I couldn’t believe a tiny tear leaked out of my eye. Embarrassed, I tried to hide it. My son seemed to be handling the incident much better than I was, although I could tell his heart ached as he contemplated life without her around.
My seven-year old has been studying bugs since he could walk. I can’t remember when his love for praying mantises blossomed, but for at least a year now they have been his favorite animal to draw.
When our friend who found the praying mantis brought her to us, we knew she likely would not last long.
Being that this was the first time my son had ever held or laid eyes on a live praying mantis, I knew this was going to be one of those formative experiences for him.
Little did I know, it would change me too.
Upon receiving it, he immediately made the mantis a more pristine, clean home. He researched with Papa on how to best take care of her.
For a little over two weeks his entire world revolved around his elegant green friend. From the moment he would wake up until he went to bed, he was routinely checking on her, watching her, and holding her.
I had to frequently remind him throughout the day to give her some space, she is wild after all, and may not like being on a human hand so long. Put her back in her container, I would repeat regularly.
With his eyes locked on her’s, he would sit mesmerized, totally immersed in mantis land. He observed her every move, noticing her little quirks and interesting behavior. Everyday he would sketch her. Every. Day. I thought it would get old, after all, he’s drawn at least a hundred pictures of praying mantises through the years.
But each evening I would discover another praying mantis sketch on the art table. When I asked him about it, he said, “Mommy, everyday I’m noticing something new that I’ve never seen before.”
Although mantises don’t eat often, he was also able to feed her a few live bugs and even witnessed the remains of her dinner on the bottom of the container. Sure enough, and to my surprise, there were leftover grasshopper legs and a wing lying in the dirt.
The mantis is the first bug I fell in love with, thanks to Pesto, as we named her. The way she cocked her head and seemed to look directly at you made it feel like she was trying to talk to us. After a simple google search, I learned they are the only insects that can see in three-dimension like humans.
Maybe we’re more connected to bugs than any of us would like to admit?
I’m certain my son gave this praying mantis the best weeks of her entire life and quite possibly extended her life span.
The morning she started dying he knew it.
I, the perpetual critic in this whole affair, didn’t believe it at first. How could a seven-year old know a praying mantis is nearing her final days?
And furthermore, I didn’t want to admit to myself how sad I was to see her leave us.
He announced to the family and showed us that her usual movements were becoming slower and fewer. I couldn’t tell, but went along with his observation. Then the next day, he told us he noticed when he picked her up that her body felt harder than normal.
Pesto was still alive, but probably not going to make it much longer.
Then, he proceeded to do what he had done everyday over those weeks, he grabbed his pencil and drew every detail of her thin body. But this time was different. He carefully laid her out on his actual paper. In her weakened state she was still the object of his affection. She had won his heart.
I snapped pictures of those last moments because I didn’t want anyone of us to forget the autumn when a praying mantis become our pet and lived on our dining room table.
But more than that I wanted to sear it into my soul what my son knows already. My well-being, our well-being as humans, is directly connected to the wild, to tending, and becoming fascinated with the natural world.
In an effort to live more conscious and sustainable, to be a part of nurturing our planet back to health, I’ve been steeping myself in creation care and all the current research proving the benefits of being outdoors. But mostly, I think, I need to take my cues from my boy.
I swear heaven came down as my son drew his mantis friend that afternoon. With the light cascading down over the two of them, my husband and I stood in silent awe, and I could hear the Earth resounding with praise.
This must be the way Mother Earth was always meant to be treated-with love, with dignity, held softly in our hands all the while knowing she is wild and so are we.
We are woven together at a level few of us care to acknowledge.
It’s okay to cry over a praying mantis, I told myself as I tried to push back the tears, this is the way our dying world will be healed.
“What if we saw the Earth as a living being that has feelings, wants, and needs? If we consider our Earth a living entity rather merely a commodity, a whole set of new actions arises.”