When you have chickens and children, sometimes you can’t but help see the similarities between living with a flock of chickens and living with, well, a flock of children.
Recently, one of my own chicks who had left the nest and been away as a freshman at a military college for the past six weeks came back to the nest for a much deserved weekend break. All of us were looking forward to having one of ours return to the flock – where we all thought he belonged. But after going through rook week and surviving the various arbitrary rules (food had to be chewed in either five or three bites) his superiors meted out in a haphazard way, I saw that my boy had changed.
Oh sure, he hung out with his brothers and sisters, and shared stories with us about his challenges, like how to undress, shower and then redress in three minutes.
But he was a little too guarded around his own home nest. He didn’t laugh as much. He held his shoulders back and stood taller and a little stiffer when he walked. Instead of quickly shoveling food into his mouth, he put his fork down between bites (actually, many thanks to the military for that one) and often refused snacks between meals (“We’re having heavy PT when we get back.”)
I kept asking him if he wanted or needed anything to take back to school.
“No,” he replied over and over.
And it was true. As a first year student, he’s not allowed to have much of anything in his room. When I had picked him up, he showed me his closet where his clothes have to be hung two fingers width apart from each other and a drawer where his gloves have to be in the upper left corner, his deodorant and toothpaste directly below. There was nothing in the room that was personal, nothing that showed any kind of identity; nothing that was him.
“Can’t I send you back with something?” I, the mama hen trying to take care of her chick, pleaded over and over. “A decoration? A loaf of pumpkin bread? Some warm socks?”
“I wouldn’t be able to keep it in my room, anyway.” He told me. “They have room inspection and I’d get into trouble.”
My son, the little chick whose favorite stuffed animal and plastic sword that had protected him his entire childhood, were still waiting for him on his bed, lonely for the boy that he had just been.
By the end of the weekend, I finally gave up trying to make suggestions of what I could do and give to comfort him and instead watched my boy as he caught up with friends he hadn’t heard from since the summer. He spent time on the couch sending text messages, emails and Facebook posts – modern electronic postcards letting others know what he had been up to.
My heart sank. Was it really true that once a chick had flown the coop, you could never really bring them back to the farm?
And then I heard it, he was in the other room and it started low. My son started playing some of his favorite music, the James Taylor and John Denver songs of my youth that had been so easily transferred to this boy as he grew and walked among the trees and plants of our backyard woods. It was what he always listened to when he needed to calm down. It was what we sang when we made the drive back and forth to his gymnastics gym. It was a part of his life while growing up in our house.
The chick who had left still remembered where he belonged.
I relaxed. For although the military can mold my son into a fine and proud soldier – a fierce and impressive foe - they will never, no matter how hard they try, be able to take away the fact, that my boy will be forever and always, be one of the chicks from our flock.
I write about lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire. You can follow our family's stories at my blog: Lessons Learned From the Flock.