One year, a colleague delivered some eggs that contained chicks ready to hatch to my second grade classroom. Her in-laws owned a hatchery. There was a heat lamp. Also a separate box with screen on the floor. The chicks would go in there after they hatched. The colleague instructed that I could feed them bread. This seemed somewhat implausible, somewhere in the distant future while looking at the eggs. Then she left. I was curious and eager for the adventure that was about to unfold.
I spoke to her about bringing in chicks because one of my students read a book about chickens hatching and told me he thought the genre was fantasy. He had no schema, no experience, no point of reference, no prior knowledge of this at all. Since one of our district mascot is / are The Chix (the other is / are The Dux), I felt it was my duty to make this experience real for this student.
The eggs hatched during class! I had been convinced it would happen at night after we had all gone home. But no. It was as exciting as I had imagined. A few of the eggs hatched at a time. We invited other classes to come see the babies.
The chicks were as adorable as all the Easter Peeps and Sesame Street videos you can imagine. They fluffed out surprisingly quickly and were actively hopping instantaneously. Just like wind-up toys, only better. The changes they went through occurred before our very eyes!
It was like watching a sped up movie. In real time. When the chicks got to be 2 days old, things took an unexpectedly freaky turn. You might see yellow fluff at 9 a.m., but after recess at 10:30 a.m., you would begin to see a sort of browning, the promise of adult feathers. You’d look at noon and there was a hint of a strut. The speed, the lightening speed of development was absolutely creepy in a way I never anticipated.
We could hardly keep our minds on anything else. The peeping alone. Yes, real live peeps!! Audible peeps constant, peeps. Oblivious to the rest of us in the room. Their marshmallow namesake were impossibly silent and yellow, wrapped in plastic.
The first night, I woke up at 3 a.m. and drove over to school in my pajamas and robe in a panic that the chicks were not warm enough. I wasn’t convinced that I had transferred all of the chicks to the box with the heat lamp. Had the last ones hatched in the night and were freezing to death? I felt the weight of my role as source of heat, nourishment and water. But all was well. The chicks were fine.
However, the following night! Oh!! My panic should have been saved for this fateful 12 hours.
This second night, I actually slept peacefully, having left water and bread crumbs for the babies for when I was away. But in fact, before I left, there was a suggestion of a melee as the water seemed suddenly to create some frantic slightly dangerous excitement among the brood.
When I came to school the next morning, I found one of the most disturbing sights in recent memory. The image may never leave the backs of my cornea. My own miniature horror movie.
One of the chicks had been trampled in the water dish. Which was horrifying in itself. But a single brother or sister remained on top of its drowned carcass, slowly lifting one tiny foot and then the other. The slow-motion seemed like a movie effect. The chick acted as if it was running out of steam, but still felt driven to re-enact the trample into infinity. It was made more sinister because of the silence. And the juxtaposition. A yellow chick, leisurely acting out the most brutal of all acts, fratricide.
I was at a loss as to what to do. Every option seemed not only distasteful, but almost beyond my capability. Faced with death of an animal, you can usually walk quickly away or drive by to allow animal control to complete its duty out of sight.
But the children would be coming. I needed to dispose of the limp mass of soggy feathers, staring eyes and tiny beak, little 3-pronged feet, motionless. But I had to remove its heartless brother from the water first. I gagged.
I put a plastic baggie over my hand and quickly plucked the live bird from the water dish. I then put the entire dish, carcass included, into another plastic baggie and sealed it while holding my breath. I could feel the warmth from the heat lamp through the container and baggie, much like a urine sample.
I walked with the baggie at arm s length to the trashcan on the playground I had to remove it from the building. And dropped him down into the depths of this unsuspecting receptacle. Peeling off the plastic bag with its thin layer of protection, I quickly dropped that into the can as well. The chick’s final resting place among discarded Hot Cheeto and Airhead wrappers.
I contacted the custodian to let him know of the bird’s temporary mausoleum so as not to spread some weird bird-borne disease or have the rotting carcass cause a scandal on the playground.
When the students arrived I was not planning to mention this tragedy. But almost immediately a few went over to the box and began counting the chicks. They noticed within minutes that one was missing. This kind of accounting surprised me. Yet, pleasantly.
They looked to me for an explanation.
I began, ” Friends, last night a tragedy took place in Room 208. We lost one of our chicks. There was an accidental drowning. I’m sure we will miss him, but he is in a better place.”
Although saddened, I could almost see the thought clouds above their little heads. Images of the lost chick on the most perfect farm. Hopping. Care free. Pecking at real bird seed, rather than spongy bits of Wonder bread.
The children seemed satisfied with this explanation of loss. They suggested that we name the chicks. They insisted on including the one, that lie, unbeknownst to them, closer than they might have thought. In the playground trash bin.
For the living, they came up with Bill Nye, Billy Bob and other names that made them giggle. But they saved their best for the lost soul.
Bubbles? I had to swallow in an attempt to stifle a fit of laughter that literally bubbled up through my lungs. I turned toward the whiteboard to compose myself. Then added this name to the list.
Note: I’ve since found out, you should put the water for the chicks in a shallow plate instead of a container. And for extra safety, place an upside-down cup in the center to avoid any possibility of a drowning.