Practicing Parents

One Broody Chicken: On Broodiness and Motherhood

blog broody chicken
Photo by Kelly Buss

Wednesdays are pretty much my favorite day of the week. Jack is in school. Amélie is at her one-day-a-week homeschool co-op, and I have a day to myself. I live too far away from the co-op, now, to justify coming home to clean or do laundry, so I stay “in town.” Every other week, I meet with my spiritual director, and I always walk out of her home renewed, refreshed, and inspired. This week, I stopped by for conversation (and quiche) with a dear, dear friend.

My heart always beats a little faster, though, when I know that I can spend some time in uninterrupted solitude. I am finding, however, that I’m not very good at long, uninterrupted stretches of solitude, despite the fact that those times are quite necessary for my survival. I love that time—don’t get me wrong—but I find myself having weird conversations with myself in my journal, like this little nugget from yesterday:

I couldn’t find a parking space at this place, so I circled around (twice), I got gas, I circled around again, I parked next store and then worried I would get towed, I ate a granola bar, I spotted an open spot and made a dash for it. Now I am here. At a coffee shop. Alone. Yay me.
There are lots of cute girls in here with pony tails. I wish I could wear my hair in a pony tail.
Also skinny girls in cute jeans.
I am wearing an orange sweatshirt and, of course, yoga pants, because it is National Unity Day.
(I am wearing the orange sweatshirt because it is National Unity Day. I am wearing yoga pants because today is a day of the week that ends in “y.”)
No one else is dressed up today like a fleece pumpkin.

Anyway, indeed. What was that, exactly?

That was one crazy mama talking to her journal, I think. I rambled on awhile longer. I actually did end up, eventually, delving a little deeper than yoga pants and pony tails.

Then I got distracted studying about broodiness in chickens.

That was an apt distraction, I think.

I am one broody chicken.

Now, I am not brooding over a nest of eggs, thankfully, but I found myself strangely identifying with this description of a broody chicken from

Once a day or so your hen may emerge from her nest like a whirling dervish: all her feathers will be ruffled out so she will look VERY BIG. She will hold her wings out from her body to give herself even more apparent size. She will rise with a terrible screech, and run at anyone that gets in her way.

Why does that behavior seem so familiar to me?

Oh! It’s because once (or twice, or more) a day I emerge from my nest with a whirling dervish (I love that description!). All of my feathers will be ruffled out so that I will look VERY BIG. I will hold my wings out from my body to give myself even more apparent size. I will rise with a terrible screech, and run at anyone that gets in my way.

…Like when Amélie scowls at me for making her do school, for heaven sakes, when she could be jumping on the trampoline or reading her book or doing her own exhaustive (and then regurgitated back to me word-for-word) research on chickens.

Doesn’t she realize that trampoline jumping and Nancy Drew and chicken expertise will not get her into college? And if she doesn’t get into college, doesn’t she realize the Shame that she will rain down on this homeschooling mama’s head?

…Or like when Jack, just a few minutes ago, bounded out onto the porch and asked me to come battle Bey Blades with him. And then after I played, he plunked his Legos on the table next to me. Here. In this space where I am brooding in solitude.

Doesn’t he know that I have Important Work to do? Like write an essay that, as of yet, has no real point?

…Or like when Matt, at night, when I am tired, wants me to pay attention to him rather than the book into which I have very deliberately buried my nose.

Doesn’t he know I am Tired? Doesn’t he know that I give, give, give all day, and at night I just want to curl up into myself in my flannel pajamas and escape into someone else’s life?

All I want to do is be broody. I want to sit on my nest and incubate my poor brain and my starving soul. I would like to perch on that nest, alone, and read a book or write in my journal or (gasp) think.

So I ruffle my feathers out really big, plunk stubbornly down on my nest, and demand, “Is that too much to ask?”

I refuse to move.

I refuse to budge my homeschooling schedule.

I refuse to play.

I refuse intimacy.

I am broody.

I would like to remain broody, to be quite honest. But when I sit on my nest, clutching greedily at my crankiness and my isolation, I am not incubating anything worth hatching. I am just incubating more crankiness and more isolation.

I need time to myself, yes. Desperately. But I don’t need to be a broody hen.

I have always been drawn to the passage in Matthew where Jesus laments over Jerusalem and expresses his aching desire to “gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (NRSV). By nature, I am a nurturer, which you may not believe after reading this post. I am. I just get spent, I guess, and then I plop down on my nest and brood.

But I want to be a hen who draws her chicks under her wings.
And then plays Bey Blades with one of them
And then listens to the other one describe, in minute detail, chicken coop plans.
I want to be a hen who admires her…errr…rooster.  (And really, I have much to be thankful for in that area. My “rooster” neither struts nor crows at dawn.)

The truth is, I think that being a mama hen is terribly, terribly difficult.

I don’t see myself completely losing my broody instinct anytime soon.

But I hope I can add to my nest a little gentleness and a lot of love. I hope that as I perch on this nest I can scoot over a bit, pat the straw beside me, and invite my children and my husband to sit beside me, rest under my feathers, and incubate in my broody love.

Jill Clingan


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