Life’s Hardest Lessons

Back in September Brendan brought a note home from school requesting that we donate $2.00 so the third grade classes could hatch chicks in an incubator for one of their Life Science lessons.  I was very excited to read about this because (way back in the day) when I was in third grade we did the same thing, and I still have some very fond memories regarding the experience.  The only thing I found odd was that we needed to send the money in September but they wouldn’t get the chicks until February…but hey, what do I know.

So last month, the big day finally came.  The class got a dozen or so eggs and put them into an incubator.  They even had a little class contest to name each of the eggs.  Brendan was a little sad that none of his entries got picked, but got over it quickly in the ensuing excitement of learning all about how the chicks were developing inside the eggs.

The timing of the lesson was so that the chicks would hatch while the kids were on spring break.  When they went back to school last week they would hopefully find 12 brand new, perfectly healthy baby chickens waiting for that.  But unfortunately, that is not what actually happened.  When they got back to school they found 6 baby chicks, 2 partially hatched eggs, and 4 unhatched eggs.  The embryos inside those eggs didn’t survive and therefore didn’t hatch.

Brendan’s teacher, not wanting to scar the kids too badly simply told them that those eggs never had any chicks in them.  She explained that the eggs that didn’t hatch were no different than the eggs we buy in the store.  That seemed to satisfy the class, and Brendan accepted the information as well.  Although when he came home that afternoon he was a little confused because he thought the eggs we bought in the store and scrambled for eating had baby chicks in them.  He honestly thought we were scrambling their brains in the pan.

Thankfully (because at the time I didn’t know what his teacher had told him) I told him the exact same thing his teacher did, that the eggs that didn’t hatch had no chicks in them, nor did the ones we bought at the store.  I promised him that the ones we bought at the store had never been fertilized and I could guarantee they had no chickens in them.  This of course led to the question, what is fertilization.  And I’ll be honest I couldn’t think how to explain that without a 50 minute slide show presentation featuring birds and bees so I just said to trust me.

Things might have been okay if things had ended with just the unhatched eggs.  But the kids were fascinated by the hatching eggs, and spent much of the day monitoring their progress.  Well, part way through the day one of the two chicks died while part way out of its shell.  There was nothing Brendan’s teacher could do to shelter the kids from it, they all saw the dead chicken in the incubator.  And from the sounds of it the bulk of the class, while somewhat sad about it, understood the whole circle of life thing and accepted that some chicks die.

Not Brendan though.  He was distraught over the loss of the chick.  It wasn’t obvious immediately when I picked him up after school.  We had the whole fertilization conversation before he ever even mentioned that one of the chicks had died.  But listening to him talk I could tell he was upset, and I know Brendan well enough to know what kind of an afternoon we would be having.

So as soon as I got the kids settled down with an after school snack, I emailed his teacher and let her know how upset he was and to be on the lookout for out of sorts behavior at school as well.  I got an email back almost instantly, and she let me know she’d already seen signs of it at school that day and had done what she could to help him through it.  With that part taken care of I prepared myself for a long afternoon.

Sure enough, Brendan had a really tough time.  It seemed like every little thing would set him down the path toward a meltdown.  Being aware that he would probably be acting like that I was able to stave off any major meltdowns, but it just about wore me out.  In situations like this, where Brendan gets out of sorts over a specific incident, he’s usually okay by the second day.  But since he’d be reminded of the death every time he looked into the incubator at the remaining chicks we weren’t sure how the week would go.

The second day was Thursday, and Brendan’s school was having a fundraising thing at the local skating rink that night.  Brendan reminded me of it before school, and was very excited to go.  Due to a conflict, we’d missed the last one and he was determined not to miss another.  Matt and I were equally determined to take him since he was so excited to go.

But, as it turned out, going skating on Thursday night was not in the cards.  Matt picked Brendan up after school, and he was even more out of sorts than he had been the day before.  In talking to him, Matt found out that one of the healthy chicks had hurt it’s leg and no one was sure why, and that the chicks would be going back to the farm the following day.  (For the sake of my family at least, hallelujah!)

Even though he’d known since September that the chicks would only be there for a short time, the fact that they had to give them back to the farm really hit Brendan hard.  He’d gotten attached to good old Peanut and the rest of the gang.  And despite our proactive efforts to keep any meltdowns at bay, we couldn’t.  Like Wednesday every little thing seemed to put him on the meltdown path, and no matter what we tried he could not be calmed and placated.  He obsessed over the minutest details, and refused to do anything that we asked him to.

So, despite some valiant efforts on our part to get the family ready to go to the skating party, we were forced to finally say that Brendan was in no condition to go skating that night and stay home.  Which of course brought on another epic meltdown.  We hated denying him something he wanted so desperately to do, but taking him would have been a disaster.  He would have ended up having a meltdown at the rink in front of all his friends, and we wanted to save him that embarrassment.

Having had some time to come to terms with the chicks leaving on Thursday night, Brendan was much better when we picked him up on Friday.  Though it seemed that the mishaps this batch of chicks had was going to be a never ending saga, because on Friday Brendan informed us that one of the chicks had been born blind, and kept running into the walls of the incubator (not the same chick who hurt it’s leg–believe me, I asked).

I should have realized the potential pit falls involved with the class raising chicks, but it never crossed my mind that any of them would die.  I know how sensitive Brendan is to animal deaths, he exhibited that earlier this year when the class watched a couple of movies where animals died.  (see Heart of Gold).  But at the same time I can’t shelter him from this type of experience forever.  At some point he will have to come to terms with the fact that animals die.  And I would much rather he go through the experience with a newborn chick that he barely knows than wait until our 10 year old cat, Homer, dies.

There are days that I want to do nothing more than protect my baby boy from all the hurts in the world because I just don’t think his sensitive, and caring little heart can handle it.  And then there are other days when I realize that the more I expose him to these things the more he can learn to accept life’s hardest lessons for what they are.

 

 

The death of the chicks, and Brendan’s meltdown regarding skate daze

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