Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fishing, Pets, and Other Warm and Fuzzy Childhoood Memories

Last week, when the weather was still hot, I decided to take my kids to a nearby park with a stream that is the perfect depth for wading. We have been there many times, but today our purpose was clear: to capture minnows.

I used to love catching minnows, frogs, tadpoles--anything, really--in the local ponds and lakes. It always felt as though, through my own hard work and in defiance of strict animal rules in my parents' home, I had a new pet. Of course, I always had to make the difficult decision of whether to release the animal back to its natural environment or to let it die a slow death in an old canning jar with nail-punched air holes.

This was a lesson hard-won for Luke the summer that he turned four. On vacation in Alaska, we hiked up Mount Baldy, a small mountain near my parents house, where, for some reason a scientist could explain, large fuzzy caterpillars abound only at the very top. Luke has a major soft spot for furry creatures of any sort and so quickly grabbed a couple of these caterpillars and claimed them as his own. When I explained that he had to decide whether or not to leave them at the top of the mountain or bring them home where they would die, Luke had a meltdown. Of course, he had also climbed the whole mountain on his own. It was exhaustion speaking as much as his love for all things cuddly in the screams that pounded my ears the whole way down the mountain. For the record, he chose to leave the caterpillars there.

I began feeling nervous this warm fall day, then, when I noticed how fast these minnows were swimming. Armed with kitchen sieves and antique canning jars that I bought for a quarter each at a yard sale, we walked up and down the stream searching for our potential, but perhaps temporary, new pets. And I realized that, if we were lucky enough to catch one, we would be faced with this great and horrible dilemma: If we truly loved the fish we would have to let them go. So really, I should have been happy to tromp through the tepid creek, enjoying one of the last balmy days of October, content that we didn't have to make this difficult decision.

But I wasn't. As soon as we started dipping our sieves into the water in pursuit of fish, I was transported back to the desperation I felt at age eight--an urgent desire to have a minnow of my own. Once when I was 10 years old, I stood on the back porch, still as can be and with birdseed in my open hand, for an hour, in hopes that I would become the proud owner of a baby bird. The competition, the desire, the tireless patience all came back to me as I began to bark out orders to my kids.

"SHHHHHHH! You are scaring the minnows! Do you want one? Huh? Do you? Because if you do you will SIT ON THOSE ROCKS and be still and quiet! SHHHHHHHH!"

And my sweet little boys, wanting a minnow and sensing that mommy was very, very serious, sat quietly on those rocks for a good fifteen minutes as I walked farther and farther up the creek. At one point Henry must have fallen into the water, because when I waded back to them, defeated, he was soaking wet.

Oh, a good time was had by all. Yes it was. They may not have a warm and fuzzy childhood memory to store away, nor do they have a cool and slippery pet to starve in a jar or tearfully release, but they have their plentiful mosquito bites to show for it all.

I'd better use those canning jars to start saving my pennies for their therapy in a few years.


Nancy said...

We have had those moments. In fact, at the moment, we have a toad living in our yard, and I always struggle with whether or not to tell Emily I saw him. If I tell her, she'll want to catch him and abuse him (not on purpose, but it just ends up that way). If I don't, perhaps she'll never learn to love toads enough...

Have you read "Last Child in the Woods"? I'm working on it now - incredibly depressing in some ways, but encouraging for those of us who do try to get our kids outside.

Beck said...

Any time we take our kids out into nature with the best of intentions, we always come home damp, bug-bitten and traumatized. Somehow, this will magically transform into Happy Memories as they get older...

theflyingmum said...

I just might have a solution for you: a "pet" earthworm (I blogged about it here.) Tater is still alive and well. In fact, there are quite a few little worms in there too now, and I get a "warm fuzzy" imagining Tater's little worm family in a jar. Just a thought. And yes, days like the one you described havehappened here to, way more times than I care to remember. We're only human, after all.
We have a very large jar, like a restaurant-sized pickle jar or something (ask at a local diner if you could have one of their empties maybe?) They are very low-maintenance, and educational as well. And to further enhance the experience, a fellow blogger recommended "Diary of a Worm" by Doreen Cronin (which one of my son's aunts was kind enough to give him for his 6th birthday.)