During my daughter’s last month of kindergarten, her class had a lesson on chickens. Specifically, her classroom had 13 real eggs delivered, and the children were able to watch and wait for them to hatch in an incubator. It was a springtime school tradition that culminated in a field trip to a farm.
My daughter is fascinated by all animals from cute, cuddly puppies to the massive (and extinct) Megalodon shark, so this lesson was a dream for her. Each day, she’d come home and tell us what was happening to the chicks inside the eggs — how big they were, when they would be developing their heart, their beak, and their tail feathers. She was counting down the days until they hatched and would imagine everything she was going to teach them – how to eat, how to walk, how to get along with their fellow chicks.
She would also talk about the day when she’d bring two of the chicks home to live with us. Not “if” she brought them home, but “when.” Needless to say, she was all in.
Crazy as it seemed, my husband and I even started entertaining the idea of building a chicken coop in our backyard. It’s not that we wanted a chicken coop. Like, not at all. But, for the same reason we’ve spent many Saturdays at the zoo, made many visits to the aquarium, and repeatedly read 101 Facts About Dolphins at bedtime, we were into it because she was into it. We thought it’d be a great lesson in responsibility, started to think through the logistics, and even looked into city laws about having fowl in the neighborhood.
As hatch day got closer, I noticed a change in my daughter too. From the first day of school, we had a similar morning drop-off routine – we parked the car, grabbed her little sister, and walked down the hill towards the school doors together. Sometimes, we were late, and we’d be running. Sometimes she’d hold my hand, sometimes she’d hug her sister goodbye, yet always, she’d insist I watch her as she passed through the school doors. I’d stay until her pink backpack, comically big on her little frame, faded from my view.
But the routine changed with the chicks. She was so excited to get into school, one day she didn’t even look back. A quick “bye mom!” and she was running towards the doors, backpack bobbing, and looking now not-quite-so-big on her growing frame.
Soon, hatch day arrived.
Six new peeping chicks, each given a name by classroom vote. (Cookie Dough was my favorite.) Each child got to hold them if they wanted to. “You cup your hands very gently under them,” my daughter told us as she gestured the motion. “You have to protect their feet so they feel safe and don’t fly away.” She said it with such self-assurance, it was clear she enjoyed teaching our family something new. She’d come home from school proud to share the accomplishments each of the chicks achieved that day.
After a week, though, she had something else to tell us. “The chicks are leaving tomorrow,” she said solemnly. “They are bouncing around in their cage and have to go to a bigger home on a farm.” Then she added, “I cried a little about it at school.” (Gulp.)
Thankfully, a field trip following the day of the chick farewell cushioned the blow.
My husband didn’t end up building the chicken coop in our backyard, but the lesson in all of this wasn’t lost on either of us.
It’s a special thing to watch someone grow and change.
It’s exciting to imagine who these little beings will become and so rewarding to see the impact of the small moments in which you’ve invested time and love. These tiny beings suddenly transform into strong, independent, courageous creatures who begin to step away from you. It undoubtedly fills you with pride to see them grow.
But at the same time, it’s hard to watch them grow too big to be held in your safe, gentle grasp. They’re jumping and learning and excited to go out into the world, and you have to let them go… even if it makes you cry a little.
Or, in our case, a lot.