My elder kid will leave for college this weekend. I’m going to miss the sprog something fierce. I’m sorry. I’m a little verklempt. Please talk amongst yourselves. Here’s a little story about our mother and son camping adventure which you can read while I go wail and rend my garments.
Addendum: pre-departure photo (08/26/2006) of my college bound sprog included.
Growing up on a farm brought me into close contact with nature. I was not, and still am not, the kind of woman in whom snakes, bees, wasps, or mice strike gut wrenching fear. Instead, I harbored a keen curiosity about the local fauna. I regularly caught garter snakes which settled in the coolness of the dirt-floored garage in the summer. Once, I even nabbed a big king snake, which quickly turned and laid its needle sharp little fangs into the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger before I could grab it behind the head and drag it off to show my father what I found.
Bumblebees sometimes made nests in the barns’ mangers. A mouthful of bee was an unpleasant experience for the livestock, so in an ill conceived effort to roust the insects, my brother and I ventured into the barns, shook the bee nests in the straw with a pitchfork, and then swatted the enraged yellow and black suckers with badminton rackets. I was stung more than once playing this game. We also engaged in a risky activity dubbed “bumblebee plipping” in which we would lurk by a patch of false dragonhead plants whose tubular flowers cover tall stalks, and, using the time honored configuration of thumb and forefinger, flicked the bees’ backsides while their heads were immersed in the heart of the flower. The object was to stun ‘em but not kill ‘em. We gave the bees a fighting chance removing our shoes and dancing with pain over a gravel driveway, which abutted the bed of false dragonhead, to evade the highly annoyed bees.
But spiders on the other hand…When I was about five years old, I trundled barefoot to the west lawn to play croquet with my father, brother and sister. On the way, a huge wolf spider leaped onto the top of my small, narrow foot and bit me! I vividly remember shrieking and vainly trying to shake the damn thing off by vigorously kicking my leg. I was small enough, and the spider was large enough, such that the venom gave me chills and abdominal cramps, not to mention my tiny foot swelling to unnatural proportions. So, ever since that day, spiders evoke an unpleasant visceral reaction in me.
With that background, in July of 1996, my then 8-year-old son and I set out for a Cub Scout “Mom and Me” overnight campout. His father conveniently passed on the “Dad n’ Lad” event by citing his many allergies. We were told not to bring our own tent. We arrived to find the campsites with about 12 Korean War era canvas Army surplus tents pitched over half-rotted plywood platforms. Each contained two extremely rusty cots with nearly fossilized, cracked plastic pads (the word “mattress” is a stretch) on them. The stench of mildew permeated everything. There were daddy longlegs all over the tent surfaces. Now these don’t bother me, so we simply swept them away. However, in the back of my mind, visions of wolf spiders appeared with long dark hairy legs and probing mandibles. My rational side suppressed this rising worry, at least until I started chatting with some of the other mothers, one of whom told me that a kid (turned out to be one of my sprog’s best friends) was bitten ON THE FACE by a wolf spider during the last “Dad n Lad” outing. The hairs on the back of my neck rose immediately.
I managed to calm myself slightly during the obligatory campfire sing-alongs and skits. I was distracted by the pleasant soccer mom next to me who, when I told her my daughter wanted to join Girl Scouts, informed me how awful and godless they were. She advised me that I really should consider putting my daughter in “Heritage Girls” which I correctly surmised was a fundamentalist Christian oriented organization which had even more neo-Fascist tendencies than Boy or Girl Scouts.
After the last rousing kumbaya, we walked back to camp and the image of skulking wolf spiders, ready to sink their fangs into my exposed flesh, immediately returned. With the thoroughly misguided notion (chalk one up to “magical thinking”) that one entrance was better than two at defending our little piece of the campsite from fearsome arachnids, I decided to close the back flaps of the tent. I asked my kid to grab the flashlight to help direct me to the flaps’ ties. As soon as he turned the light on the tent, there, clinging to the canvas, was a wolf spider the size of the space shuttle. OK, so I stole that line from “Annie Hall”, but Woody’s description really resonated with me.
I squawked shrilly, “God damn! IT’S A F*CKING WOLF SPIDER!!” Oh, yes, I not only took the good lord’s name in vain but also used the “F” word amongst all those cub scouts and their moms. I promptly ordered my son to get a “big stick” from the campfire wood so I could swat the spider that was frozen in the ring of the flashlight’s glare. He returned with a twenty-pound LOG and five little boys with gleaming eyes, no doubt wondering what their fellow scout’s crazy, profane mother was going to do next. My son held the light while I swung the bulky hunk of wood at the arachnid. On my first strike, it fell behind the partially closed flap . I gingerly untied this, and there it was – still alive. I shrieked and swung again. After this last mighty heave, I couldn’t find the carcass so I was convinced I had lobbed the live spider RIGHT INTO MY SLEEPING BAG. Frantically, I began searching the ground for it, hard to do when an excited boy is holding the flashlight. Finally, one little boy yelped, “You got it! Look! There’re its guts!” Sure enough, on the side of the tent was a splat with a couple of legs attached to it.
But did that bring relief? Not at all. I didn’t fall asleep until the early hours of the morning because of the hot, oppressively humid July night, the constant creaking of cots all around me, and the fact I was convinced a wolf spider was going to scuttle across my face as soon as I nodded off. I finally did go to sleep, only to be awakened an hour later when a band of chattering raccoons invaded the campsite to feast on the scattered, sugary contents of a bag of M and Ms which spilled on the ground hours earlier. The next day, after two or three hours of sleep, we all went out hiking, shooting arrows, BB guns, playing kickball and otherwise doing the obligatory Cub Scout thing in 90+ degree heat with equivalent humidity. We were completely wiped out. On the way home, I asked him if he wanted to do this next year, and he replied, “I don’t think so, Mom.” Sensible kid, my son.