hoist-the-tree-downstairs deadline, right?), and the house was full of riotous poodles. Dishes soaked in the sink. The living room floor was dominated by Bella's work-in-progress of a lifesize person, rendered in two dimensions out of multiple sheets of copier paper, which gave it an air of "crime scene."

Outside, dead leaves lay in foot-thick drifts all around the property. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants sat propped against the window, waiting to be planted in the garden. Random junk lay scattered, well...everywhere. More poodles ran riot in the yard, backdropped by a pile of scrap lumber. Roosters crowed constantly, and turkeys gobbled, also constantly. Chickens darted this way and that, scratching up every bit of living greenery they could find. Feed sacks awaiting trash day sat in a tall stack next to the fence.

As we pulled out of our driveway and onto the street, we passed the ramshackle tree "fort" that some neighbor boys are building in the woods so close to our property that it gives the appearance of belonging to us. On this day, the fort was newly festooned with attractive plastic tarps that had been salvaged from somewhere after what looked like a lifetime of hard use. On our street, we drove around pothole after pothole, caused by runoff from the goat farm...OH, the goat farm. A true spectacle of country life in all its glory, with its frequently-escaping goats and the trash they'd tear into and scatter on the street (as depicted in the photo atop this post--that is the street side of the fence the goat is on, mind you).

Of course, I didn't really notice these things at the time--not consciously. Who would, when they see it all, every single day of their lives? No, I didn't notice it in the present...but it all floated to the top of my mind as we made more progress into their neighborhood.

The subdivision. Wow. All of a sudden, the streets were wide, and perfectly paved. Instead of dodging random livestock, you had only to slow for golf-cart crossings. Instead of semi-feral dogs padding down the road, there were bicyclists riding on either side of the grand streets, in specially-constructed bike lanes. Whoa. The yards were perfect, one after another after another. So much perfectly manicured grass! So many artfully-sculpted boxwoods! Paving stones, sidewalks, fountains... As we drove on, we began to see gated communities, smaller subdivisions within the subdivision. Houses got bigger and more stately. I'd never known this world existed, and it was only moments away from my own home.

Suddenly, I was hyper-aware of myself in a way I hadn't been before. My just-washed hair and unmade-up face. My jeans and sweatshirt. The distinct possibility of something worse than dirt on my shoes. I felt the way I imagine the hillbilly wives often featured on "Wife Swap" must feel in the opening moments of their adventures. I mentally inventoried everything that Bella was wearing, everything she'd packed, the way I'd braided her hair, the gift she was carrying and the way it was wrapped. That all checked out, I hoped. Her father and I, however--we looked fine for OUR house, which was located, apparently, in another universe five miles away. I'd be lying if I said all this wasn't causing me to wonder if we were denying our daughter something critical to her development--a real neighborhood, where she could go outside and play with other children at a moment's notice. Where neighbors just walked across the street to chat when they saw you outside--my mind boggles. I mean, sure, it's one thing for her father and I to declare ourselves hermits, but are we doing her a disservice? Oh, my self-doubting brain, how I love you.

As we pulled into the party hosts' driveway, Bella, in a matter-of-fact voice, announced, "Well, this house is preeeetty fancy." At first, I thought it was two houses with a shared driveway. Nope. Here was garage space for no less than five cars, while I myself enjoy garage space for NO cars. In fact, our living room is (or was) a garage. The house was huge, with a sweeping, two-story entryway. When we rang the doorbell, I was in full country-mouse mode, standing there clutching (and re-thinking) my carton of eggs, and feeling plainer than a mud fence. Bella was, of course, oblivious to any such inner struggle, and I'm pretty sure Alex was, too.

We met the host parents, who were perfectly lovely and gracious people. I may have been stunned momentarily silent by the spotlessness of their gorgeous home, because I found myself dumbly shoving a dozen eggs at them. The mom looked momentarily puzzled, and laughed, "You're giving us eggs?" I must have looked stricken, because she immediately recovered with, "Oh, you're seriously bringing us eggs?" She wasn't being unkind, just caught off-guard, I think. I said, "I just gathered them this morning, and thought you might like some fresh ones..." At this point I was rescued from my discomfort by the dad, who grabbed the box, opened it up, and began rhapsodizing on the joys of fresh eggs. They began asking us lots of questions about our chickens, and we told them how many we have, and about the turkeys, and that we're hatching chicks all the time, and many of the life choices I'd been feeling insecure about moments before. Then the dad looked me right in the eyes, with an expression that must have looked similar to my expression when I saw that glistening banister rushing upward into the light-filled foyer, and asked, "Where do you live that you can have all this?"

I returned to my chaotic home that afternoon feeling pretty much OK, and even smiled as I passed the goat farm.

32 comments:

  1. Funny how it's all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

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  2. Oh, that was a great read! You've got to be talking about Greystone. I swear - it's like it's own city. :D

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  3. This made me smile and get a little weepy at the same time.

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  4. Beautiful.

    When my daughter was very young, and I was barely a kid myself, I often felt insecure about the fact that I was raising her without a father,and in my mothers home. One day, another parent at her school made a comment that my daughter was so lucky to have the privilege of being raised in a multi-generational family.....the way things used to be.

    She had no idea the effect her sweet comment had on me.

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  5. How cool! I wish I had a neighbor that brought me fresh eggs. You always want a little of what you can't have.

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  6. Awww, I saw the picture at the top and thought you got a goat!

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  7. I'm with the dad. Can I come stay at your house?

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  8. man... this is really a GREAT post. Seriously. It should go in some virtual blog hall of fame or something.

    *applause*

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  9. Aww I loved this story! And Avalon's up there too. Heartwarming and beautiful.

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  10. This is a fantastic post Belinda...just awesome. It warmed me up on this chilly Tuesday morning.

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  11. This deserves to be linked again and again -- and published on the back page of TIME or the New York Times Magazine. Wonderful.

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  12. We grew up very similar to Bella and were always jokingly said to live in the sticks (which at that time urban sprawl hadn't made it to us) and we had no near neighbors and no children.

    I loved it and hate all the building that has ruined (or at least I think so) our side of town. I like living far out and not having neighbors everywhere. As children we were too busy playing in the yard or riding horses to care about the difference. I live in a neighborhood now and hate every minute of it:o)

    I am glad that you left feeling better than you did driving in, I guess I just wanted to say that you are raising Bella in a way that most children will never know. As she gets older they will be in awe because she has what she has. Children and their parents are in awe that we have horses, chickens, and goats to pet whenever we want to. Don't feel bad:o)

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  13. Isn't it amazing just how much of what we see can be chalked up to perspective? I'm so happy that man appreciated your very personal and kind gift! Did Bella have fun at the sleepover?

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  14. B, so very glad you are back to blogging! I was cracking up at your description of your home, and imagining all that activity going on inside your *old* home! A 2D crime scene?? You have such a way with metaphors. And I can't wait for Grace in Small Things x365 through your eyes!

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  15. What an amazing story! It made me cry. But then, with only two weeks left until I deliver, I'm such a hormonal wreck that *everything* makes me cry!

    I know that I would trade my city house for a place in the country where I could raise chickens, have a bigger garden, and let the poodles have a bit more outside time any day. Nonetheless, I was heartened to hear the positive reaction of the other girl's dad.

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  16. The mom was really nice, too. I think she just thought, for a second, that I was bringing her a carton of eggs from the grocery store. That *would* be an odd hostess gift! ;-)

    Oh, and naturally, Bella was among the last holdouts to go to sleep during the party. Figures.

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  17. What a wonderful story. And beautifully written. Hugs and applause to you.

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  18. I think you, my daughter, should be a writer, as well as an awesome mother.

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  19. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  20. Made me smile, too. And rethink my old embarrassment at having goats throughout jr. high and hs! We were 'weird,' with our big garden, goats and pond that we swam & fished in. And I wouldn't trade it now - though I still don't want to smell like a goat.

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  21. Beautiful post Belinda, it made me smile :)

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  22. I too was excited that you might have gotten a goat. I think little bitty goats are adorable...probably because I don't know any up close and personal.

    I've been seriously thinking about getting chickens myself...since I moved from slightly rural GA to the civilized part of AL, I have missed my neighbors and their generous egg donations to my household.

    I have an enclosed run that the previous house owners left behind that I think might hold a coop and be a nice pen for 2-3 chicks, but I am so not sure what the poodles will do. It would be entertaining, I'm sure.

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  23. My poodles? EAT them. With great gusto, and total impunity.

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  24. Wow... I feel the same way often, when visiting the houses of my Girl Scout's parents... I'm usually embarrassed to have anyone over to my house! I haven't yet gotten to the ending part like you did that day. Good job! Em

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  27. I was looking at the list of websites that Zemanta thought to match my freshly-written blog and yours caught my eye. It isn't really a match but your story impressed me immensely! I live in the country, used to have free-range chickens, and live a very modest lifestyle. I have some very "rich" friends, have dated millionaire-women, but I learned long ago that material things do not make one wealthy. Just as the dad realized the value of the fresh eggs and having a place to raise chickens, you became aware also of the true wealth you had. When you have little and are content, then you have riches beyond the material illusion. Thank you for the wonderful, heart-warming, story and the smile I have from reading it!

    Namaste'

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  28. You should send this this post in as an article to GRIT magazine. Awesome post! (and don't you EVER feel insecure about how you raise your child again. When she grows up she won't remember how clean the house was, but she WILL remember the chickens and turkeys and whatnot and more importantly the time you spent with her.)

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