This fall has seen what can only be described as the Drama of the Woolly Bear. It's funny that such a thing can cause the drama that it has, for I had never even heard of woolly bear caterpillars prior to this fall. A couple weeks back, Anna found a woolly bear caterpillar in our yard. She brought it into the house and put it in a clear plastic box with some leaves, a few sticks and some grass and christened him "Woolly." It was no a super secure box and she did insist on taking it out of the box to let it crawl on her finger. Within the first 24 hours of captivity, it had escaped and after a massive search, it was located. However, on Halloween night, Anna was up until nearly midnight because of our Halloween party. The next morning, we found the box upended and the caterpillar gone, likely the result of her manic over-tiredness the night before (as in, she had likely inadvertently knocked the box over and didn't realize it.)
There were a large number of tears shed on that Saturday and especially that Saturday night, despite all our efforts to spin it in to something like "the woolly bear is meant to be outside," "he is probably going to hibernate" or other such platitudes. So the following Sunday, Anna and I went out to Ada Hayden Heritage Park here in Ames on the hunt for another woolly bear caterpillar. The first one we found was a dead one, but it didn't take long before we found one, and then another and another. We only kept the one, which Anna named Claire and we got a much sturdier container for this one.
I did some investigation on the internet and found out that you could keep them through the winter (they go into a hibernation state) and then in the spring, the caterpillars pupate and become Isabella tiger moths in the early spring. I thought, what the heck? Let's try it.
So yesterday, we put potting soil in the bottom of the container, some new leaves and a few new sticks as well. Anna decided that yesterday was the day to put the woolly bear, container and all, on the porch and let it hibernate for the winter.
I did not think much of it at first, but the more the day wore on, the more I questioned that decision. I was laying in bed last night trying (in vain) to sleep and couldn't help but think that perhaps we had killed the woolly bear by putting it on the porch so soon. All I could think of was the heartbreak that Anna would feel on the death of this, the second woolly bear. So Heidi and I brought it in and tried to find it. We thought we had found it, but this morning, on closer inspection, what we thought was it was not it. I looked around in the cage this morning and found it, but I'm not sure that it's still living. I am no goddamn entomologist, so it could be hibernating and just non-responsive, but I think I am going to have to put the cage back on the porch this morning and not mention a word of the whole thing to Anna.
I realize that it's stupid to pin my success or failure as a father on the survival of this caterpillar. It is the ultimate in ridiculous and surely there will be more traumatic things that she will confront sooner rather than later. There would be those that would look at me with disdain and shake their heads and say "it's just a caterpillar!" but those people do not know my daughter's tender heart. If this caterpillar does not survive till the spring to become a beautiful moth, she will be crushed. Momentarily, yes and she will not likely need therapy for it, but it will hurt her. She is not one of those kids that will forget about something like this. I fear that she will pin her hopes on that caterpillar all winter and if it does not emerge in the spring, we will have many tearful days and even more tearful evenings. A part of me regrets even telling her that the possibility to keep the caterpillar over the winter even existed.
I think the Drama of the Woolly Bear speaks to larger insecurities I have as a parent, not ever sure if the decisions I am making are the right ones, being pissed at myself when I am short with her and realizing that she will not be little forever and there will come a day in the not-too-far-off future that she will not want to be with me at all. It also speaks to the part of me (that I think exists in every parent) that wants to shield her from all of life's disappointments, even though intellectually, I realize that's not only impossible but also mind bogglingly stupid. If I protect her from everything in life, what will she do when I am no longer around to protect her? It's the fine line between doing your job as a parent and being their advocate while also allowing them to live their life. That line is nebulous and moves around a lot, but it's still our job to keep an eye on it.
I wonder if all parents feel this way to some degree. I know when I was a kid, I would watch my parents and they just knew everything. Now, I realize they were probably doing something not all that dissimilar from what I am doing now - the best I can and hope it all works out.
I guess for all those moments of frustration that I wonder where my daughter gets her tender heart, I need look no further than these pages. But there are certainly worse things to pass on.