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I Only Wanted A Break

by Helen Dowd  
11/18/2008 / Short Stories

Totally exhausted after a day of chasing goats, chickens, ducks, geese, dogs and cats, and three preschool children, I dropped into my lazy boy chair. I had no sooner dozed off when the six school-aged children burst in from school, all tumbling over each other, trying to be the first to tell me about their day. Usually I welcomed their enthusiasm, but today I just wished the whole world would vanish, and take me with it. It had been one of those days!

I closed my eyes, trying hard not to let the tears escape. I wanted to shout at the children, tell then to "shut up!" But I didn't have to. Lucile, the oldest girl, was a very softhearted, caring child, too grown-up for her twelve years. She saw my distress and asked, "Mom? What's wrong?"

It was then the tears really came. And you could have heard a pin drop. The children all clambered around me, concern showing in their eyes.

Being only twenty-eight, and having nine children was sometimes a bit much. If I had acquired the children in the usual manner, I might have become gradually used to the idea. But then I would have been older than twenty-eight. The children were all foster children, ranging in age from four to fourteen. The responsibility and work was sometimes overwhelming.

Lucile dropped her schoolbooks on the table and made me a cup of tea. The little ones had climbed onto my lap, while the others just stood staring at me. Soon, the cup of tea helping, I gained my composure, letting out a big sigh.

James looked at me and said, "Mom? Did we do something wrong?"

"No," I said, a smile struggling to my lips. "I'm just exhausted. It's all right. Some day when you have children of your own you'll understand."

"Do you wish you didn't have us?" four-year-old Van, the youngest, wanted to know. He'd been especially trying that day, and perhaps his conscience was bothering him.

"Of course I don't wish I didn't have you," I replied, pulling him close. "But sometimes mommies just get tired. Sometimes mommies wish they could have a break. But I'm okay now. Come and help get supper."

A week later school broke for the summer. And now, instead of three children around all day, I had nine. We lived on acreage, and there was always plenty to do. We had made a rule that the children would work for a couple of hours each morning; then the afternoon they were free to do as they pleased.

* * *

We had a number of bantam hens. Bantams have a habit of laying eggs wherever they choose. Because of their great flying ability, we found it impossible to keep these little chickens penned up. So the children made it their job to go find the bantie eggs. But one day two of the boys got a surprise. They found a nest of six eggs, hidden from view by some tall grass. Half on, and half off the nest, lay a dead hen. All excited, the boys came running to me, asking if they could bring the eggs in and try to incubate them. They were both in the fifth grade at school, and had learned about how baby chickies were hatched--not born, like kittens. James, a few months older than Don, explained that he was sure that the mother hen had just died, because she was still warm. I went with them to where the eggs were, examining them.

I became as excited as the boys. Yes! I thought to myself. This would make a great summer project, even if no chickies resulted. But I wanted to make sure that it would not be just another start-and-quit thing, so I said, "Okay, I am going to let you try this. But on one condition. If you start this project, you must finish it. I don't want to hear you complaining in a few days that you are tired of it and want to quit."

The boys assured me that they would see it to its completion. I helped them gather the equipment: a box for nesting, a couple of hot water bottles, a calendar to keep track of the incubation days. Of course, that would just be a guess, as we had no idea when the dead hen had begun sitting on the eggs.

The boys set the water bottles into the box on top of the heating pad, covered them with a cloth, and nestled the eggs in. Faithfully for days, they checked the water bottle temperature, and turned the eggs, often getting up in the night to make sure the eggs were all right. At about the fifteenth day they became impatient. They saw the other children go off to the slough for a swim, but they wouldn't go. Their chicks might hatch while they were gone. Even though I assured them that it would be all right for them to go off for a couple of hours, they refused. They were sticking to their promise of seeing this thing to its completion.

I really couldn't determine how many eggs would hatch, if any. After examining them several times when the boys weren't around, I had decided that only two of the six showed any sign of development, although I had my doubts about even them. I didn't voice my opinion to Don or James, however, as I wasn't sure, and because I did not want to dampen their enthusiasm. A few more days went by, and the boys were beginning to give up hope. I never saw such dejected looking faces in all my life.

The next morning, however, two excited boys came rushing from their bedroom, into the kitchen, "Mom! Mom! Come look. I think some chickies are starting to come out."

I looked. Two tiny "pips" appeared on two of the eggs. The boys each picked up an egg. For an hour or so they held those eggs in their hands, watching as two tiny beaks chipped away at the shells. All the children stood around, watching the process. The younger ones wanted James and Don to help the little chickies out, but James, being the smarter of the two boys, said, "No! That's not nature's way. I've been reading about it. They can't be hurried."

Suddenly the egg James was holding cracked further. He became so excited that he nearly dropped it. And then it was Don's turn to become excited, except that Don was a rather stoical child, and kept his emotions bottled up. He just stood there, holding his egg, with the broadest smile I had ever seen on his face.

I placed a towel on the table, and advised the boys to set their eggs carefully on it, so that we all could watch this miracle taking place. All twenty eyes (mine included) were glued to the action for the next fifteen minutes or so, as the two little chicks worked their way into the world. It was while these little peepers were busy entering their new world that I announced to the children that there would be only these two chicks. The other eggs had not developed.

But the excited boys didn't seem to care. They were instant parents. And were they ever! Those chicks followed them all day long, eating and making messes everywhere. They peeped at night. They peeped during the day. Whenever James and Don left the room those two little chicks set up such a holler that you could hear them all the way to the hen house. The boys were trapped. They could not get away from parenthood.

A few days later the other children decided they wanted to go on a hike. The boys really wanted to go with them. But they couldn't. They were stuck being "mommies" to those two little chicks.

"Maybe we could just put them in the box and close the lid," suggested James. "We could leave them lots of water and food. We'd be gone only four or five hours." He looked at me mournfully, as he closed the lid and threw a towel over the box. He went to his bedroom to get ready for the hike. All the while the chicks hollered. He went and got another towel to make it darker in the box. Maybe the chicks would think it was night, and go to sleep. But the peeping got even louder.

James looked downcast. "I guess we can't go," he said, looking over at Don. "I only wanted a break."

And then he remembered the day I had said those same words. He looked at me, and with a sheepish grin he said, "Now I know how you feel sometimes, Mom. You don't mind being a mom, but you sure could use a break now and then."

I smiled and gave the boys each a hug. When I had said those words a month ago, I had not realized that it would be so soon that two little boys would learn what parenthood meant.

This story is based on fact, but names and a few details have been changed.

Helen Dowd

I am thankful to the Lord for my Christian parents who brought me up to love the Lord, and who taught me that there are no second-generation Christians, and that each person must accept Christ's gift of salvation--the shedding of His blood on Calvary. I gave my heart to the Lord at the age of eight. .... Now that I am in my retirement years, I am enjoying spending time at my computer, along side my husband of 51 years, writing poetry, story poems, stories about pets and life in general, as well as inspirational and Bible stories. My writings can be found on my website:

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