My Mom… and chicken sunglasses

With Mother’s Day coming up tomorrow, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom.  She is fabulous in so many ways, but one of the things that has made the most difference in my life is her ability to elevate people.  More on that later, but first let me tell you about chicken sunglasses…

Chickens are mean, very mean.  Did you know that chickens are cannibalistic?  It’s true.  Chickens will constantly peck at each other.  It’s a natural instinct and allows them to establish a hierarchy in the flock.  This is where the term “pecking order” comes from.  The worst part is that the sight of blood tends to intensify the pecking instinct.  Truly the weak get weaker and the strong get stronger.  On chicken farms this pecking often leads to death.

One innovative method to control this pecking instinct was invented in 1939 by Joseph Haas.  He decided to put sunglasses on chickens.  (I know, I know… the best ideas are always so obvious in hindsight.  I too wish I had come up with this idea.)  These glasses consist of red lenses attached to a metal frame via hinges.  Why red?  Well, to cover up the sight of blood, of course.  The hinges allow the lenses to fall forward when the chicken looks down so that it can see its food and water normally.  But when looking straight ahead at the endless lines of oh-so-peckable chicken scalps, the red masks the color of blood and therefore lowers the killer-chicken cannibal instinct.

At least that’s the theory anyway.  One problem is, how in the world do you get the sunglasses to stay on?  There are two options, you can ask the chicken nicely (this is less effective, but polite) or you can insert a metal rod through the side of the glasses, into one nostril, piercing the nasal septum and out the other nostril (this is effective, but cruel and has in fact been banned in several countries).  The second problem is that if the sight of red blood incites chickens to attack, wouldn’t coloring the entire world blood red make things worse?  I’m just picturing a peaceful flock of chickens eating their breakfast and looking stylish in their hip new glasses when Colonel Sanders walks out into the yard for a morning stroll.  The chickens look up and suddenly his impeccable (no pun intended, okay maybe it was) white suit is tinted the color of fresh blood and… well, you get the picture.

The world today is full of chickens.  We are often petty, mean and vindictive.  We are constantly getting ourselves into trouble and debt just to stay in fashion or one-up the people next door.  We can’t bear the thought of someone getting ahead and so we envy or bad-mouth those who succeed.  And when others fail or don’t quite fit in we laugh and kick them while they’re down.  To see this in action simply walk down the hallways of your local high school or turn on the television.

The world is also full of purveyors of chicken sunglasses – those quick fixes to every problem known to man.  If you believe the never ending supply of self help books or the countless magazines lining the grocery checkout aisles you can be good looking, rich and successful without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.  Plastic surgery and Botox will fix anything you dislike about your body.  The latest book from the latest guru will guarantee you riches beyond your wildest dreams.  Fad diets and miracle supplements will fix your weight, diabetes, testosterone levels, ingrown toenails and stop terrorists.

This is the difference between the world and my mother.  The world offers a million quick fixes – just slap on some sunglasses and your chickens will be better than ever.  My mom is amazing at meeting people where they are and helping them to become better people, but she knows it’s often a very slow process.  Growing up the focus wasn’t “You know better than that” or even “You can do better than that.”  Instead it was “You are better than that.”

Let me give you an example, it’s a small one and I’m sure my mom doesn’t even remember the event, but it made a huge impact on me.  I was in 2nd grade and my mom had come to help out in the classroom.  I had written down an inappropriate word on something I was working on (without really even knowing what the word meant).  My mom saw it and she didn’t yell, beat me senseless, wash my mouth out with soap or hustle me off to a therapist.  Instead she pulled me aside and told me that in our family we don’t use certain words because they don’t show respect for ourselves or others.  Then she went back to what she was doing.

I vividly remember scratching out the word with a marker and never repeating it.  To this day I don’t swear.  Not out of fear or guilt or because it makes me feel superior to those who curse, but because that’s just who I am.  Because that’s the man my mother knows I can be.

So on Mother’s Day and every day, thank you Mom.   I’m far from perfect, but I know that all that is good in me began to develop due to your goodness, love and nurture.  Thank you for always seeing the best in me and for helping me see it in myself.  I don’t say it enough, but I love you.

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