We are eating roast chicken, deliciously bathed in its own fatty juices (and maybe a little extra butter to help things along), which is the first clue that something’s different about tonight. (With a freezer full of elk and deer, we rarely buy meat, and yet for our novelty-seeking children, nothing says special quite like shrink-wrapped, anonymous meat from the store.)
“This is sooooooo good,” Col says through a mouthful of drumstick.
“This chicken probably didn’t have a very good life, right Mom?” Rose asks, crunching through a leg, conjuring the video we recently saw of an eagle tearing apart a snow goose.
“Well ... it didn’t receive any antibiotics,” I offer with false cheer, imagining industrial chickens picketing to keep chemicals out of their feed.
Rose presses on, meaty juices glossing her lips. “So, do they get to live very long? Or do they kill them when they’re young?”
My goodness. Who invited the fun-police to dinner?
We mutter something about youth and tenderness, and Rose is satisfied long enough to shove another tender slab in her piehole. I am alternately wondering where Rose got her sense of timing and secretly applauding her for being an unapologetic truth seeker.
But why we’re even eating this much-analyzed chicken is because it’s Compliment Night (as opposed to a “Portlandia” episode in which restaurant customers peruse a scrapbook of happy animals before selecting their corresponding entree), the celebratory night when we read all the compliments we’ve been leaving in the Compliment Jar for each other over the past month.
And, oh, it’s such a fun and special night! It’s like a party of good vibes, mutual recognition and contagious happiness. It’s a way to say: I see you, I appreciate you, I noticed that your face lights up with joy on the soccer field and I wanted to acknowledge that; or, I love watching how you make time to do the things you enjoy. Some ultra-special compliments get permanent status on the fridge, like Col’s: “I appreciate that mom oweys has a good side.” Others remind us of past events: “Col, I appreciate how you gracefully handled losing your clothes at Trimble and coming home naked.”
It gives everyone a chance to look for moments of appreciation, and then to record them, which is known to actually increase feelings of happiness.
Often, Rose can’t read her own wonky spelling and we puzzle over her words. “You appreciate mom for saying yes to platters? To platypus? Oh, to playdates!”
When Rose reads Col’s appreciation for the fact she “teaches him how to play piano after her own lessons,” the stadium of cheering fans rises in my chest. And, when Rose writes, “I like how dad tickles me between home-schooling sessions,” it’s great information. Tickling now permanently added to the home-schooling agenda. And maybe the sweetest are the compliments between the children, who take time out of their regularly scheduled programming of comparing, judging and bickering to notice what they appreciate about each other. Incidentally, this past month both children wrote to each other: “Thank you for playing Legos with me.”
The chicken is picked clean. Our table is littered with greasy plates and an explosion of paper scraps. Rose gets up and announces, “I need to write another compliment right now.” She scribbles something and shoves it deep in the now empty jar. I pull it out with ceremony and read it aloud, “Thanks Mama, for making delicious chicken tonight.”
Reach Rachel Turiel at email@example.com. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.