Caterpiller Season: Another Stirring Saga in Maternal Ineptitude
In our backyard we have a large catalpa tree. It's been there as long as I can remember and I've owned this home for nearly 25 years. The tree was here when I bought the house. It stands tall outside in our backyard and sometimes I stand at the back door and just stare at it because I love the way its sweeping branches make a shade canopy over that part of the yard.
In the summertime the catalpa worms emerge wearing their little stripey black suits, very dapper gents who start out tiny and grow monstrously huge with voracious appetites. They eat the heart-shaped leaves of the tree and become fat. Excellent fish bait if you can stand skewering them. I cannot, especially when my children consider them playmates.
Every day the boys go out with a bowl and catch as many worms as they can and watch them crawl around. They create habitats for them, little obstacle courses of sticks and leaves and plastic toys. Sometimes Tristan would put the fattest ones on a tiny little toy skateboard and say, "Mom, do you know why Catty needs a skateboard? Because she is SO FAT!"
For a week or two each summer they do this and Tristan especially gets very attached to them. He's named them "Catty" and cries every night when he has to take Catty back to the tree where she lives. He wails, "But Catty LOVES ME! Catty will be LONELY! Something will get CATTY!!!" It's a horrible and pathetic lament, heartbreaking. I keep thinking one day he will get over it, but it always starts again the next day.
Tonight he came in from his quest to the catalpa tree to collect Catty. He was bawling his head off. I was cooking dinner. "What is is, sweetie?"
He hugged my leg and sobbed into my blue jeans. "Catty is GONE! There are no more Catties!" Apparently the end of the catalpa season has come or all the worms have wandered their way up to the top where the food was better. No matter, the end result was the same. Tristan could not put Catty in the plastic bowl that he has carried with him every day since school let out.
"Hey, you know what, this is okay. You know why?"
He looked up hopefully after wiping his eyes on my pants. "Why?"
"Well, Catty's probably gone to college or something. That's what happens -- you grow up and go to college. You'll do that one of these days when you are a big, big boy! So, try not to worry about it. All the Catties will be back next summer."
I continued to stir the food on the stove and he wandered outside. About five minutes later Julius came in and stood next to me and asked in a quiet voice, "Hey, Mom? Why is Tristan outside screaming and crying, 'Catty's gone to college!'"
From across the room Rob says, "Way to go, Mom."
"Er, well, he was crying so I told him Catty went to college." I shrugged, slightly embarrassed.
Julius rolled his eyes. "Great. Well, he's screaming his head off. Everyone in the neighborhood will hear him." And then he turned and went back outside.
Tristan came in later and was still lamenting that Catty had gone to college and she would be lonely and scared all by herself. I was quick to reassure him, "Oh no, she's not lonely and scared. She's off with her friends having a Catty party!"
He stared at me in horror and then shrieked, "CATTY IS HAVING A CATTY PARTY WITHOUT MEEEEEEEE!" And then he ran off to have a nervous breakdown somewhere in private.
From across the room Rob says, "Way to go, Mom."
I sighed. Really, there was no way to win on this. What do you do about a child who cries all the time over something the locals use as The Best Fishbait Ever?
That night at bedtime, I tucked Tristan in with his favorite blanket and SnuggleBunny, a big stuffed rabbit that was as long as he was and wider. He spooned with SnuggleBunny while I covered him and tucked him in.
"I'm so sad, Mommy, Catty is having a party without me at college." He sobbed limply into SnuggleBunny's neck.
I didn't know what to say, so I decided to tell The Truth, because the truth always sets you free. You can't go wrong with the truth.
"Honey, I think maybe Catty turned into a moth."
He raised his head and looked up at me with big, wet eyes and then... screamed. "AAAAH, CATTY IS A MOTH! NOOOO MOMMY NOOOOOO! I DON'T WANT CATTY TO BE A MOTH!"
Jeez. I think I might have actually banged my head against the bed frame in frustration. Can you need anti-depressants at four? I have no idea.
"Listen, no, seriously -- Moths are super cool. You LOVE moths! You can catch Catty as a moth!" Nevermind that he has killed every moth he's ever caught because he loves them to death and they meet a bitter, flopping, broken end tossed out the front door because I can't stand to watch it anymore.
"Catty will fly away as soon as I open my hand!"
I stared at him sadly thinking how true that is for so many things. Maybe Tristan's real problem is that he's a lot like his mother.
"Okay, time to dry it up. Look, here is Snoopy. He's sad and needs you to cheer him up. Do that and it will make you feel better. Catty will be back. You'll see him again, I promise. Catty always comes back, every summer. And you know what? Never in Catty's life will there ever be another boy who let her ride around on a skateboard. So, that's why I know Catty thinks YOU are the most special boy she has ever met."
He sniffed and said, "Really?"
I nodded, "Really. Super double triple really."
He burrowed into SnuggleBunny and closed his eyes. I pulled the covers up under his chin and turned out the light.