Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Tent Caterpillars

OK, this is just gross. We are being overrun by caterpillars. It’s been more than a week since that second round and during that time nests of caterpillars have sprouted and spewed forth millions (no exaggeration) of creepy crawlies all over the island, indeed all over western Washington. They are on everything and they are systematically devouring vegetation. Apparently this is a peak year, that every decade or so they reproduce massively, and lo, we arrived in a massive year. It makes going outside repulsive. They stick to your legs, snap and crackle under your feet like long wriggling rice crispies, and rain down on you if you’re anywhere near a tree that has been infested. We were outside yesterday attempting to plant some strawberries in the garden. Nathan was crawling around in the dirt, Soo was digging up weeds and I was raking them away to the compost pile when I stopped. There was a noise, a lightly enveloping noise, it was the sound of sprinkles falling on leaves, except there was no rain, at least there was no precipitation. It was raining caterpillars! Scores of leafy trees around our property have been infested with tents (white, webby looking growths that morph into brown blobs of several hundred caterpillars) and from those tents were falling, aye raining, caterpillars. It was a realization that made my skin crawl. We couldn’t get those plants in the ground fast enough.
Earlier in the week, Nathan and I had been pulling weeds and simultaneously killing caterpillars. Nate has taken a liking to stomping on them. He’s actually just copying me, something he does with frightening precision. He mimics me when I wash my face, when I bang on the window to chase away the deer, and doing countless other mindless acts (I have to be careful when and where I pick my nose). So, it was no surprise to see him put out his little booted right toe and grind a caterpillar into our gravel driveway. Not a surprise, but oddly cute in a slightly disturbing way. Not to dwell on this too much, but noticing this facility with which children pick up on what their parents do has made me appreciate more fully the importance of child-rearing. There’s a big leap from killing caterpillars to killing (or hating or fearing) other humans, yet it all stems from the same source. We, as parents, are effectively programming our kids for the rest of their lives. Granted, they can be reprogrammed, and there will be a constant rewriting of the code as their lives progress, but it’s not like they can completely erase their hard drive and start over. They will have deep and powerful residual imprints on their memories from everything they do at this early age. That’s a scary thought, and it makes me distressingly aware of my every action around Nathan. I find it very hard to let that thought go and just “be” with him. Soo will tease me about this and say I’m too soft on him, that I let him push me around, and she’s probably right. It’s just so difficult to find that middle ground, that point where I’m being strict enough but not too mean. I’m terribly afraid of screwing it up. This means that at times I’ll be sitting here typing and Nate knows that he can come up to me and grab my hand and pull me away to go with him. I’ll occasionally shout, “Not now” or “in a minute” but I don’t do that with the regularity required to make it stick. And when I do do it, I feel bad, and I can’t stand to see him cry. So, in the end, I give in and just go with him. This makes for very disjointed days. I’ll go from typing to being dragged into another room, say, the bedroom, where I’ll occupy myself by folding laundry while Nate crawls around under the bed chasing the cat. Then Nate will get bored with that and will drag me into the kitchen to get him something to eat. So, I’ll make him some toast and start doing the dishes. He’ll get bored with his toast and want to go downstairs, so I’ll try to get something done while down there, like put another load in the wash. Then he’ll want to go outside, so I’ll get our shoes on and we’ll find stuff to do out there (this was probably why we were weeding and killing caterpillars). After a few minutes, I’ll spy him making his poopy face and we’ll have to go back inside to change his diaper. At which point we’re back in the Child’s Television Workshop and this computer is on and I remember that I had a thought I was working on and trying to write down. But, I’ve also got a load of laundry half folded on the bed in the bedroom, a breakfast mess to clean up in the kitchen, clothes that need to go into the dryer downstairs, and I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup. It’s no wonder mothers go nuts, there’s no way to keep your own thoughts straight. And, this is just with one kid, I can’t imagine how hard this gets with two or three!
I’ve gotten pretty bad about using the TV as a babysitting device, as well. I try to limit him to four half hour shows a day, occasionally, though, he’ll watch more. I justify this by saying there are days when we go to the park or playgroup when he doesn’t watch TV at all, but I still feel guilty. The kids programming is fairly good at assuaging the guilt, appealing subtly to a parent’s inherent desire to raise their child properly, “It’s like preschool on TV!” says one network. And maybe it is, but the kid is still staring at a TV screen. Whatever, I’ll say, and just sit him down and go try to find my coffee cup. I found it out on the back deck and the strangest thing had happened. The caterpillars had crawled in and out of my coffee and were zooming around the boards and up the slats like a bunch of mini-snakes on crack! (OK, not really, but wouldn’t it have been funny if they had?)
That’s another thing that happens. I get so distracted, I mean all these thoughts come and go through my head and I’ve got nine things going on at once, and Nate is screaming because he wants something and then I’ll think I heard or saw something and I wonder if I imagined it. Being outside these last few days has been awful. It’s bad enough that I’ve got the heebie-jeebies from the onslaught of insects, and I’m worried every minute about Nate’s curiosity re said insect’s taste taking hold, I’ve also been pestered by this persistent feeling that I’m being watched. The woods around our house are alive with noise, not just the above mentioned caterpillar rain, but nesting birds, foraging chipmunks and who knows what other creatures provide a continuous patter that could be anything. My only solace is that if Perry and/or McMahon are tucked away in the woods somewhere, they are probably covered in caterpillars and hopefully are also scratching away at skin exposed to stinging nettle.
A caterpillar just crawled across the window sill (the INSIDE of the window sill). They’ve breached the gates, call Security!

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