Honoring My Child’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal

by Andrea J. Mahoney

“I want to be a farmer and marketeer.” 
~Robert, Age 4 

“I want to be a farmer and marketeer.”
~Robert, Age 5

“I want to be a farmer and a marketeer.”
~Robert, Age 6

“I want to be a farmer and marketeer.”
~Robert, Age 7

“I want to be a farmer and marketeer.”
~Robert, Age 8

“I want to be a farmer and marketeer.”
~Robert, Age 9

You would think, looking at the previous declarations, that I would have seen this coming. But I was not quite prepared for the conversation I found myself in one winter morning with my two youngest children. 

As other homeschooling parents know so well, long winters can sometimes bring forth our anxieties and worries about whether or not we are doing “enough” for our learners at home. In my moments of self-doubt about homeschooling, I like to reread one of my favorite books when I need a refresh or a reminder that I am doing enough–The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart.

During breakfast one morning, I flipped open to page 54. Here, Bogart writes about the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” which she learned about from Jim Collins and his book, Built to Last. The “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is about finding what is motivating children to help them take ownership in their learning adventure. The idea grabbed me, and I wondered how my kids would answer.

I love how, sometimes, if we are listening carefully, books open right to a page we need to read. 

As the kids came bounding down the stairs, I became excited to ask them, “If money were no object and we had as much time as you needed, what would you do?” I admit, I thought for sure Minecraft would be an answer—or at least part of an answer. What followed next started wheels turning and intentions being set.

My middle child, Robert, answered, “I’d have chickens. Well, we’d live in a home that had a yard for chickens. How many eggs does Dad eat each morning? I want to have at least have enough chickens so he can have his two eggs each day.” I remember thinking, “Oh snap, that’s actually not a completely crazy out there goal.” 

On February 24, 2020, Robert and I sat at computers and researched home costs in Maine near where we were renting after making a cross country move from Nevada to Maine in February 2017. We came across USDA Loans and researched until we were starving, then made our lunch, talking in excitement about the things we had learned. We talked about debt, saving, jobs, moving costs, chicken care, and coops.

One weekend afternoon in February 2020, I sat down with my husband, Jim,  and told him of these conversations, and the research Robert and I had done since I asked that question over breakfast. Jim sat silent for a moment, frozen, then said, “My boss wants to sell us his home.”

“Wait, what??” I started rapid firing questions…

…how many bedrooms?

…is there a garage?

…how many bathrooms?

…how far from work?

…how far from the high school?

…how far from the local university?

…how’s the yard?

…is there a deck?

…wrap around porch?

…how much does it cost? 

He answered each question, and I learned the house was big enough, close enough, reasonably priced, and was on five acres—more than enough room for chickens! “Well then,” I told my husband. “I want to be in the new home by the fall or holidays.”

He shook his head and gave me that look–the “are you serious?” look. But my hopes also seemed to line up with timing expectations of my husband’s boss. It seemed like Robert’s dream of having chickens was suddenly quite possible.

We want all-in with researching chickens and what they need to live. I asked a dear friend if Robert could possibly come hang out with her and her chickens one day to see her set up and ask questions. She agreed.

Anyone who doesn’t know Robert would think, “aww cute, look at that boy petting that chicken.” As a mom, what I saw that day was Robert stepping out of a lot of comfort zones to make progress towards his Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Robert has SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). SPD is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information. SPD usually means you’re overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not.

Robert wears mostly long sleeves and pants all year long so that he doesn’t have something unexpected brush up against his skin. His food has to cool far longer than his siblings. Chicken and turkey meat makes him gag. He doesn’t like wet dishes or wet animals. Loud noises can become too much for him, though sometimes he can be the loudest in a gathering. Some days, even playing his cello can be a struggle as he uses most of his body to hold and play the cello. I honestly was doubting if chickens were going to be able to happen for him. 

But that day with the chickens was something special. Robert stepped forward to help feed the chickens seeds and homemade blueberry muffins, and he asked to pet and hold them. He asked questions and listened in earnest. He wrote furiously in his notebook for the entire drive home, trying to remember things he learned and answers to his questions. Writing can also be a challenge for him, and he didn’t even look up as we drove home. He was focused, excited, and engaged. Robert could picture having his own chickens.

Then, COVID arrived in the U.S. Visits to farms and friends with chickens came to a halt. We talked of “soon” and “one day.” We asked our friend if we could just visit outside and see her chickens. She was so kind, and since little sister was home too, she came along. Robert remembered what he had learned months prior and gently talked her through feeding them. She was afraid of being pecked, and Robert reassured her and explained to her how they eat and what it might feel like.

Through the years, I’ve had to talk him through many things to help ease his mind and encourage him to do things he may feel nervous about. My mama heart watched in awe as he was now explaining his experience to help comfort someone else. 

And, thankfully, we got the house!

As we started to settle in and chickens were on the horizon, my husband thought it might be a good idea to have Robert solely responsible for caring for our dog for two weeks, from morning until night, as a trial run to caring for chickens. I thought about this for weeks actually, wondering how to pitch this idea to Robert without it ruining his dream of chickens. I fretted a bit.

But one evening, on a drive home, Robert expressed worry about being responsible enough to care for chickens and then, on his own, asked if he could do a trial run and care for our dog for two weeks.

He set his new alarm for 7:45am each day. On the very first day, he had to clean up poop and a watery vomit. He was upset and said he couldn’t do it. I grabbed a trash bag and paper towels and walked him through how to clean it. Then he stood up, not seeing another pile, and I watched in horror as he stepped into it.

He started gagging and took off his sock. He continued cleaning. I thought he might quit and declare chickens were not for him—that he had changed his mind.

He did not. He stuck with it.


As I write this, the ice and snow here in Maine is melting. We will soon begin building the area for our chickens and our garden. We’re still in the planning stages and gathering materials.

But, soon, our yard will have chickens. 

Soon, a boy’s dream will come true. 

Soon, Robert will run to the coop to collect eggs—two of them saved for Dad’s breakfast.