Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Category: Nature

Cicadas

 

We’ve got a great playground in our backyard, a hand-me-down from friends who outgrew it.  It’s far nicer than anything we could afford, and we love the chance for kids to work out their energy in a way that involves neither our couch nor the cats.  Late in the day, the sun peeks through the trees and dances on my kids’ faces as they slide and swing and climb to their hearts’ content.

Last week, in the midst of play time, my daughter let out a shriek and exclaimed, “Eww! A bug!”  My husband, who is our one-man bug patrol, was mowing the lawn with earphones in, so even when he was in view I couldn’t get his attention.  (Well played, husband.)  So I sauntered over, expecting an ant or spider.  Two insanely ugly bugs were latched on to the underside of the platform.  They were giant and gray with huge eyes and long, bent soul-crushing front legs.  (They looked straight out of Starship Troopers, or what I think Starship Troopers bugs would look like.  I didn’t see the movie because bugs are gross enough without Hollywood’s touch.)  Inside I was saying “EWW! A bug!” but someone needed to be the grown-up, so I put on my best parent face. I said,  “Wow!  I wonder what kind of bugs they are?  Now we have a science mystery to solve!”  My daughter looked at me skeptically and said, “I think I’m just going to swing instead.”

I took photos (carefully, trying not to get too close) and shared them with a few friends online.  One friend identified them as cicada exoskeletons.  She told me the cicadas had already molted, and that the creepy things that looked so much like live bugs ready to devour us were actually empty shells.  I was doubtful, but after doing some internet searches I realized she was probably correct.  I found some cool molting videos and a coloring page of the life cycle of cicadas, and I showed my daughter.  “Like a butterfly!” I cooed, which is true in the sense that I am like an Olympic athlete.  But my kids were comforted by the fact that they weren’t alive, and my son was especially comforted by the fact that he could, with parental permission, whack something with a stick.

As soon as we got into the backyard, my kids dashed valiantly to the playground to knock down the cicada shells (which was a little scary, honestly, because I was only mostly sure they were just shells.)  Sure enough, one gentle poke with a stick sent them falling down, empty and crumbling like paper.  My daughter said, “I wasn’t afraid once I learned about ‘em.”  And it felt like one of those “The More You Know” videos from the my youth, like maybe Tutti from Facts of Life would step out with the collar popped on her bedazzled jean jacket and say, “Cicada shells aren’t scary.  They’re not even alive.” And then a star would shoot across the screen with a rainbow burst and a sprinkle of piano keys.

I think this is true:  knowledge trumps fear.  It was utterly ridiculous to avoid half of the playground because of bugs that were not even there.   And I think of all the friends and opportunities my kids will miss if they grow into adults that let paper-tiger fears keep them from engaging the world.  I hope I can teach them now that when they feel uncomfortable or afraid of something they don’t understand, they can ask and educate themselves and poke those fears with sticks until they crumble.  And while some fears are valid, my kids don’t need to be shackled by those fears.  They can rise, like stars.  Like butterflies.

But not cicadas, because, ew.

Rest

It’s almost eleven pm.  Already, my daughter has cried out at least four times.  She has these nights infrequently – usually when she is getting sick or when she’s had a long day.  We run in, and her eyes stay closed, her mouth drawn into a frown as she cries out.  I kneel by her bed, try to whisper her away from whatever scares her.  Sometimes I sit on her bed and sweep her into my lap, hoping to wake her fully so I can find out what is wrong. She doesn’t respond, buries her head in the meat of my shoulder and tries to fall back asleep.  When I lay her down, she tosses a bit before her body quiets and her fists spill open on her pillow.  I say softly: “Shhhhh.  I’m here.  It’s OK.  You’re in your room in our house.  I am protecting you. You’re safe…you’re safe…you’re safe.”  I know she isn’t fully conscious, but I speak the words anyway, truth like a blanket tucking her in.  I hope that on some level she hears me, rests.

We spent last weekend at a cabin on the Alleghany River.   It was ten minutes off a real paved road, a rustic little place backed up against the mountains with a dock along the shore. The dock was our favorite spot, poking out into the river like a finger testing the water.  My daughter loved to walk the length of it, take tiny steps from one wobbly platform to another.  My son tossed sticks into the water and watched them float away until they were out of sight.  At night, after the kids were asleep, my husband and I lay on the dock with our hands behind our heads, Milky Way ribboned overhead.  I forgot how many stars there are, stars upon stars upon stars.  I felt like the sky, clear and calm and full, and we stayed there until our eyes grew heavy and the river started to rock us to sleep.

I know God’s language is clouds and fire, mountains and stars.  He spoke them into being like my fingers type words, syntax set with the waters’ divide and the rising of the sun.  He embedded his promises in all of them, promises upon promises, but I forget.  I worry.  I get overwhelmed.  Daily distractions pop up like parking-lot lampposts and obscure the stars and the promises.  He speaks them anyway, truth like a blanket, his love bannered over me like the Milky Way.  He leads me besides quiet waters.  He restores my soul. And sometimes, even through the distractions, I hear.  I rest.

Unpretty Trees

There is a little tree on the side of our yard that I love.  Its branches are high enough to walk under, but low enough to reach up and touch (or lift a child to touch).  It stands about the size of our one-story home, so it fits well in our yard.  Its leaves are a deep, bright green, and it has lots and lots of branches that mushroom out into an almost perfect dome.  It is a fantastic tree to anchor a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  It’s just a great tree!

This spring, the tree didn’t bud.  All the trees in our neighborhood were in bloom or at least on their way, but my little tree buddy’s branches were stark and lifeless.  We rent, so my husband mentioned it to the property owners who asked their gardener, a mutual friend, to check it out.  He came out a week or two later and declared it alive and about to bud.  Sure enough, leaves have now appeared everywhere and are on their way to maturity.

In passing, the gardener mentioned that it was sort-of an ugly tree!  Our friend knows far more about plants than we do.  I’ve seen his work; he has a green thumb and a great eye for natural beauty.  We, on the other hand, are not landscaping people.  I have a hard time telling which plants in our yard are weeds and which were intentionally planted by the former owners.  I’m guessing most people who know anything about trees might find themselves sharing the gardener’s opinion.  I’m fascinated that the tree could be something of such great worth to one person and of such low value to another.  I guess it all depends on the rubrics we use to measure worth.

Ultimately, it’s just a tree.  Its success as a tree isn’t swayed by either the gardener’s opinions or my own.  The same idea applies to people, though.  I wonder how many people I have mentally marginalized because they’ve struck me as unpretty trees.  I’m not one to be intentionally cruel, but there are plenty of people that it’s just easier to pass by: that relative who always has something negative to say… the coworker who is so difficult to be around… that young adult who doesn’t say much and is hard to engage.  They are someone’s beautiful trees, in this realm or the next.  Perhaps, with the right eyes, they could be mine.