herds the other chicks into hiding, if necessary. She seeks out the best
grubs, the finest seeds, and leads the flock to them. Among chickens, as
in much of the animal kingdom, power is inextricably tied to leadership
and responsibility and is achieved through force.
“Don’t they have a mother?” one of my writing students asked. She
made me realize two things: one, that I was likely talking too much about
my chickens during class time and two, for the chicks, everything was
instinct. Given shelter and sustenance, they would grow up and figure
things out as long as the breeder followed the rules about temperature
and hygiene. It’s an oddly amoral endeavor, which made it something of
a relief for me.
In her book Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, Jacqueline Rose
explores the way “mother” embodies the conflicts of a larger social fab-
ric, the ways in which both individuals and societies identify mothers
as the origin of social ills. Such a system of blame reifies the idealized
image of mother. And in my years as a mother of young children, I was
quick to embrace the notion of ideal mother rather than confront my
own ignorance and fear. Rose writes,
The worse, most insufferable demand imposed on mothers, beyond
the saccharine image of a perfect future, beyond the expectation that
they will produce lives of happiness and fulfillment, is the vast reach
of historical, political, and social anguish that we ask them to nullify.
. . . A mother who yearns—understandably—for her child to embody
only the free, the new, the good, is in danger of inscribing her denial
of history, her own flight from suffering, across the body and mind of
And this was in fact what I did: I held away from my children my failures
and fears. In doing so, I wished to convey that they were in good hands,
that they could rely on me, and that I knew what I was talking about.
Or perhaps that was what I wished to convey to myself.
When my children talk to me now about what they recall of their
childhoods, they say that they thought of me as a strict mother while
also characterizing themselves as stubborn and determined to follow
their desires. They are pleased with themselves; they like the people they
are becoming. They pursue meaningful work with diligence and seek
love in the uneven ways one might expect in late adolescence. They say