The Sisterhood of Broody Hens

One of our hens has gone broody. This means she has hunkered down on a clutch of eggs and will not get up. She barely eats or drinks during this stretch. She won’t leave her eggs at night in order to roost up high with the other hens. If anyone messes with her, she’ll peck them and fiercely protect the eggs. It is her job to get the eggs to hatch and it’s all good if your goal is to have new baby chicks. It’s not good if the eggs aren’t fertilized and will never hatch.

 

We currently don’t have any roosters. Our broody hen could sit on those eggs for a thousand years and they would never hatch since the eggs aren’t fertilized, but she doesn’t know this and you can’t exactly reason with a chicken.

This isn’t our first go-around with a broody hen. A few years ago, we had a hen who would not move off her eggs. I was out in the coop trying to get her to move by gently poking her with a wooden spoon. I didn’t want to get too close because broody hens are mean. They are insane, actually. As I was poking her, I was saying, “As a feminist, I regret doing this to you.” Bryan had to put on long gloves and other protective gear in order to physically move her off the eggs. She hit the ground ready for a fight: with Bryan, with the other hens, with the universe. Broody hens don’t even look like themselves. They are crazy mama hens, fierce and puffed up.

 

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some hens go broody. Chicken experts cite everything from the moon to hormones to maternal instinct to explain this behavior. Usually, it happens in the spring to a hen who isn’t brand new to laying eggs. The seasoned, middle-aged mama hens are more at risk. They are the fiercest.

 

I sometimes go broody, myself. I become determined to sit on my chicks and I cannot be reasoned with during these stretches.

 

I see in our broody hen the challenge of motherhood: to determine if you are simply doing your job as a mom to get the eggs to hatch or if you are sitting on an impossible situation.

 

We’re in the midst of some growing pains at the McArthur house. My oldest chid has obtained a legal driver’s license. The first day that she drove herself to school, Bryan hugged her in the driveway like she was going off to war. I haven’t been especially freaked out about her behind the wheel. I’m intentionally getting out of her way. I’m letting her fly.

 

I’ve been saving my “broody” for Katie. Katie is really struggling academically, but even more worrisome to me is how discouraged she is about her own ability to learn. I’ve seen a change in her since we sent her to summer school last year. It’s like she’s fading on me. So, I’ve withdrawn her from her elementary school for the next two months and today she starts a one-on-one tutoring program for kids with learning disabilities.

 

As an adult, I know that school isn’t your whole life; but when you are a kid, school actually is your whole life. For those of us who found affirmation in school, this was good news. For kids like mine, this isn’t great news. I look at Katie and think, “Every single day, we are asking her to spend most of her day doing something that feels impossible to her; and it’s only getting harder.” Most adults I know don’t face that kind of challenge every day, all day. It wears on her. And yet, becoming a proficient reader isn’t optional. We have to get her reading. So, we’re making a big change.

 

A few years ago, we took her twin sister Elizabeth to Emory hospital for corrective eye surgery. That surgery changed everything: her double vision is gone and her eyes don’t turn anymore. Her reading has greatly improved now that she can actually see the words. She’s also very confident now that she knows there’s only one of everything. It was the right call, to let someone cut the muscles of my child’s eyeballs, but we didn’t get there right away. We first tried bifocals and vision therapy and all kinds of eye exercises. After a few years of following Elizabeth around the house saying, “Follow this pencil with your eye,” we accepted that surgery was the only way to fix her eyes that simply didn’t have time to develop before she was born. After a few years of following Katie around the house with flashcards of sight words, we’ve accepted that we need a concerted effort of one-on-one intensive learning to help her brain make connections that simply didn’t have time to develop before she was born.

 

So, like our broody hen, I’m a little puffed up right now. I’m hunkered down and determined. The difference, though, is that my broodiness will move Katie to the next stage: this little chick of mine has a lot of life in her.

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