Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Will soon miss the babies’ PEEP!

If I seem a bit on edge these days, it’s because I’m a new mother, and I’m worn out.
When I last wrote, we had just acquired four babies for our lonely pet turkey, Gobbles. But she turned up her beak at them, as we figured she might, and they became ours (mostly mine) to raise.
So much for the empty nest.
For the first couple of weeks, the turkey poults lived 24/7 in a large black rubber water tub in our dining room. Now they spend the daylight hours in the old goat barn, outdoors but safe from bullying chickens and a dog who looks at them the way I look at sticky buns. 
At least once a day, I take them out for recess, letting them peck around the yard and chase bugs, and at dusk I carry them inside to the tub in the dining room.
They are barely robin-sized and only half feathered out, and they still sleep under a heater rather than on a roost. I’m not ready to let them spend the night down in the barn.
If I sound overprotective, let me explain.
We had a tragic incident in the goat barn this spring. I had just rescued four newly hatched chicks whose mother, a doting hen, gave up her life to protect them from an unidentified predator. (In the spring, our property is the go-to spot for unidentified predators.) I set them up in the goat barn and closed it up tight.
Little did I know the threat was coming from inside the barn.
It turns out that a large raccoon had been spending its days sleeping in the rafters and venturing out at night to look for grain and maybe kill a mother hen (if the opportunity arose). And I unwittingly trapped those helpless babies inside with it.
It didn’t end well for them, and I’m still in therapy.
The raccoon has since moved on, but I’m wary. So until the poults are well feathered and roosting, they’ll sleep in the dining room.  
And that’s unfortunate. Because they cry at bedtime. A lot.
As darkness falls, the poults begin shrieking, “Peep-peep-Peep-Peep-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP!” over and over in a piercing crescendo that 10-point type can’t adequately convey. When all four get going, it can make your fillings vibrate.
And there’s no good reason for it. The tub is certified raccoon-free. Amenities include food, water, heat and Wi-Fi.
The only thing the poults don’t have is a mother.
I’m afraid I gave them the wrong impression. I found early on that if I held them when they cried, they would crawl up under my chin or behind my neck and make soft happy noises.
Each night, I would cuddle the anxious poults one by one until they stopped crying and then return them to the tub.
Every 20 minutes.
It was no way to live. So I did what any surrogate turkey mother would do: I started “sleep training” them. This is a common technique with infants: At bedtime you gradually reduce physical contact with your baby, increasing the time between check-ins until the baby learns to self-soothe.
I held the poults less and less each night. Soon I stopped picking them up altogether and just reached into the tub to pat them until they stopped crying.
Now I only lean over the tub and murmur to them in gentle tones, staying as long as it takes to get them to settle. 
At the slightest noise or hint of light, however, they wake up and start crying again with gusto, so I have forbidden the kitchen lights to be turned on after dark. Making a cup of tea in the evening has now turned into a game of Who Wants to Get Scalded? But it’s worth it for the quiet.
Once in a while Mark, fumbling around in the dark for the ice cream scoop or stepping in an unseen puddle of tea, will yell from the kitchen, waking the babies.
“Are you kidding me?” I say in a hoarse whisper. “I just got them down!”
It’s exhausting.
But it’s temporary. Soon the poults will be big enough to sleep in the barn. They’ll get awkward and gangly and act annoyed when I try to hang out with them. And when the other birds are around, they’ll pretend they don’t know me. But that’s how it always goes.
They grow up so fast. 

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