I watch him, king of his own back yard domain, stomping in his red rubber race car boots. White blond hair sticking up in all directions, shirt smeared with whatever happened to be on his hands. The chickens are smart enough to give him wide berth. But chickens have a short attention span and he is determined.
He sneaks, as quietly as his two year old body and sqeaky boots are able, and makes a grab for the chicken. Victoriously, he wrangles his feathered foe and carries it across the yard. Struggling under the weight and wriggling, he manages to hoist his conquest on to the hammock.
Back and forth he rocks the dismayed bird, singing at the top of his lungs. As the hammock slows, the chicken makes a break for it. Between fits of giggles, my boy scolds the flustered fowl and sets off to find a new "friend" to rock to sleep.
Inside my middelest daughter is snuggled in a chair, reading out loud, covered in blankets. The lumps under the fabric move and shift until two tiny orange kitten faces appear. She rubs the furry heads and tucks them in as she continues her book.
In the kitchen, the eldest child is cracking up. Amidst the laughing and quacking I see her teaching the duckling to drink from a cup. The duckling thrusts his head all the way down, pulls it out with a bill full of water and a loud quack and repeats. There is water all over the floor and the child.
My youngest daughter is rummaging in the fridge, looking for carrots for her and Rodeo to share. I have ceased trying to explain why it is gross to share a snack with a guinea pig and am just grateful the animal and the child are eating a healthy snack.
This is the chaos that causes my mother to roll her eyes and comment on the smell of kittens when she comes to my house. This is one of the many reasons my home will never be picture perfect and is often just above livable. This is why I do obscene amounts of laundry, clean poop off of the floor and vacuum up mud out of the carpet several times a week. My choice to live with critters (and children) make my life more complicated, I get that.
I also know that my children get some things that there friends whos homes are critter free will never understand. My kids know that it doesn't matter if you don't feel like feeding kittens, they are counting on you to be fed. My children know that life is fragile and death is part of the journey. My kids know that the fun of pets is balanced by the work it takes to keep them clean and healthy. Our animals teach responsibility, hard work, faithfulness and cooperation.
My life would be simpler without pets, no question. It would also be less rich. And, lets be honest here, a life with 4 small children is never going to be simple, so we might as well embrace to madness.