With the approach of spring and warmer weather, I am reminded of when my son was two, and I discovered him in the garden with half a worm hanging out of his mouth. As a parent, we are never supposed to show fear, but I completely lost my composure. My children are budding entomologists, and although I must have been keen about bugs when I was young, I no longer find them quite so endearing. Learning about beetles, ants and grasshoppers is not something I ever imagined I’d be doing at this point in my life. Like many aspects of parenting, this is both horrible and fantastic at the same time.
In our back yard, under my daughter’s direction, my children established a wood bug relocation centre. They dig up the tiny roly-polies (also known as woodlice, potato bugs or pill bugs) from all over the yard and transport them to a special corner where they are tucked under a giant ceramic snail. These silvery beasts occasionally end up in our basement by the back door. My son spies them immediately, and although he tries to be gentle, he ends up flipping them on their rigid backs, their fourteen jointed limbs flailing in the air until they can reticulate and curl up into their protective shell. I imagine the sorry little creatures screaming when his shadow casts over them. I think my son might deposit more dead wood bugs than live ones on his rescue missions.
Luckily my daughter never had the same penchant for putting worms in her mouth as her brother. However, she has no reasonable fear of insects, and is quite fascinated with spiders. She loves to go for walks after the rain and look for spider webs. Irrationally, I’m alarmed when she presses her face perilously close to the gossamer threads, now more visible because of the droplets of water that hang from them. My children recently discovered a wolf spider in our bathtub, literally the size of my fist. My daughter ran for her hand-dandy bug jar and under her strict supervision, while trying desperately not to hyperventilate, I captured the monster. These bug jars come complete with instruction that ours is now a “catch and release” society, so we set him free in the side yard, although my husband was reluctant. He wondered if there wasn’t some way we could tag or finger print (foot print?) the creature so that if he infiltrated the house again we could clearly identify him and have cause to exterminate him. This is not such a farfetched idea, as insects such as the pine beetle are now regularly fitted with microchips to track their whereabouts and study their behaviour. I am stunned that this is the type of information that is now taking up space in my brain.
So while the children and I get excited about working in the garden—planting tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and carrots—and see the promise it holds in the sprouting garlic that we planted last fall, perhaps I’m finally at the stage in my life where Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote might apply. She said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Until I was a parent, I assumed that would be difficult to achieve. Now, I am regularly scared to death in my own backyard by its wild and freaky inhabitants (both my kids and the bugs). Although I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and am learning incredible and horrendous things every day, I do occasionally wish for a Hazmat suit. Or maybe even full body armor, like that of a wood bug.
Liz Laidlaw, a writer and mother, lives in Nanaimo with her slightly arachnophobic husband and bug loving children.