During my early years of teaching kindergarten, we had an incubator in our classroom. A local farm gave us chicken eggs, and we placed them inside, rotating them a couple times a day. One Saturday, when I stopped by to turn the eggs, I noticed one was rocking a little. There was a tiny triangle-shaped hole in its shell, then another next to it, and from within the chirp of a chick about to hatch. I pulled up a chair from one of the tiny desks and sat to watch the hatching. It was amazing, this earthy miracle of straining and pausing and straining again, glimpses of beak and feather poking out of the ever-lengthening crack in the shell. Finally, the chick broke out of its egg and laid on its back for a moment, matted and wet and exhausted and beautiful.
The next day, when I stopped by, the chick had dried out and rested up. He was this sweet, fluffy little thing, chirping incessantly. I picked him up, felt his downy softness in my hands, his claws tiny pricks against my palm. I moved him to his temporary home we’d set up – a cardboard box outfitted with newspaper and mesh, food and a lamp. Soon the box was filled with chicks, yellow ones, whitish ones, mottled ones, all chirping and pecking. My students were fascinated by them.
Whenever I lowered my hand into the box, one chick ran straight for it. It startled me each time, and I’d pull my hand back quickly before he reached me. It seemed unusually aggressive! After a couple days, I decided to leave my hand in the box and see what the chick would do. I lowered it in, palm up, and held still as the chick ran for it… and hopped into my hand and sat down. I realized it was the same chick I’d held. He wasn’t trying to attack me; he had imprinted on me and was trying to be near me.
I love the term “imprint.” It reminds me of the mother’s necklaces I have seen where a child’s thumbprint is pushed into clay before it is baked, reshaping the clay permanently, a hollow where there wasn’t one before. I wonder if the mother chicken feels that hollow when her chicks grow feathers and fly off.
My son just turned two. He is lean, but he still has thick baby ankles, little dimples on his hands where his knuckles are. Of course, I sit here wondering about how fast it is flying by as I watch him, caught between baby and little boy. I puzzle over the dichotomies of parenthood – how the pouring out can be so satiating. How the filling up leaves me empty, hollow in places that weren’t there before.
The years ahead will be full of growing, pushing against the circle of my arms. They aren’t meant to hold him forever, I know that. The quiet moments where he snuggles perfectly into my body, wraps his long arms around my shoulders and gives me a “hog and tiss” – those pauses will shorten. He will strain more and more, toward independence, big-boyhood and eventually manhood, and sometimes we both will be hurt, hollow, exhausted by it all. Still, what a blessing it is, our hearts imprinted on each other. I get to be a spectator to this amazing little life, this earthy miracle. My boy becoming.