Petting the cockroaches
The older kids complain on the drive over about how unfair it is that they all have to go to Leslie Science & Nature Center simply because Little Brother has to go to Bug Fest. They insist they're too old (and too cool) to still be going there after all these years.
Once we're there, however, the bickering and complaining quickly drop away. Even the surly preteens are lured into participation by the craft table that calls them to make their own insects - though the insect that twelve-year-old M makes is the flea character Myoga, from the Inuyasha anime/manga series. Eleven-year-old H, now a tough middle-schooler, informs me that she is going to check out the raptors by herself - owls, kestrels, peregrine falcons, bald eagle; she knows the way. Seven-year-old N spends her time in the Critter House helping to feed the turtles mealworms, petting the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, examining silkworm cocoons, and asking question after question.
Three-year-old Little Brother is in his element, catching insects with his "sticky tongue" (a party blower with Velcro on the tip), trying to jump 600 times his body length like a flea, pollinating flowers by buzzing around dressed as a bee while moving yellow bottle caps among several chalk flowers drawn on the sidewalk, feeding a hungry frog by throwing toy insects through its hula-hoop mouth, and then dressing up like an insect complete with compound eye goggles, knight armor (exoskeleton), bike helmet with antennae (like a burrowing beetle's), snow mittens (sticky hands), kneepads (extra joints), and giant empty water bottle on his back (air bladder, like a diving beetle's). He meets a boy his age with a Spiderman doll, and they fly down the grassy hill while dueling with their own handcrafted spider creations.
Suddenly the children disappear and I see them out the window, these children who do not like vegetables, running and laughing and chasing each other through the Project Grow gardens. Over by
the prairie, we meet Sergei the teenage insect expert, who teaches us how to catch insects with a butterfly net, and who identifies the day's finds - lubber grasshopper, Chinese praying mantis, crab spider (Little Brother's eyes open wide: "You mean like Mr. Crab from SpongeBob?!!") - while treating us to a continuous description of these fascinating creatures: their habitats, their range, their habits, the spot of red on this one's wings, how that one first came to America in the 1800s. The children and I march through the tall grasses while singing at the top of our lungs, picking wildflowers, and stalking insects.
No longer are any of these simply "bugs." I emerge with a newfound curiosity about even the housefly buzzing by the ceiling - I wonder what kind of insect that one is . . . exactly?
Bug Fest returns to Leslie Science & Nature Center on Saturday, September 20.
[Review published September 2008]