(How do you get life from death? How do you teach children about death and how to deal with it? More importantly, how do you teach someone the worth of life and how fragile it is? Some things cannot be told. They must be held, felt…experienced. This is one of ours.)
Saturday was the day! My son Seth (10) was excited because we were going to get some baby chicks that day. (He was researching all week on the possible breeds from which we could choose, and he was planning my schedule on Saturday to make sure I had time to take him to the farm store that day.)
I had just returned home from my Boy Scout activities in the morning, and Seth went into scheduling mode with me: “Daddy, when you’re done feeding I.Z. and you’re done changing (from my scout clothes), can we go?” he asked. “Of course,” I replied. So, when I said, “Let’s go!”, he bounded downstairs to head out. Sam (8) came along as well once he found out we were going to get some chicks.
The farm store was filled with people itching with spring fever. Little chirping sounds drew us to the chick area which was surrounded by excited children and parents alike. We took our place in line as we browsed all the chicks and the chicken chart, and my boys waited patiently and eagerly as we made our selections. Finally, it was our turn to pick. Seth and Sam watched with wide-eyed anticipation as the store attendant placed each chick into our little box and then closed it at the end of our transaction. Seth offered to carry the box, and pretty soon both he and Sam couldn’t keep from looking inside that box and smiling. There was life inside that box! And it was cute and fuzzy and little and beautiful! “Daddy, they’re so cute! I love the smell of baby chicks!” and on and on they chattered, all the way home, marvelling at the life they held in their hands.
Once home, they gathered the rest ot their siblings to “come and see” the new guests. More squeals of glee and excitement came from the younger ones as they held and petted and marvelled at these chicks. Immediately, they named them: Marshmallow, Muffin, Buttercup, and Popcorn. From then, I had the hardest time getting the kids to finish their Saturday chores; they’d do some, pause to look at the chicks, play with them, and then resume their chores. Seth just could not stay away long enough…but he finally finished his chores so he could spend time with the chicks. He’s the watchful, observant one, and he was studying each chick’s disposition as he fed them with water and bits of corn.
I came inside from doing yard work and proceeded to work upstairs when Seth called for me, “Daddy, Daddy, come quickly!” That didn’t sound good, and I hurried down to see what was the matter.
He held in his hands a chick that looked like it was struggling: feet outstretched, head limp, eyes closed, and barely breathing. “I think Popcorn is dying,” he said, very concerned for the little bird. I wasn’t sure and said, “Maybe he’s just weak and hungry or thirsty.” So my wife and I did our best to revive Popcorn while Seth and Sam looked on.
Our efforts were not enough to remove that desperate feeling that Seth may be right, nor were we successful in reviving Popcorn. Our fruitless attempts left us kneeling with a gasping bird in hand while we watching this struggling life before us take its last gasp of air.
And then, it was still.
We knelt quietly after that, and my sons said dejectedly, “Popcorn is dead, Daddy.” I had to agree. They were on the verge of tears. Poor Sam…he was the one who gave Popcorn her name and was so proud of that, too. And Seth struggled and hoped and wished and sought through that whole ordeal…to no avail. He loved all those chicks from the moment he saw them. Whenever he held them, his tenderness came out. To lose one? It broke his heart!
Seth said we could bury Popcorn in the garden where we buried Little Lady last year (she was another hen that we raised but was pecked to death by another hen). I suggested a secluded spot in our flowerbed instead so i wouldn’t accidentally till her up when I tilled the garden. Seth agreed to that. We both went there, and Seth dug a hole and buried Popcorn.
He then asked if i could get another chick like Popcorn, resolved to take better care of it. To that, I agreed. And Seth is now looking forward for my return home with a new chick, eager to start anew.
In retrospect, that Saturday had the ups and downs you don’t usually expect to have in a typical day. It began with life and excitement…but it didn’t end in death, even though Death happened to stop by. Death was just a part of living. I marvelled at my son’s compassion, his tenderness and love,his taking responsibility, his concern and his resilience and his resolve…all evidence of the growing of a man.
That Saturday, we may have lost a chick…but my wife and I have gained a man out of a son.