The Chicken Chronicles. By Jordana Bales
When I was 6 years old, I performed an experiment on the genetic effects of allergies. This brilliant feat of science was accomplished by rubbing poison ivy on my 4 year-old brother’s arm. I knew I was immune to the itchy rash – was my baby brother? A definite no, I recorded in my scientific journal (aka: a spiral notebook). The ensuing rash on his arm resulted in a spanking from my dad.
Even today, my husband occasionally lets me indulge my scientific curiosity and experimental nature on our almost 2 year-old daughter, Ava (our “labrababy”, as my father coined her after watching me gage her reactions to different foods). Our latest experiment comes from a concept I teach in my AP Psychology class – “systematic desensitization.” This technique is simple. Behavior therapists use it to help a patient overcome a phobia. Let’s say Mary is afraid of spiders. A therapist would slowly have Mary imagine a spider. Once that no longer caused Mary anxiety, the therapist would show her a picture of a spider. When Mary could handle a picture, the therapist would bring her an actual spider and slowly bring it closer until voila – Mary is a spider aficionado. I figured this would be the perfect technique to convince Ava to wear “the chicken costume.”
My girlfriend, Robin, let me borrow a magnificent chicken costume for Halloween. It is a beauty of an outfit, resplendent with feathers, a beak and a long tail. When I first put it on Ava she immediately hated it, screaming and crying and struggling to pull it off. Since then, my husband Michael and I have slowly been getting her used to it. She now allows us to put the head piece on our own heads and she will go so far as touching the costume. My husband, by far the more patient of our duo, has been implementing most of her training. He reports his progress daily and I, the lead scientist, have been pleased with the results.
Last night, I wanted Ava to try on a beautiful party dress that I was hoping she would wear this weekend to a bat mitzvah. As I put it on her, I (and she perhaps) had chicken costume flashbacks – she cried, kicked and hollered until I took it off her trembling little body. This morning, Michael reported that Ava’s reaction to the chicken costume had taken several steps backwards. She would not touch it and did not even allow him to put the head on. All of his painstaking hard work wiped out by one frilly dress. Perhaps Ava has some type of post-traumatic chicken disorder that I stirred up with the party dress. Perhaps in the womb she felt confined and will always shun any tight-fitting garb. Or maybe she’s just exerting her strong, passionate will. Further scientific studies will be needed to answer these questions. In the meantime, I’ve requested that my laboratory assistant Michael begin searching for other, less traumatic but just as cute Halloween costumes.