Just like the mother hens corralling their little chicks to safety, we cautiously led our line of preschoolers through an important rite of passage: a visit to the pumpkin farm. “Don’t run away from the group!” “Stay away from the back of that animal.” “Don’t step in that pile of…. Oh, no!” There we were, a gaggle of moms, pecking orders and clucking rules.
And then there was William’s dad. Instead of his mother, William’s father had volunteered to tag along with his son on that crisp autumn outing. A child to chase, a farm to explore, and a pumpkin to hunt had sounded like an easy respite from a fast-paced adult work day. But little did he know that we’d be hunting for more than just pumpkins that day.
Away we went, on a hay wagon pulled by a tractor through fields and forests to the back of the farm in search of the perfect orange treasure. “I found one!” “But mine is too heavy to carry all by myself!” “Can we go back now? I’m hungry.” We loaded our pumpkins into the wagon and started back towards the barn. William’s father, however, had a different plan. Itching for adventure, he waved the group on and told us that he would like stray from the flock for awhile to caper in the fields with his son.
Back at the barn, just as each mom hovered over her hungry chick with a snack, William’s dad casually arrived. “Did William come back with someone here?” he inquired. The moms exchanged glances and slowly shook their heads. “Not a big deal,” he responded. “I’ll go back and locate him.” A few minutes passed, and this time William’s dad returned with a more worried expression. “I think that I need to ask for help. I can’t find him.”
Like skilled military soldiers, the moms sprang to action. A few were chosen to stay behind with the nest of chirping preschoolers. Another group of us dashed out to the fields and began calling the missing boy’s name. “William!” we crowed by the horses; but no response. “William!” we bellowed by the farm equipment; but, again, no response. “William!” we cried by the other school groups, but still no response.
And then I remembered a youngster’s favorite game: hide-n-seek. By us loudly seeking William, we were perpetuating his innocent hiding. So I tried a different call: “William, your daddy really misses you.” To this, a distant reply, “I right here.”
I gasped. My heart pounded in my chest. My feet pounded the ground. I called again, “William, your daddy really misses you.” And, again, the anticipated reply, “I said… I right here.” I darted toward the little voice. I had discovered our missing boy! A chicken coop, with a confused-looking hen and a dirt floor, had been safely harboring the curious child.
I ducked into the small shelter, scooped him up, and raced back out to exclaim, “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” Hearing my excitement from across the farm, William’s father flew over to meet us as the other moms jumped in unison, flapping and clapping their hands. With his little one tucked safely under his wing and a huge wave of relief, he looked around at all of the moms and uttered his first thought: “Please… don’t tell my wife!” His request was returned with a collective all-knowing grin from the mother hens. William, and William’s dad, had definitely learned their lesson.
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