I didn’t decide to raise chicks to please the Army of Smalls; I decided to get chicks because it’s cheaper than buying a farm.

To review, the Army of Smalls is what I call the five girls, all under the age of 11, who surround my house and rule this ‘hood. When they learned that we were getting chickens, they, of course, were very interested. Not jump up and down screaming interested, but curious interested.

“Why are you getting chicks?” the one with the glasses asked.

“I don’t know – something to do,” I said.

“You guys can name them!” I added, hoping this offer would draw them into my crazy scheme and, yes, please them.

“OK,” they replied and then they went back to rearranging the fairy garden.

Chicks are adorable. Any teacher worth her salary will tell you that months of good behavior can be gained by convincing a 4-year-old that chicks will arrive any day. The waiting and waiting for the eggs to crack will keep a group of preschoolers in line for weeks.

And, when they do finally make their way to the outside world (beaks first), it’s like Christmas. Watching chicks hatch is a global news event for little kids. If CNN had a preschool scroll, this news would run for months.

I started to obsess about having a farm about two years ago when I started to obsess about what I would do if I were not doing what I’m doing now.

A farm seemed like a way to escape without really escaping: Every day, a live being would need me to get up, go outside and feed it. To live would be to live with a purpose, I reasoned.

I didn’t want a farm that required large machinery. I wanted a small Maine farm where I could raise chickens, a few sheep, some goats and maybe a donkey.

Frederick, having grown up in Kansas, has no romantic feelings about farming. He was a town kid but spent plenty of time on farms.

I often make him tell the story of his summer of indentured servitude to Farmer X. Frederick spent the summer of his 14th year on his farm. Alone, with just Missus and Mister X, he worked from sunup to sundown in 110-degree weather. Many years later, his parents regretted this decision.

It was the mid-’70s and about halfway through the summer, Cousin Joe (the same age as Frederick, and now running his father’s farm) would spring him from the sweltering attic where Frederick slept. The two of them would drive around until just before daylight. Joe would then drop Frederick off in time to start his day atop the un-air-conditioned tractor.

So, instead of a farm, we have chicks.

My chicks were chosen based on how they would look fully grown. No surprise there. And as soon as I picked them up as 4-day-olds from a farm in Gorham, I regretted offering the Army of Smalls the chance to name them. I imagined that I would choose fiercely creative names based on their color or breed. The barred rock would be “Rocky.” The silver spangled Hamburg would be “Hamburger.”

My chicks, my names.

And then a delegation from the Army of Smalls knocked on my front door. Three of the five were there to see the chicks: the one with glasses, the big sister of the one with glasses and the youngest and best one, Louisa.

As we marched down to the basement, I heard myself turn over the responsibility of naming my chicks to the Army. I asked the smallest and the best if she wanted to be the first to name a chick.

To be honest, she was not that impressed with the baby chicks. She was more interested in showing me a plastic stick that she had in her hand. I don’t remember what she said it was for, but it was very important to her and a bit distracting from the real attraction – my chicks!

“Smallest of the Smalls: Focus!” I said. “Would you like to name a chick?”

She repeated her story about her plastic stick and then finally said, “Ya.”

She then put her tiny nose up to the edge of the dog pen/brooder and chose a yellow chick to name.

“Which yellow chick?” I whispered.

“The dark one,” she said.

“What do you want to name her?” I said.

After a long pause, she said, “Liz.”

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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