One minute you’re feeling pleased with yourself for coming up with a plan to make your 3-year-old’s childhood a little more magical, and the next you’re performing emergency rhinoplasty on a 1-inch-tall rubber chicken.
It all started when Theo found an “egg” on the playground at school. He held up what looked like a cherry pit or maybe a tree nut and said, “Mommy! I found an egg!” He wanted to bring it home and keep it warm so it would hatch.
“Great idea!” I said.
When we got home, he found a little wooden box and put the egg inside. Then he covered it with Duckie, his favorite stuffed animal, and tucked the whole thing into the cabinet of his play kitchen. He told me to talk quietly so I wouldn’t disturb the egg while it hatched.
For the next two days, as soon as we got home he would head straight to the cabinet to see if the egg had hatched. “I heard the egg cracking when I was at school!” he’d say.
The frustration and exhaustion and everything is all for this: to see evidence that you are raising a kind, nurturing little person whose first instinct is to care for living creatures. Or maybe he’s just mimicking something he saw on “Paw Patrol.” Either way.
I decided I would buy a tiny toy chick and put it in the box under Duckie, so that when Theo came home from school the following day, he would find that his egg had finally hatched. For a second I worried that, rather than preserving his innocence and sense of wonder, I might just be messing with him. I texted Steven: “Do you think it will confuse him / make a mockery of his beliefs?”
We decided to risk it.
At the toy store I wandered the aisles searching for a tiny little chick that looked like it could have hatched from the nut-thingy Theo had brought home. I was just about to give up when I spotted a jar full of mini erasers near the register. The erasers were in the shapes of various animals, including… A CHICK HATCHING FROM AN EGG.
Back at home, I removed the nut from the box and replaced it with the little chick. I couldn’t wait to get Theo home. When I picked him up at daycare, though, I played it cool: “Should we see if the egg hatched today? Or not. Whatever.”
Theo walked to his play kitchen when we got home, his excitement clearly diminished by three days of waiting. Almost immediately he called out, “It didn’t hatch.” And then: “It DID hatch! Mom!”
I ran into the dining room and found Theo holding the little chick and beaming. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice that the egg had become quite a bit larger and was now made of an entirely different material. Details.
He nuzzled the chick against his cheek and started singing to it. I got a little teary and retreated into the kitchen so he wouldn’t see me staring at him and crying like a crazy person.
Less than 24 hours later, we had our first chicken-related emergency.
“Where’s my little chick?!” Theo yelled. It was the following morning, and I had no idea where it was. I realize that, as the mother of this household, it is my job to know where everything is at all times. But I had lost track of it sometime during the previous night’s pre-bedtime chaos.
Magically, Theo remembered that he had hidden the chick in a box on a shelf in our living room, and happiness was restored—briefly. It all went to hell again when he discovered that the chick’s microscopic beak was removable (for the love of god, why??), and, in spite of my pleas to just leave it attached, Theo soon dropped it between the slats of our deck, and it disappeared down into the spidery nether-region where Mommy does not go, ever.
His heartbroken wails made me reconsider this policy, for about a second, but I knew there had to be a solution that didn’t involve getting a face full of spider webs. So I dug up a sheet of orange construction paper, some Scotch tape, and a pair of scissors. While Theo sobbed, I MacGyvered a makeshift beak and stuck it into the little hole in the chick’s face.
I don’t think Theo ever took the chick for a real bird; I think he just didn’t question the whole thing too deeply. It made me think of the time when I was about 4 years old, and my cousin and I stuck a plastic baby rattle into the dirt in my grandfather’s garden and watered it as if it were a plant. The next morning, there was a whole row of rattles sticking out of the ground next to it. I think I knew it didn’t really work like that, but it was fun to imagine it did, and to bask in the knowledge that my grandfather loved us enough to participate in our little fantasy.
I’m hoping that’s what will stick with Theo when or if he thinks about the little chick, which has gone missing again—this time, I fear, for good. (It could be anywhere; I once found a Matchbox car at the bottom of a box of tissues.) It’s like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. We adults perpetrate these ruses to make our kids happy, in hopes that it’s the happiness, and not the eventual disillusionment, that makes a lasting impression.
Either way, next time Theo brings an egg home, I’m buying a bigger chick.