How to give a compliment
We are eating roast chicken, deliciously bathed in its own fatty juices (and well, 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. She’s like the cop driving around looking for people having too much fun.
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.
“Do you think our chickens would eat this meat?” Rose wants to know. Rose, who in that very video—eagle chomping snow goose—declared bird on bird predation to be cannibalizing. This has long been a discussion in our house. Our chickens, as omnivorous as any self-respecting poultry, will eat grasshoppers and worms, elk scraps and pigeon bits, but we’ve avoided feeding them any scrap that was formerly a chicken, for our own psychological comfort no doubt.
Not too proud to cannibalize, but lets not actually find out.
“They probably would,” I concede truthfully.
“It’s because they’re not very smart,” Col assesses. “In fact, our rat is smarter than the chickens.” No one argues with that. (Especially because we’ve been sponsoring a HeroRat in Tanzania, trained to detect landmines, and our adopted African giant pouched rat—Roco—is sailing through his TNT-detection training and we couldn’t be prouder).
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.
No meal complete without 32 ounce bottle of hot sauce.
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, it’s great that you’re tall enough to wash dishes now, I value your help!; or, I love watching how you make time to do the things you enjoy.
From the archives: one of my favorites from Col.
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 homeschooling sessions,” it’s great information. Tickling now permanently added to the homeschool 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.”
Sometimes it does indeed feel like I’ve made a “melee” rather than a meal.
Sometimes Col is so overcome with the warmth of feeling appreciated that he becomes a mobile snuggler, traveling, emotion-stricken, from lap to lap. Even the rat gets compliments, because like I said: all family members.
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.”