I found out just how much the kids love our chickens when one of them suddenly died yesterday.
Initially, the fact that one of them died was nothing but a great big hassle to me. But I soon realized this was going to be quite an emotional day – one that would provide ample parenting and life lesson opportunities.
A year ago, my wife asked me if we could get some chickens. She was kindly asking, but I knew what this really meant: we were getting chickens. When she’s determined, there’s just no stopping that train.
Sensing the inevitable, I negotiated while I still had any semblance of leverage. My proposal: Yes, so long as I had nothing to do with cleaning a coop, feeding them, getting the eggs, etc. The care was all on the kids.
She happily agreed and a couple weeks later we had six chicks, sitting under a heated lamp in a bin in my office.
The kids were over the moon with joy. They named each chick and assigned one to each family member.
My 10-year-old son Jack picked Henrietta. She was an easter egger chicken, which lay a special type of egg (or so I’m told).
While the thought of having chickens was greatly annoying to me — I have to admit, since getting them it’s been (mostly) a blessing to our family. The kids are up at the crack of dawn making sure they’re let out into the run. They get them food and water. They shepherd them into the coop at night, make sure it’s locked up and safe from predators. They regularly clean the coop.
It has taught them responsibility and they have done a remarkable job. The kids have also formed a bond with the chickens.
They pick them up for a quick snuggle, even though the chickens hate it. They laugh at all the shenanigans — such as the escape attempts and the loudness of Henrietta, who clearly thinks she is a rooster. She MUST go upstairs and shout her little beak off to let us know one of her sisters is laying an egg.
Then came yesterday. My wife and I were out on the back patio, enjoying a rare outside morning coffee & tea together. My son Samuel was up early, and went out to check on the chickens. He came back with a grim look on his face.
“Henrietta is laying on her side, not moving.”
Uh-oh. This isn’t going to be good. We’d hoped she was asleep, but upon closer look, she had indeed passed on.
Jack took the news in stride at first, leading me to believe this wasn’t going to be a big deal. But the task of getting her out of the coop and into her grave would fall on Jack since Henrietta was his chicken. That changed things.
He didn’t want to do it. At first, we thought it was because, let’s face it, carting off a dead chicken is a bit morbid. I’m sure that was part of it, but the refusal had more to do with what was hiding underneath the surface.
He was devastated. This was his little buddy. The one he was charged with caring for, and there she lay, lifeless. He couldn’t articulate his emotions, but I’m sure he felt sadness and, while not reasonable, some guilt.
But, in a moment we would praise him for later, my little guy mustered up the courage to grab his fallen friend by the feet and headed to her final resting place.
Jack and his older sister dug the hole, and gently placed her inside. Both were quiet. Both had some tears welling up. Both were strong in spite of everything.
Once the task was finished, my son began walking away to get some flowers from the front yard to put on the grave. He was still holding it together for the most part, until I gave him a hug as he walked by. All of his emotion let loose, and the poor guy sobbed as I held him close.
To me, they’re just chickens. My first reaction to the news of Henrietta’s death was filled with annoyance, selfishly figuring I’d have to be the one dealing with it — a clear breach of my contract.
What a foolish response! To the kids, those chickens are best of friends. Here was an opportunity to grieve and bond with my children, particularly my older two – and I nearly missed out because of my sinful nature.
Parenting is a full-time job. More than full-time as you get NO time off. You need to be constantly looking for opportunities to teach, grow and build up your children. A dead chicken wasn’t a mere inconvenience, however. It was an opportunity. A chance to tell my kids how proud I am of the job they are doing caring for the chickens, and that it’s not their fault poor Henrietta suffered an untimely demise.
It was a chance to show them how to grieve, and celebrate the life lived as well as mourn it’s over. We laughed about all Henrietta’s shenanigans and how it was going to be much quieter without her around. We told them that God knew Henrietta was going to only live a year from the moment she was born. We held them when waves of emotion would sweep over them.
This picture is of my son Jack placing flowers at Henrietta’s grave.
As parents, our job is not to make them compliant, it’s to get after their hearts. My kid’s hearts were devastated, and while this was a sad day, it was also a chance God provided to speak into the hearts of my children.
I pray this is a reminder to step outside yourself and look for opportunities to speak truth into the lives of the brokenhearted.