Family / Kids

Saying Good-bye to Friends

It is the rare day when either of my children plays independently, outside in the nature without games or sports equipment or outdoor props of any kind. On one recent, pleasant day, Levi took to the yard without a play date and without prompting and hung out. I had no idea what he was doing, but the back door was open, and I could hear that he was entertaining himself.

Every parent knows that if your children are doing something good, something independently good, you must not disrupt them. You must not speak with them or make eye contact. You must not break the spell that has fallen over them as it is a thin veil of bewitchery that can be broken by the slightest distraction. I did my best to stay out of sight and tuned in occasionally to verify that he was still on our property and still playing happily.

I told myself to savor the moment – to consider every deep breath that I could take and every minute that I was able to sit quietly in my kitchen and be because I knew that those moments were rare and not to be taken for granted. And just as I took the last sip of tea and just as I was considering whether I had time to boil more water for a top up, Levi ran into the kitchen, his eyes wide and hands covered in dirt.

“Mom! MOM!! Come outside!!! COME SEE!

I took one more breath–careful to draw the air in slowly and exhale with purpose before I stood up to follow him. He could hardly contain his excitement, and I tried to imagine what could be waiting for me on the other side of the door.

“Look!! Right here!! I found a caterpillar, under this huge rock! I moved the rock, which was really heavy, so I could see what was under there, and the caterpillar was coming out of the dirt – like he wanted to meet me – so I put him in my hand and showed him around the backyard, and then I made a home for him, see?? I put him on top of a bed that I made out of dirt, and I put leaves over him like a blanket, and here’s a stick in case he wants to go for a walk – or a crawl – or whatever they do, I don’t know anyway, and we’ve been playing together this WHOLE TIME, and he is so happy. Look at him! See how happy he is?!?”

I leaned down to the grass so that I could meet his new friend. I recalled constructing my own playgrounds for inchworms when I was a child, and I felt a connection to my son and a nostalgia for an innocent time, and then I leaned down further to get a better look. His caterpillar was not a caterpillar.

PHOTO CREDIT: DEBORAH GOLDSTEIN

PHOTO CREDIT: DEBORAH GOLDSTEIN

I don’t know what it was, but it was definitely more beetle than caterpillar. It was long like a caterpillar, but it had lots of legs under his squirmy, wormy body. Levi gently picked his beetlepillar friend up, placed him on his palm and presented him to me for a formal introduction. I suppressed my “EW!!” face and forced my eyes to widen and my mouth to smile. I think I was smiling.

“Isn’t he cute, Mom?” Levi asked already knowing the answer.

“Very!” I said. And then Levi shared with me all the details of his afternoon with his beetlepillar.

“I’m going to get that jar that I used to catch fireflies, and I’m going to bring him in the house.”

“OHNOYOUWO….I mean, Levi, I think you need to put him back in the ground where he was so that you can come in and eat dinner.”

“What?!? But, no! I will put him in the jar with the lid on and keep him in my room!” he explained with a desperation that made me want to hold him in my arms … sans beetlepillar.

“Levi, we really can’t bring him in the house. He belongs in the dirt–where you found him. That’s his home. He wouldn’t want to live away from his home, would you? He’d probably be afraid and sad to be so far from home.”

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He stared at me and said nothing. He got it. And it hurt.

One minute he was nodding in agreement, and the next he was sobbing, shoulders convulsing as he turned away from me to cry silently. I tried to console him but it was no use. There was nothing I could say to make him feel better about releasing his new friend back into the dirt. “I’m going to miss him so much,” he managed to say through tears. “I know you will. It’s hard to say good-bye.” He turned away from me to weep a little more and eventually set his beetlepillar free, watching him burrow his way home.

“I’m going to make a smiley face out of rocks so that whenever he comes up from the ground, he’ll see a friendly face and crawl on it!” And that smiley Stonehenge was enough to provide a hopeful, happy future for him and his beetlepillar friend. We walked into the house, Levi holding my hand and me savoring yet another moment.

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10 Comments

  1. Ahh, that took me back to the days my little neighbor friend and I started our own little “Science Club” and went around discovering little creatures such as your beetlepillar. My mom wasn’t nearly as cool as you. lol.

    • Deborah Goldstein says:

      I wouldn’t have been so cool if that thing had made its way into my house! But yes, I am happy that he is taking an interest in creatures even if they are gross.

  2. Vikki Reich says:

    I love Levi’s tender heart…but that beetlepillar is a little bit awful to look at.

  3. Alan Shannon says:

    That bug’s mother appeared in Alien. I’m sure of it.

    • Deborah Goldstein says:

      Great. Now I’m going to be imagining Alien Mother unearthing itself in my back yard. Levi will probably invite her in the house for lunch, and she will take him literally and eat us all. Thanks, Alan.

  4. Jetpack found a couple of these the other day! They were AWFUL and made my skin crawl. He kept them for fishing with his grandpa which I couldn’t exactly argue with, but…ugh!

    • Deborah Goldstein says:

      At least Jetpack recognized that they are best used as bait for fish. Imagine if you had to keep them as a pet! We’re talking crawling skin 24/7. Super Ugh!!

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