Here is my confession of the day: I do not like holding bugs. I do not like holding frogs, or fish, or worms. That seems like such a weird statement coming from me. Especially to those who spend anytime with squish and I in the outdoors or at Adventure School . I am the mom who will fish out tadpoles with my bare hands, so the kids can get a better look. I will dutifully hold a worm so it doesn’t crawl away. I collect black beetles for later examination, and I dispense crickets and mealworms to Squishy’s collection of animals. That is my job, as the mom of a child that needs to touch and smell and feel every living (and some non living) creature that crosses his path. It is not that I am squeamish, it’s just not my idea of a good time.
It is part of Squishy’s scientific exploration. Something that seems to be engrained in his very being. So when he was one and a half and stuffing worms in the pockets of his overalls (complete Dennis the Menace moment), I made a choice. I would support his efforts to understand and love all creatures, great, small, and unfortunately slimy.
This led to the great toad round-up. Although the number fluctuated between 150 and 30 during our examination of them, the final count was 86 when we released them at the beginning of fall. Some were released while others were “rescued” throughout the months we kept the habitat. We also had the wonderous worm dig. We found 45 long ones in the mud pit after the rain last fall. There are a hundred other examples of when I chose to hold squishy, slimy, icky things because my son asked me to.
So, if you have a child that likes to explore, who loves all the creepy crawlies, and wants you to join him/her on the investigation; I have some tips to get you through it. I have actually learned to enjoy this time with squish. If you have squeamish tendencies, though, let’s shoot for getting you to hold a worm without throwing it and screaming.
Step 1-Do some research
Squishy loves to collect bugs, put them in jars and stare at them for a day or two. I am not even 100% sure what he is observing, but it’s important to him. Guess who gets to put the bugs in the jar? Yep, “Mom! Look at this cool bug!! What do you think it is? Can I take it home??” And it gets put in my hand.
So to keep myself from throwing that darkling beetle across the river and shivering uncontrollably when it was deposited in my hand, Squishy and I have done some homework. We have a rule; if we don’t know what it is, we don’t touch it. At least until we do know. We spent an entire month studying spiders and their webs at Adventure School. We are relatively lucky that we really only have two poisonous spiders to look out for. Squishy knows what they are, though, and will alert an adult if he sees one. That means he will not pick it up and drop it in my hand. Unfortunately the side effect from that intense study is, Squish now wants a *pooter.
*pooter is a small vacuum you operate with your mouth to suck up spiders and other bugs.
With our research, I have a lot more confidence. I know that even though what I’m holding has tiny hairy legs, it won’t actually harm me or my son. Squish has also learned not to just pick up specimens without thinking about the effect on them and their habitat.
Step 2-Set rules and guidelines
Set rules that you feel comfortable with, that still allow for exploration. I have a “we don’t touch dead animals” rule. I came up with that one after Squish (at age 2) runs up clutching a dead field mouse covered in ants. Oh, I had to swallow a shriek with that one. Then quickly bathed him in hand sanitizer. I will probably have to adjust this one, as he is becoming more interested in skeletons. For now though, he is content to look and poke at things with a stick.
We have the “know what you’re touching” rule from above, and an “aquatic animals have to stay in water” rule. The biggest rule we have had to be negotiated over for quite a while. Under no circumstance is he to touch and/or be anywhere near a venomous animal until the following is complete: 1. He is at least 17 years of age and 2. he has completed an apprenticeship with Dr. Fry (Of Venom Island Fame). I figure that agreement will hold till he is at least 8.
The idea is to set parameters that push your comfort level, but don’t completely freak you out. If you want you child to wear gloves and use tweezers, go for it, if it means that you are sharing the experience.
Step 3-Share in the joy of discovery
Probably the most important step. There is nothing more amazing than watching Squishy’s engagement with nature. We have read his giant Bug book so many times it is dog-eared and limp. The book, as much as we love it, could not imprint the body parts of that darkling beetle into his mind in the same way letting it crawl over his hand did. I got to share that joy and wonder of discovery with him.
As I swallowed my feelings of being uncomfortable, the sheer delight in his eyes began to overshadow my reservations. Have you ever touched a June Beetle as it clung to the screen door? I can honestly say I never thought that I would. They creep me out like nothing else. Seriously, how they cling to your clothes if they land on you *shiver. A friend showed Squishy how they “hiss” and he needed me to share the moment with him. It was a learning moment I will never forget. I could have easily stood back with my camera and watched his excitement through the lens. I chose to share the moment and create a memory for us both.
I am not a Psychologist, a Doctor, or a Mystic of any kind. These are just my suggestions, and experiences, to hopefully encourage you to get down in the muck with your little explorer.