dear chicken, if you're reading this...

This is what Chicken's school asked me to put in his emergency kit:

1. Oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants.
2. Day's supply of diapers.
3. Knit hat.
4. Mittens.
5. Nonperishable peanut-free vegetarian food for one day.
6. A comforting note and family photo.


We're just going to skip right past 1-4 because they're totally reasonable and self-explanatory.

5. Let's discuss what one might eat if one were a vegetarian with a severe peanut allergy, spending a day in a bomb shelter. 

Ok, so obviously it has to be organic. (Is it sick that that's the first thing I think of, not because of my child's health, but because I can just imagine the teachers and other parents pitying my child and judging me and Ryan for Chicken's emergency stash of goldfish crackers?)

Can of soup? We could make sure it has the loopy-pully thing so you don't even need a can opener. But will there be power to heat the soup in an emergency situation? Will there be the opportunity to like sit at a table and spoon the soup from the bowl? I feel like I need more grab-and-go things. I feel like it needs to be food that can be eaten under a bridge while helicopters circle overhead.

Okay, so, pouches. That's something. The pouches don't spoil until they're opened. And they make ones that have, like, quinoa in them so they're more filling. 

But Chicken isn't going to be like, "Is that a sharknado? Wow, I was so distracted by that flying hammerhead that I didn't notice there was quinoa in my pouch!" He'll be like, "Is that a sharknado? Wow, I-- (spits contents of pouch onto teacher's face) THIS POUCH IS LUMPY. BRING ME ANOTHER, WOMAN."

So some regular, non-quinoa pouches. Maybe, like 3 of them. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

OK, so that's like... 40 calories. And no protein. And if Chicken is going to be running for his life and/or waiting out a hostage situation with a score by Marc Mancina playing in the background, he's gonna need some brain food. 

I ended up wandering up and down the organic section of Fred Meyer, checking the backs of boxes for information about protein and peanuts, and trying to decide which snack bars would bring Chicken the most nutrition and comfort in the event of an unspecified disaster.

Do Nutri-Grain bars say, "Darling boy, be brave and listen to your teachers."

Do Kind bars say, "As you eat me, you will be filled with the unwavering, fierce love of your family, and that love will protect you from harm."

I couldn't help it - I held the box of peanut-free almond snack bars. I held it in my hands and I squeezed it to my chest. I couldn't help it. I hoped that somehow the love with which I purchased and packed this food might live, like my stubborn rosewater perfume, inside the emergency bag, just waiting to pour out and stick to my son on the day he needs me most.

6. Moving on to the comforting note and family photo... I mean, can anyone write such a note without imagining the dire situation in which it will be read?

I see Chicken sitting on his teacher's lap, his face smeared with soot, wrapped in a scratchy wool blanket. He holds on tight to his teacher's arm. His eyes are huge, bright, and his face has the closed, blank quality of a child who is deeply afraid. Flickering candles light the room in a ghostly, swimming orange light. The teacher tears open the envelope that reads "Chicken," in my handwriting and begins to speak, her voice quivering but still warm.

What will she say? What should I say, through this teacher, to my son, in the event of... what? An earthquake? A terrorist attack? An Ebola outbreak? I mean, each of these disasters requires wildly different step-by-step instruction. 

You wouldn't tell your child to make sure to wash his hands thoroughly and avoid fecal matter if an earthquake had just hit. Well, you might, because that's just good sense, but still, if there's a gaping chasm in the playground, I think I'd probably go with "please stay away from the gaping chasm and play on the swings instead," over basic disease containment.

But maybe I should stay away from instructions and stick with loving platitudes. Because come on, what are the chances he's going to follow written instructions anyway? He's CHICKEN. He doesn't follow any instructions, ever. Unless the instructions are, "come eat this birthday cake," and even then it's a 70/30 shot.

But the problem with platitudes is that they're useless, and most of them are lies. Sorry, that sounds harsh. But I cannot bear the thought of lying to my son at a moment when he's scared and alone.

Here is the list of things I thought about writing but decided not to write because they are untrue and/or useless:

1. Don't be scared.
2. Nothing bad is going to happen.
3. Mommy and Daddy will always protect you.

I decided to go with happy thoughts. And lots of stickers. 

Dear sweet Chicken,

Remember how Mommy loves singing songs to you, like “Row, row, row your boat,” and “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Remember how Daddy loves to give you kisses and tickle your belly.

Remember that Baby Buster thinks Chicken is so funny – Chicken makes Buster laugh and laugh and laugh! Chicken is Buster's favorite big brother.

Remember that most monsters are really your nice friends,
Like green Mike with his one big eye,
Like Sully with his soft blue fur.

Right now you might be scared. Here is a list of five good things to do when you’re scared:

1. Listen to your teacher. She loves you and wants to help you be safe.
2. Get a big hug from your teacher.
3. Find a safe place with your friends. Sit together under a blanket and hold hands. Say, “it’s okay. I’ve got you.”
4. Suck on your binky.
5. Look at a picture of Mommy giving you the biggest hug. Look at a picture of Daddy kissing your head. Chicken makes Mommy and Daddy so, so happy, and we will be there soon to give you big hugs and lots of sweet kisses.

Mommy and Daddy and Baby Buster love Chicken so, so, so much! You are our favorite little Chicken in the whole world.

Mommy and Daddy

I mean, just try to write a note like that to your child in a world where Newtown happened. You will not walk away with dry eyes. Unless you have a preexisting dry eye condition, in which case you'll surely walk away with dry eyes, but you'll probably have a lump in your throat the size of an apple.

The hard truth at the end of the day is that no matter how carefully I write each letter in each word, how many stickers I press down smoothly all the way to the edges, no matter how purposefully I write out his name on the envelope and draw little hearts all around it, if this letter is being read my son will be afraid and this note probably will not comfort him.

The bars, though... those'll do the trick. I also snuck in a binky, which absolutely seals the deal. I think if Chicken had to choose between Mommy and binky, he'd have to sit in his chair and think about it for a long, long time. Which obviously requires the use of a binky.


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