Cicada story

Two events – the return of our boy and an article in our local paper about 17-year cicadas about to hatch in the Kansas City area – came together this morning to bring back a kid memory that has become family legend…

It was the summer after The Boy was in 1st grade – about 6 years old. He was then, as he is now, fascinated by animals, bugs, plants…fascinated by everything really. When the cicadas in our area started “cracking out” (I believe that’s the scientific term for what they do when they emerge from their exoskeletons, leaving their split shells behind) he spent literally hours in our yard. Searching for cicadas. Watching cicadas in the process of “cracking out.” Carefully placing half-in-half-out cicadas on tree trunks, thinking that would make them “safer.”

One evening, with bedtime nearing, The Boy could NOT be pulled away from a cracking-out cicada he’d been watching for some time. If he didn’t keep an eye on it, he insisted, a bird would eat it while it was still vulnerable. He was aware that the insect only lives for a day or two if it doesn’t get eaten, but he was very protective of that short life span.

Must be a slow news day…this was a front-page article in the Kansas CIty Star today.

 Finally, in a desperation move, The Husband offered to bring the cicada into the house for the night. They settled on placing it inside an empty cereal box, so that if it should fully emerge and gain its strength in the night, it wouldn’t go zooming around the house and scare the life out of us. Clever, right?

Not so much. In the morning we discovered that The Husband had placed our friend too close to the edge of the box, not allowing the bug enough space to stretch itself out fully as it emerged. It was permanently damaged, unable to fly, and dead by mid-morning.

I have never seen such weeping, wailing, renting of garments, and gnashing of teeth as our little boy went through that day. His (and his father’s) interference had destroyed this cicada’s life. The Boy spent the entire day, until bedtime that evening, curled up on the couch, refusing to speak, eat, or drink. We’re talking deep mourning. 

The rest of us, respectful of his intense grief, moved around the house in silence that day. Though I must admit The Husband and I had to stifle guilty giggles any time we caught each other’s eye. 

The kicker: At bedtime, The Boy got up from the couch, said sorrowfully, “Poor Rowena. It was such a terrible way for a cicada to die.” And quietly went to bed.

Rowena? We were amazed to discover that our erstwhile friend not only had a gender, but also a name. 

The next day The Boy was back to his normal self, playing noisily in the back yard – though he mentioned Rowena once or twice in reverent tones. 

The whole episode was one of our first glimpses into the depth of this third child’s character. Beneath the noisy, goofy, silly exterior lies extreme empathy and concern, and the heart of a poet. 

What an interesting kid.


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