The scene: The Boy at 18 months old, and his sister at six, are with us in a friend’s backyard for a birthday party. Through the next 10 minutes or so, my camera tells an interesting story.
First, our Girl finds a beautiful beetle on a leaf, and asks me to take a photo of it for her, as she always has a soft spot in her heart for beautiful insects. The next photo shows her brother tagging along behind, peering curiously at a particular leaf. The final photo has her in tears, absolutely red-eyed with grief, as a little five-year-old friend hugs her in comfort. What the camera didn’t capture in-between photos two and three was this: The Boy had taken a keen interest in the beetle that her sister had just shown me, and had plucked it off the leaf with his grubby little toddler fingers. Then he approached us with a smile on his face and the seemingly innocent words: “Bug juice!” In an instant, his sister knew exactly what had happened, and wailed out an anguished, “Nooooo! Mama, he didn’t!”
Our Boy is interesting because in some ways, his attitude towards creepy-crawly creatures had always seemed typical of boys: he liked to squish them without regard or pity. In other ways, he has not been what you would expect from a boy with a strong attitude, in that he cringed and cried and flailed in fear when faced with spiders, ants, and even butterflies. Oh, the show he put on when he walked along the beaches in the Caribbean last year, and thought that he might actually be within spitting distance of a crab! For a long time, we were never sure exactly what we would expect from him when it came to tiny creatures—fear or loathing. But one thing we thought we knew for sure: there would be no love for them.
Now, some time in the last half-year or so, something miraculously changed: The Boy has begun to actually like them! For whatever reason, he has almost completely overcome his fear and his heartless hatred of insects and arachnids. He goes out of his way to pick up worms writhing on dry sidewalks, to place them in cool grass. He lets bugs and beetles crawl onto his hands and up his arms, with not a single squirm nor squeal. He peers curiously at spiders inside trapped glasses, and asks, “When can we let him out?” Most of all, he no longer makes “bug juice”.
It’s a great moment when you realise that your child has, on his own, vanquished his destructive or fearful attitudes, and has become a lover of most creatures great and small.