My Beautiful Wickedness


The ridiculous things I get myself into
August 29, 2010, 10:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I won’t even talk about going swimming in a cold inland lake in a driving cold rain to make a kid happy. I figure that’s garden-variety maternal ridiculousness. (Subsequent days, I sat on the dock in a hoodie and a raincoat, thinking “you go, Daddy” while John froze his balls off — see also, I’m not such a good person.)

The caterpillar, though…

John’s aunts (Kid’s great-aunts) are lovely Progressive-era Hull House reformers stuck in the 21st century. No, really. They grew up in the whitest of white suburbs, privileged and well-educated in the late 50s and early 60s and so they are the last gasp of noblesse oblige. They have home economics degrees. They believe in the gospel of fresh air and good drainage and the home beautiful as an aesthetic experience of uplift. They have absolute faith in scientific observation and data collection — there is no unmeasured substance in the kitchen and every mention of a book comes complete with citation. They all love nature and believe in the redemptive power of children’s experiences with nature. That is why they all own (and bring with them on vacation) small screened in bug observation houses. Larvae and eggs and wingy leggy things creep all over the lake cottage in these containers, inviting the guests to contemplate the life of the insect (and, you know, write a 5-paragraph essay to be published in Girls’ Life or something so that everyone else can be edified).

However, if one takes in the hungry, the tired, and poor — especially the hungry, in the case of a Monarch caterpillar — one has to find them food. I interrupted the normal order of things by removing that monarch caterpillar from its patch of milkweed where it was so happily chomping down everything it could lay a droopy little feeler on. It’s on me to make sure that this little guy makes it into his (or her) cocoon. It is, you know, part of the one generation during the life cycle that will live up to seven months. I feel duty-bound to give it its chance — perhaps to be snapped out of the air by a passing hungry crow, perhaps to freeze to death in Texas, or perhaps to make it all the way back to Mexico to huddle with millions of others

It is like suddenly having a newborn baby again. It eats and sleeps and shits and little else, not even a gassy smile to break up the fierce concentration on satisfying its physical needs. I have turned thief to satisfy its relentless appetite, walking casually down two doors to my neighbor’s garden at twilight and, while pretending to admire her azaleas, pinching a couple of leaves. I know a growth spurt when I see one — caterpillars and human babies are not so different — and I know within a day or two it will transition to its chrysalis stage.

I feel as if these last days of summer are being counted in caterpillar time. My child is changing rapidly, leaving behind her caterpillar days and making the transition to what she must become. All I can do is observe closely and feed her what she needs.

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