What do these eggs and this boy have in common?*
Daughter Carmen is a farmer at heart. Carmen and her husband John’s numerous garden plots burst with flowers, grapes, berries, or veggies. Fruit trees dot one slope of their thirteen acres. A well-tended woodland beyond the cultivated areas supplies wild berries. They cull trees for firewood. They have carved out areas for events such as weddings, barbecues, and receptions. For years, Carmen has taken in boys in need of tough love: grandsons, nephews, and children of friends. The farm is also home to chickens, cats, dogs, pigs, and sometimes rabbits and goats.
John does much of the groundskeeping and most of the cooking, but Carmen cuts down trees, cares for the animals, and amazes us with her creative and frugal approach to life .
We were there for a Father’s Day picnic recently, where John and the current nephew-in-residence roasted a whole pig. Carmen showed me drying racks filled with rose petals being turned into potpourri. Looking down the stairway to the basement, I noticed brightly painted designs on the floor and asked about them, so she invited me to take a closer look. She’d marked off sixteen-inch squares on the cement, like tiles. She and her grandsons had painted each one in its own riot of color and design, then finished with a clear protective coat. The floor is a work in progress. Whenever she feels the need for a creative “fix,” she designs and paints another tile.
While we were there, Carmen lifted the lid of a homemade incubator, set aside the light bulb inside, and sprayed water on a dozen or so large brown eggs. She rolled each one firmly in all directions, wetting it thoroughly.
“What in the world are you doing?” I asked.
“My laying hens are about to stop producing,” she replied. “So I’m going to raise chicks to replace them. If I don’t spray the eggs twice a day, the shells dry out and get too hard.”
“I suppose that’s one reason the hen sits on her eggs,” I said. “You’re replacing the warmth and humidity from the hen’s body.”
“Yes. They need the struggle of getting out on their own, but if the shells are too hard, the chicks can’t break through, and they die. When it’s time for one to hatch, you can hear it tapping in a circle around the shell with its little egg tooth. It rests, cheeps, and struggles some more.” If someone tries to assist the chick, she said, the process is hindered. Part of the shell will stick to the skin, and the chick will bleed to death if it’s peeled off.
She told me about her first attempt at hatching chicks. “I was too gentle when I rolled them. The chicks hatched, but they hadn’t developed right. They were lopsided when they stood, and they couldn’t walk. John had to destroy them.”
“Wow,” I said. “You just wrote my blog for me!”
“Well, those chicks need ‘tough love’ to be strong and healthy, don’t they? Just like human beings, like these kids you take in and help to become men.”
Carmen nodded and agreed.
Kids come with guidelines that must be met if they are going to develop into strong, healthy human beings. If something is missing in childhood, we can grow up crippled emotionally or spiritually. We need the right balance between gentle care–like the hen’s warmth and protection of her developing babies–and tough love, the need and freedom to struggle and grow strong.
I think Carmen makes a good “mother hen.” She supplies the nurturing and tough love that were missing in the lives of the troubled kids she takes in and helps them become strong, resourceful, and responsible people.
*Healthy, productive chickens and healthy, productive kids both need nurturing and tough love.