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Unexpected surprises. . .

Iler chicks
"What color do you think their eyes will be?
Do you think they will come early or late?
How do we know if they are hungry?
When are they going to be born, it’s been so long!”

You would think these were questions that new parents would be having for the birth of their long awaited child. I know these were some of the questions that circled through my head when I was pregnant with each one of my daughter’s.

However, contrary to your thinking, these were a sample of questions that buzzed through our house during the month of May this past year. Each day, as we would stare at the incubator housing 9 chicken eggs, we would watch intently to see if there was any movement from the eggs. We would inspect closely to see if there was a crack in the egg, which would signal the birth. We discovered in our nightly reading that after the “pip”, the initial crack in the egg, it could still take up to 12 hours for the chick to hatch completely.

We also read blogs on how to insure the baby chicks hatched properly, Scott busily built a chicken brooder to have the “chicken nursery” ready, while my one daughter played Holiday music during their births to instill the love for Christmas into these little chicks and my other daughter read “Berenstain Bear” books to the eggs to make sure they heard her voice.

Iler farm- incubating chicken eggs

As many of you know, I am not as much of an overt animal lover as the rest of my family. I have been heard to say “I take care of the humans in the house and Scott takes care of the animals.” Early in our marriage, I would consistently say, “I am fine with a dog and a cat, we don’t need all of these animals.”

The surprise goats that Scott brought home to Hannah on her first Christmas, the frogs that needed to accompany thethe 6 week old German shepherd that tumbled down our steps a few months before Hannah’s surgery, the cat that was rescued from downtown Los Angeles, the one guinea pig for Rebecca that turned into two because it would be lonely without a friend, the frogs that needed to accompany the gecko, the “breeding cricket” terrarium to feed the reptiles, and the list goes on of all the animals that the Iler family has brought home.

As the years have gone by, I have learned to love and appreciate animals more than I ever thought I could. In a way, the day the first baby chick hatched really brought me back to the day I went into labor with my own daughter. There was excitement, a sense of urgency, questions of doubt- are we ready for these little babies, and even anxiety as we saw them struggling to hatch out of their eggs. When Tommy, our first chick hatched after a sleepless night of encouraging them to “keep pecking," we were all filled with pure joy and simple peace.

Iler chicken nursery- Baby Nutmeg

This new life was sitting in our kitchen and we were able to see its beauty. I instantly fell in love with this little bit of fluff sitting in the incubator. When I took a step back, I noticed my daughters were taking the lead to care for this animal, to talk to it, and to make sure it was warm enough. I know you might be thinking this is kind of extreme, it’s a baby chick, but if you have never witnessed the birth of a chick it is quite a miracle.

Along with the excitement of puppies, baby chicks, and kittens, there is another side of being a pet owner. We recently experienced the death of our very tough, old Padua- a mix of husky and coyote that we rescued 18 years ago. This dog was not a pampered pet. He preferred to be outside, lay in the dirt, stay in a 50 mph windstorm, take cover under a piece of wood in the pouring rain, and eat at night. He rarely came inside and was a bit of a lone wolf- or lone coyote so to speak.

However, he was a loyal dog. He was a constant. Padua was always at the back door when we opened it, he never whined or complained, and he was gentle. He trained our German Shepherd better than any expensive Dog school; he was stoic and what I called a wise, old dog.

So, when Padua could not stand up or eat a week ago, we knew something was wrong. The death of our dog was much more difficult than I thought it would be. As many people would say, “He lived a good life, it was his time, he was an old dog, he will be better off now.”

However, the death of an animal was very similar to the grieving process of the death of a human. 18 years flashed through our minds, how did time fly by so quickly? He was there when we first started dating, when we found out I was pregnant with Hannah and Rebecca, when my dad passed away, when we moved to our house, and each milestone flooded through our minds during the last 48 hours of his life. If I could have frozen time last week, I would have. My girls had questions of why could this happen? How can we help him?

So, a few days later as I was talking to my daughter, I asked her these questions:

Would it have been better if we had never rescued Padua in the first place 18 years ago?

Would you have preferred to not have a dog because this has been so hard?

She innocently said, “We did have some really good times with Padua and I am glad you brought him home. I just miss him so much.”

Loving something else, or someone else is scary and hard. It is being vulnerable and breaking down walls that might have been built for years. I hear some people say “Well that is why I am never getting an animal again. It was too hard on our family.” In my opinion, I take the good, the bad, and the ugly. The mixture of emotions we have felt towards each one of our animals will hopefully transpire in my daughters’ human friendships and relationships as well.

I was reminded last weekend that when we mourn the loss of a loved one or a relationship that has ended, it can consume us. In that process, we sometimes no longer allow ourselves to love again in the fear of hurt. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, says, Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”

Victory. . . the excitement of a baby chick cracking through its shell.

Defeat. . . watching our dog take his last breath.

However, I take it all . We are only given one chance to live. Love, defeat, anger, joy, acceptance, failure, hope. . . this is all part of the tapestry of life.

If you do not open your hearts to possibilities and allow new ideas to enter your mind, then you aren’t living fully. Try today to embrace a thought that has been circling in your mind for a while. Take a risk, be vulnerable, you might find that an egg will hatch with something completely unexpected.

Iler chicks grow up so quickly!

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Wonderful. I have never considered myself much of a pet lover. But as I grow older, I find myself getting more and more attached to Sasha, our Chihuahua. I complain about picking up her poop, but I find myself stopping more often to pet her and play with her. Thanks for this inspiring note.

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