Sometimes life has a funny way of working itself out. It’s not that things are so drastically different as an adult than how I imagined they’d be, but looking back, I’ve had a few surprises. When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I confess I never said I wanted to work at a mikveh. As a native New Yorker, I didn’t expect to marry a Jewish boy from New Hampshire. And I never imagined that I’d have pet chickens. (Despite how it sounds, the boy from New Hampshire actually wanted nothing to do with having poultry on our property…)
About a year ago I started taking to the idea of having fresh eggs every day. I didn’t exactly need a bed-and-breakfast level supply, but I was intrigued by the back-to-the-land farm nostalgia I could bring into my suburban life (OK, I have no experience to warrant said nostalgia, but that’s besides the point). I visited my neighbor who owns more chickens than I’d ever seen in one place with the exception of a massive chicken hatchery on a kibbutz in Israel, and just couldn’t shake the idea.
READ: The Kibbutz Isn’t So Bad
Next thing I knew I was the proud owner of three baby chicks and, after many months of waiting, three bona fide, adult, egg-laying hens. I made lots of quiches, enjoyed discovering just how many chicken metaphors exist in the English language, and reveled in the fact that one of my baby’s first words was, “chick-ken!” as he pointed and chased them around the yard.
That all changed the day I got frantic phone calls and text messages from my husband, who found that our chickens were attacked by what we later discovered to be a neighborhood dog. I’ll spare you the gory details and photos, but suffice it to say that these girls took a good beating and we’re still working on nursing them back to health. We are hoping for the best but unsure what the outcome will be for one chicken in particular.
My daughter, almost 8 years old, insisted on seeing the hurt birds, despite our warnings that she might find the scene frightening. In the moment she responded well, understanding the gravity of the situation while not letting it get to her too much.
And then, she went to bed. Or tried to, anyway. Which, of course, is when the real emotion comes out. She came downstairs saying she couldn’t sleep because she was so worried about Snowball. “I mean, I guess if I had to choose between the chickens and my family I’d choose my family… but it’s like the chickens ARE my family.”
She told me she knew what she’d wish for the next time she wished upon a star, though she wasn’t sure whether she could tell me what it was, in case maybe then it wouldn’t come true. I let her know she could pray to God from anywhere, at any time, and how she didn’t need a star to have that conversation.
“I want to go to Mayyim Hayyim to say it to God in the water.”
Now, despite the fact that her mother is the executive director of the place, her primary association with Mayyim Hayyim is from her experience immersing more than two years ago prior to the birth of her youngest brother. What strikes me is that her visit then was completely celebratory. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with her how many people find healing and comfort in the mikveh waters during more difficult times, yet now at 7 years old, she intuited that possibility and wanted it for herself.
This girl has grown up in a world where her only association with mikveh is positive. She knows there’s a place that welcomes her creativity with Jewish ritual and she feels empowered to make it her own. I feel incredibly hopeful about the future of her Jewish identity with this as her foundation.
She continues to ask about Snowball, who is currently in the care of an unbelievably generous soul. Our chicken (incidentally, previously named Piccata until this caretaking chicken angel preferred to go with the name my daughter had chosen instead–go figure) is healing well despite another near-fatal setback: Somewhere along the way she ate a screw and has been suffering from metal poisoning as well. But by some miracle involving peanut butter, cilantro, warm baths, and x-rays, it seems that Snowball may be in the process of total recovery and could possibly come back home again.
In the end, I never brought Ellie in for another immersion in the mikveh. Not yet, anyway. As is the way of fickle 7-year-olds, she seemed to forget about the idea just as easily as she imagined it. Even still, the first thing she did when she visited me at work a few days ago was ask if it would be OK to go feel the water. And then she wished, out loud, that Snowball would get better very, very soon.