We’re empty netters now

It’s amazing how a little dose of parenthood can change your perspective. I suppose this is true in regard to human children too, but I’m thinking about the parenting of adopted insects.

For Big Man’s birthday, we got him a butterfly kit. This is a plastic cup of caterpillars and some mysterious earthy substance that we assumed was their food.

The caterpillars looked dead when we took their plastic habitat out of its box. At that point, our emotional attachment to them went no deeper than figuring out how to return a box of dead insects for a full refund.

The caterpillars were not dead; they were sleepy from their long, dark journey from the caterpillar factory. With a little light added to their world, they came to life, eating the mass of brown stuff and growing at an impressive rate. At the moment we discerned the change in their sizes, our emotional attachment to a cup full of bugs began.

They were supposed to climb to the lid of the container and there attach themselves for cocoon construction. We all gasped with awe at baby’s first steps as one, then another, began the climb. They must have been still a little hungry, because one after another they came back down for a snack, putting us all on an emotional roller coaster as they went up and down without attaching themselves to anything.

At last one of them hung from the lid and began the transformation. There was rejoicing throughout the land. One by one, they all followed suit, with the exception of one confused late bloomer. We wrung our hands over him, speculating upon whether he was ill or just daft. Finally, he joined his comrades and we all breathed easier.

We transferred them to their netted nursery. How long was it supposed to take them to be (re)born? No one knew. Days of doubt followed. One morning, there was a real, live butterfly clinging to the netting, his cocoon an empty shell. More rejoicing ensued.

It’s so hard to get children to smile for the camera.

Another butterfly appeared, then another and another. All but one had emerged victorious. While we waited and worried about the last, we cut up tangerines and carefully set the fruit inside the cage for food. I busied myself making our babies happy and comfortable, careful not to let anyone escape.

This made me realize that if a cousin of these precious creatures had flown into the house from outside, my wife would be chasing it with a bottle of Windex and a fly swatter. She’s not fond of insects, except the ones that are family.

We prepared ourselves for the worst regarding the remaining cocoon. Just when we had given up hope, there was movement. The butterfly struggled, but could not free himself. It was heartbreaking to watch him entangle himself deeper in silk and cocoon wreckage.

My wife prodded me to help him. With a toothpick I tore away his sticky fetters. I freed him, but alas, his wings were malformed. At my wife’s bidding, I set our poor Tiny Tim down next to the fruit, so the doomed child might live out his days in comfort.

The day came to send the kids out on their own. All but one found their way out into the open air. The last stayed by the fruit. My wife was convinced he was refusing to leave his wounded buddy. He might have just been hungry. The next day, the injured one expired. We gave the last healthy butterfly another chance to go. Having a clear conscience, he did not stay for the eulogy.

I wonder where the kids are now. Have they stayed nearby or are they off to see the world. I hope they don’t come home to visit. We don’t like insects in our house.


Of stinkbugs and men

I have three rough and tumble boys. They play sports; they wrestle each other; they leap off furniture; they catch toads; they do stunts on their bikes. They are little men’s men, daredevils spurred on to great feats of bravado by unpredictable rushes of testosterone.

They are rugged, undaunted envelope pushers, at all times and in all situations, provided none of those situations involves insects in the house.

A moth in the house sends them scrambling like they’ve heard air raid sirens. A spider elicits high-pitched wails, like they’ve become air raid sirens.

They run to Daddy, known for his skill as insect trapper and disposer. He produces his most reliable tool: toilet paper. With a little wad of paper, he catches the bug and flushes it, because, as every schoolboy knows, insect Heaven lies beneath the swirling waters of the potty.

Insects are pulling out all the stops when it comes to sneaking into our house.

If Daddy is not home, they make the best of the situation by running to Mommy. Mommy takes a more distant view of insect disposal. Mommy sprays bugs, notwithstanding the fact there is rarely bug spray in the house. Mommy will spray whatever bottle is closest at hand on a bug: Windex, antiperspirant, Pledge, poster adhesive. If she can’t kill them, she’ll certainly make them spotless, confident, lemon fresh, and sticky.

I’m no great fan of insects, but I have learned to take a measured approach to finding one near me. Mommy has been known to challenge Usain Bolt’s 100 meter time when confronted with a bee. Of course, that was before she had children to protect. Now, she throws the troops to the ground and covers them with her body as if shielding them from exploding shrapnel. It’s all very heroic.

I’ll let you decide where the boys inherited their reaction to insects.

This year, our plague is stinkbugs. Five years ago, I’d never heard of stinkbugs. Now, they are everywhere. Despite their name and ubiquitous nature, I’ve never smelled a stink bug. They only stink when you squash them. This should serve you right if you are the type to shoot bug guts all over your walls and countertops. Even odorless bug guts make for poor décor, and squashing them deprives them of their basic right to ride the maelstrom down the pipes to Valhalla.

You stink, and your mama dresses you funny.

Stink bugs are relatively harmless (unless you are fruit), but that still doesn’t mean I want them in my house.  The boys don’t want to imagine big, ugly beetles crawling on them at night. Unfortunately, a stink bug’s second favorite activity, after mowing fruit trees, is to come into our home in autumn, and the boys’ window AC unit is the easiest place for them to do it.

This leads to cries for rescue. Daddy charges in, armed with his lethal toilet paper, and whisks the offender off to the Great Swirling Reward. The unwanted stink bug is gone, the area is secure, and my own three cherished little stink bugs can go to sleep.

Why I wouldn’t harm a fly (in October)

Our six-year-old has a love-hate relationship with bugs. He’s happy to discover a Roly Poly, having a genuine soft spot for these ugly little creatures. For some strange reason, he refers to them as his Facebook Friends. He’ll turn over a rock with the question: “I wonder if any of my Facebook Friends are under here?” Perhaps this is social commentary; if so, it runs too deep for me.

Spiders are on the opposite end of his continuum of bugs. He doesn’t like spiders, and with good reason. Spiders don’t keep themselves inconspicuous, under rocks and other things typically found outside of the house. Spiders have no respect for human property rights and trespassing laws. Spiders have been known to bite people. These qualities do not recommend them as Facebook Friends.

Spiders sometimes get into little boys’ bedrooms. This is the worst thing spiders do. You know they’re just waiting for the lights go out, to crawl all over an innocent sleeper and probably jump into his mouth. Spiders are mean-spirited like that.

web of desire

I presume these are the long-missing, former owners of our house. The spiders in that bedroom are merciless.

Over the years, we have discovered three or four spiders in this boy’s bedroom. He has never been attacked by one of them, but they have left their mark. He just knows that for every spider seen, there are thousands of unseen brethren, biding their time, waiting for the perfect night to strike.

When this perfect night is scheduled within the spider community is unknown to us, but one thing is clear: we must be ever vigilant. This vigilance extends beyond spiders to their potential allies in the bug world. Even a visit from the harmless Lady Bug triggers the siren: “Bug in my room! Bug in my room!”

Daddy scrambles with his handful of toilet tissue to catch and escort the intruder to his final flushing place. The crisis isn’t over until Daddy explains why, logically, this wouldn’t be a good night for The Spider Revolt. Everyone knows, spiders are very logical.

Recently, the “Bug in my room!” siren was set off by a late season housefly. It was one of those plump, lethargic flies that you could pick up in your fingers if you wanted to. It was the quintessential housefly in autumn.

I have developed my own psychological bug thing. I can swat a housefly in spring or summer, no problem. But I can no longer bring myself to kill a housefly after the Equinox, for the stupid reason that the book I am in the midst of publishing is titled A Housefly in Autumn. Swatting that bug would be like killing my own book, which I would much rather wait and let the reading public do.

swatting for fun

Sometimes I yearn for the days when I could sit back with my swatter and make sport of the autumn flies. (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

I flung a tube sock around the creature, trying to coax him out the door. Buster joined his brother in watching me do my Royal Fool Sock Dance. They had little patience for my forlorn efforts and as much sympathy for my superstition. “Kill it!” they yelled at me.

I couldn’t kill it. I swatted madly until we lost sight of it, then persuaded the boys that it was dead. It wasn’t dead; it was merely pushed off into obscurity. That’s a step above dead, right?