One of my biggest pet peeves with nuclear family ideology, even more than the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender, is the idea that life goes in an expected order and follows an expected pattern. Culturally we are expected to have a second child, but probably no more than three. We’re supposed to want to buy a home and a car. We’re maybe supposed to want to get a dog. Many would expect us to “settle down” in the suburbs as though there could never be anything settled about living in the city. All of this is based on a very modern idea of what family is, what home is, and what the ideal life is, and most of this idea can be traced back to the 1940s. These ideas, which are modern an invented, are seen as so natural and innate in our society that they are rarely questioned. Communal living is seen as weird. Not owning your own home is seen as a failure. And even those progressives who are totally onboard with queer and trans people still expect us to fit into the archetype of the 1940s family in every other way.
It’s exhausting, especially for those of us who for whatever reason aren’t reaching the standard goalposts. Living a life different than the one expected of you means constantly having to explain yourself, justify your lifestyle, and clarify your vision. Usually, when I tell people what I’m doing with my life, whether it’s talking about my gender transition or my lack of interest in (or ability to) leave my awesome rental house, I’m met with either congratulations for being “so unique!” or awkward inquires as to why a person would ever want to live the way that I live. And we aren’t even that weird on the grand scheme of things. We, myself my spouse and my child, live together in a single family home, we have an ikea bookshelf for goodness’ sakes.
All of this preamble is just working up to the following news: We got ducks! To be exact, we got two ducklings.
Why did we get ducks? Well, a few reasons. The first is that we love animals, and ducks walk funny and are hilariously cute. The second reason is that while we generally minimize our animal product usage, we do eat some eggs, and I just haven’t felt very good about buying them at the store. Several of our neighbors keep chickens for the eggs, but ducks are much cuter in my opinion, can be friendly (and thus make better pets) and their eggs are more nutritious. I got hooked on the idea of backyard ducks last year, and then way back in March, we ordered two ducklings for Metzer Farms, a hatchery in California with a good reputation. When you order ducklings (or chicks, or goslings) from a hatchery, they are shipped through the mail! This is super weird, I know, but for many reasons (I won’t get into all of them now) it was the best possible option for us and our birds.
Well, they arrived last Wednesday. Despite being clearly labeled for pickup at the post office, the postal workers started putting them on the outgoing delivery truck that would be driving around all day. This was only stopped by me showing up at the post office and asking after my package, awkwardly adding “um, it’s live birds.”
The very nice lady who rescued our babies from the truck asked me “what are you going to do with these live birds?” while she passed the chirping shipping container to me.
“Take care of them…” I said.
“Oh good!” she breathed a sigh of relief, “I was afraid you were gonna say you were gonna eat them, and I couldn’t have handled that.”
The ducklings have probably hatched last Sunday, so they’re one week old now, and they’re already visibly bigger than they were when the arrived five days ago, which is nuts. They’re extremely cute and it is also a ton of work to keep them in food and water, socialize them, and keep their brooder (the box they live in in our living room) clean. Our two babies are called Mary (who is a welsh harlequin) and Martha (a black swedish) because apparently I love bible names, go figure! Here are some things I have learned since adding Mary and Martha to our family:
1. I was warned that ducklings would go through a lot of water and make a lot of poop. However much you are imaging “a lot” to be, it is way more than that. We’re talking constantly refilling the water container and just an endless supply of poop. Good thing it makes good compost.
2. My emotional response to all baby animals is pretty much the same. It may have been more intense when I had a human child, but it wasn’t a different feeling, it was just MORE of the feeling. Whether it’s a newborn baby, a tiny kitten, or three day old birds you pick up from the post office, I find myself equal parts overwhelmed by “how are you real and how are you the cutest thing in the entire world!” and “oh my god what if I’m doing this wrong.”
3. Ducks make an incredible variety of sounds. Baby ducklings don’t quack (and in fact only the female ducks make a true quack as adults) but they do cheep, chirp, coo, whistle, make weird little clicking noises, and even purr.
4. It really doesn’t matter how excited an almost three year old is about ducklings, the first time he is annoyed that you are feeding them YET AGAIN instead of doing what he wants to do, he’ll confidently announce “I not love my baby ducks anymore.” That will last until the next time one of his friends comes over, at which point he will need to excitedly show them off.
5. Imprinting is serious business, and way more intense than I could have ever imagined. I had read about imprinting before they arrived, and about how some people have pet ducks who are imprinted on each other, but that it can get intense. Our ducklings are imprinted on each other, and if you haven’t witnessed a relationship like that, nothing can really prepare you for it. It’s like they’re obsessed with each other, it’s like they love each other more than anyone in the history of the world has loved anymore. They never sleep without cuddling, and most of the time they fall asleep with their bills together, basically kissing each other, purring, and softly chattering at each other. Even in their small brooder box, they prefer to be right next to each other and are almost never seen at opposite ends of it. If I take one out but not the other they become overwhelmingly distraught and will call for each other as loudly as possible until they are reunited. All in all, while I’m a little sad that their hyper focus on each other makes it harder for them to bond with me, I am relieved not to be the focus of that intense and endless love.
Backyard ducks is far from the next expected step for our little postnuclear family, but it was the right thing for us right now. I’m putting the finishing touches on a duck house in the backyard, and when the time is right, Mary and Martha will move back there. Until then, we have these two cuties hanging out in our living room. Expect occasional duckling updates here, but if you need more duckling pictures, you can always follow me on instagram (though I have to warn you there are also a lot of selfies and transgender feelings rants!)
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