When Jack was turning 5 and Margaret was 2, we had the 17 year Cicadas here in Virginia. The only time I’d experienced them before was, well, 17 years earlier when I was a teenager. I didn’t give them much attention then, just flicked them off my towel when they interfered with “laying out” in my bikini in the backyard.
In 2004, however, I was in my 30’s and I got into cicadas BIG-TIME. I knew it would be the only time they would appear during my kids’ childhood, and I wanted to make the most of it. So while some drivers were freaking out and running into lampposts when wayward cicadas got into their cars, I was letting Jack give his "favorite" ones rides to and from the preschool playground so they could have “a change of scenery.”
We would search our tree trunks for signs of cicadas emerging from their shells, or exoskeletons. It was a-ma-zing to see that in action! We put up with the incessant noise of their mating calls, because we found the red-eyed creatures so fascinating. Jack held the live ones cupped loosely in his hands, and collected hundreds of empty shells in an old spaghetti sauce jar.
I remember looking out the kitchen door one day at his stricken face. He clutched his jar tightly as a live cicada crawled up his neck toward his ear. “It crawled all the way up me but I couldn’t get it or I’d ‘dwop’ my exo'skeya'tons!” he said, in his serious little voice after I’d scooped the huge insect off his scrawny little neck. That jar still sits on the dresser in Jack’s room; in fact, it freaked out a German exchange student who slept in there last August. She had never seen such a thing and was afraid “the creatures” were alive.
So we made the most of the cicadas. We bought Jack a cicada t-shirt, which he wore for the next 5 years. We discussed how some people were celebrating our cicada spring by eating them…covered with chocolate…but we never tried that. I took my all-time favorite picture of Jack covered with the cicada shells. The entertainment value the bugs brought to this stay at home mom and her kids during those long spring days was well worth the time I had to spend later, shoveling rotting cicada carcasses into the trash can with a snow shovel.
You see, the cicadas didn’t live long. They came out of the ground, molted, courted, mated, laid eggs, and died. Start to finish? 4-6 weeks. I remember talking to the kids about what I considered to be the cicadas’ pathetic life cycle. I mean who wants to wait underground for SEVENTEEN YEARS just to come out, sing a few songs, lay some eggs, and then DIE?????
We did the math and figured out that Margaret would be 19 and Jack 21 when they came back. And Good Lord, I would be in my FIFTIES! It would be a very long wait, but I enjoyed thinking that in 2021 we would reminisce about our Cicada Springtime.
But now Jack won’t be here to see them, and I’m probably going to need to hibernate underground at bit myself that spring just to get through the ordeal. Because never in a million years did it cross my mind that both my kids would not be around to see the cicadas again. I mean, I worried a bit about myself, since my mom died at 46, but I barely even allowed myself to go THERE in my mind.
And Jack’s short time on earth, followed by what is going to seem like a hell of a long wait for his mom, dad, sister, family and friends to endure until we are together again, makes 17 years not seem so bad.