I was outside working in the yard today as my eldest, who is 6, conducted his usual outdoor canvass of our property for hapless bugs to capture and observe. The focus of these quests is ordinarily worms and slugs, which he loves mightily (some might say unhealthily), but because it is spring and they are plentiful, he has recently redirected his fixation to caterpillars.
If you were to ask him (and quite possibly even if you weren’t) exactly why he feels the irresistible pull to abduct these larval Lepidoptera, my burgeoning research scientist will tell you it is of the utmost importance that he witness the development of a chrysalis and subsequent emergence of a fully metamorphosed moth or butterfly, for as he says, “I’ve never seen that.” If you were to ask me why, I would tell you that yes, I do believe his scientific curiosity comes to bear, sure, but that his true motivation is more likely due to the fact that, as far as bugs go, caterpillars rate pretty high on both the cuteness and handleability scales, and also, they’re slow and easy to catch - in other words, the perfect quarry for a kindergartner with a monster bug jones.
This morning, his hunt began with the acquisition of several ladybugs before he came across his first caterpillar crawling along on the large butterfly bush we have in the back yard (that’s Buddleia davidii, for you botanical types). He showed it to me as I was headed inside to retrieve some water for the two of us, speaking excitedly about how he had “never seen one like this before.” Though it looked small and fairly plain to my jaded adult eyes, I did my best to echo his enthusiasm in my response and demeanor before slipping into the house for the water.
When I returned, he was crouched down over the picnic bench on the back patio, and he looked up at me with an expression of supreme distress on his face.
“We’ve got a big problem, Dad,” he said.
“What is it?”
“I was watching the new caterpillar crawl on the bench right here, and he fell down there in the crack, and now he’s stuck.”
I looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, the little guy had slipped perfectly between two of the slats of wood that make up the sitting surface of the bench.
“Oh no,” I said to him, knitting my brow in concern. “What are we gonna do?”
He thought for a moment, looking back down at the bench, and then said, “We need a saw,” nodding slightly for effect.
“Then we can cut the bench and he can get out.” He looked up at me and smiled. Nay — beamed.
“Well, we could do that, sure, but if we cut up the bench, then where will we sit?”
“We can sit in chairs,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice, as if wondering how I could be so incredibly stupid. “He’s stuck in there, and we’ve got to rescue him.”
“I know, buddy, and you’re right — we do need to help. I just think we can probably come up with some other way to get him out of there. Don’t you?”
“Well… maybe. But I really think we need a saw.”
Luckily we were able to work out another, less destructive method of rescue together, and our humanitarian efforts were entirely successful for both the caterpillar and the bench. But I have to be honest — if my ‘gentle coaxing with a folded piece of paper’ technique had failed, I’d have been sorely tempted to try his idea. Because in spite of its deleterious impact on my outdoor furniture, I must admit it would have worked like a charm.