A few weeks after my daughter turned two, she told me I was squishing her baby chickies. Well, more like wailed, she wailed that I was squishing her baby chickies. I was six months pregnant and had heaved myself onto the couch in order to read her a book. “Oh no!” she screamed. “You crushed my baby chickies! You killeded them!”
It took some moving of my significant girth and some talking before I came to understand that my daughter had three to five small baby chickies who followed her wherever she went. At any time in the past two years these baby chickies have been named Princess, Princess Chickie, Naughty Pants, Bad Guy, Window and Shrelalala. For almost a year, I had to set a spot for them at the breakfast table along with a small bowl for their own oatmeal. I’ve accidentally squished them with the back door and had to jerry-rig a special place for them to ride in the car because I refused to buy them their own car seat.
Once, after she heard me call them “imaginary” my daughter threw a fit and wouldn’t stop screaming until I told her they were real. There have been times, when she’s woken us up in the middle of the night because the baby chickies thought there was a lion on the wall and could they all come snuggle in bed? Of course.
Recently, I let my daughter play with an old digital camera. As I flipped through the pictures she had taken, I came across several of just the floor. For a four-year-old, this isn’t that odd. But there were a lot. Almost 30 pictures of nothing but floor. When I asked my daughter about them she rolled her eyes, “Oh mom, those are the baby chickies, can’t you see them? They are so cute!
A couple weeks ago, my daughter stopped talking about her baby chickies and I began to worry. Had they died? Had they run away? They had done all of these things before and I even had to mount a search party for them, just to stop my daughter from crying. (We found them under a pine tree, thank goodness.)
So, I asked my daughter where they were. “Oh they grew up and moved away,” she said casually.
I have spent the past two years caring for these imaginary (or excuse me “real”) chickens, they’ve become as much a part of the family as the beloved blankies and the iPad. And now, I was being told they had left us, grown up and flown the coop.
I sat down. “Oh no,” I said to my daughter. “They didn’t even say goodbye.”
My daughter came and sat by me. “It okay, mom. They love you and they will come visit soon.” She patted my leg.
I wanted to cry. So much of these early days of parenthood are defined by the ridiculous—bouts of screaming over the sun being too sunny or tantrums thrown over oranges being offered as a snack, right after a tantrum about oranges being wanted for a snack. Some days, parenting feels like walking through a fever dream. I feed stuffed animals crackers. I make up stories about monsters. Underwear is worn on heads. Mittens become socks.
These baby chickies are so much a part of who my daughter is right now. Her silliness, her imagination, her big, big heart for all creatures even those that walk the line between imaginary and real. I love them, because I love her and now they are gone.
“I want them back,” I told my daughter. “They are too little too leave.”
She just laughed. “Mom, everybody grows up.” Then, she walked away.
By the time you read this, my daughter will be four. Four is old. Four is zipping-your-own-coat-and-preschool old. Four is getting-your-own-snack-and-playing-Candyland-and-Go-Fish old. But four is so little too. She still comes to our bed at night when aliens climb on the walls. She still needs pink band-aids to make things better. And she still has the baby chickies. They came back after being gone a week and they are still here. This morning, I had to make them pretend pancakes with magic beans, which I was more than happy to do. I know that they will be leaving me forever soon and I will be so sad to see them go.
This article originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.