When my youngest daughter was three years old, we lived in a small duplex where I was fortunate to have an old, abused washing machine in my kitchen and a wonderfully long clothesline in the back yard for our laundry. Our back yard was literally at the entrance to the woods, so our yard boasted many trees, a good deal of underbrush to continually clear and a variety of critter (squirrels, opossums, raccoons, caterpillars, etc.). Saturdays were spent washing clothes, hanging them on the lines, and repeating the process, often until the sun set. Because of the trees in the yard, I would carefully shake out the laundry before I put it in the basket to take back into the house. The idea of a spider in my laundry was horrifying to me. (You have to understand my irrational fear of spiders.)
One Saturday night, I sat down to fold the laundry, having tucked my daughters safely into bed. My youngest slept on a toddler bed with her favorite blanket, which was a lightweight, patchwork blanket made by the women of her great-grandmother’s church. She had not been in bed more than fifteen minutes when her little face came peeking around the corner. Tiny pink toes poked out from under the ruffle of her full-length nightgown and her head was a riot of white-blonde curls. “Momma,” she said, “There is a bug in my bed.” I gave her one of those mother looks that say, “Right; don’t want to go to bed yet, do you?” I put down the shirt I was folding, took her by the hand and led her back to her bed. We lifted the pillow, looked at the sheets, and pulled back the blanket. No bug. I tucked her snugly back into bed, kissed her forehead and went back to my work.
Another fifteen minutes went by and that tiny little face was peeking around the corner again. “Momma, there really is a bug in my bed.” We went through the same routine – go back to her room, search the bed, no bug, tuck her back in. I was half-inclined to allow her to stay up with me while I finished folding the laundry, but I knew how cranky she would be in the morning if she didn’t get her sleep. Fifteen minutes passed again, but this time there was an addition to that tiny face that peeked around the corner – a tear in her eye that escaped down her cheek. “Momma, there is a bug in my bed. There is. He bit me.”
Back we go to her room. This time I am extra careful – I remove the pillow case, turning it inside out and shaking it thoroughly. I throw all the covers back from the bed and run my hands over the fitted sheet, stretch out the top sheet, and then begin to examine the blanket. There, tightly attached to the blanket, down near where her feet would have been, was a fat, green, fuzzy caterpillar. I quickly took the blanket outside and shook him off, re-examined it completed, and, satisfied that there were no more critters, took it back to my daughter. I asked her to show me where it bit her, and she did. There was a tiny welt on her foot that would, thankfully, fade by morning. I asked her if she had seen the bug earlier and she told me she had, so I asked why she hadn’t told me where it was. “But, momma, you didn’t ask.”
She was right. I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask how she knew there was a bug in her bed; I didn’t ask her to show it to me; I just assumed that this was a ploy to keep her out of bed. I felt so very guilty for not listening to my daughter.
Fourteen years later – last night, in fact – my youngest daughter, now 17, cried out: “Mom, there is a bug in my bed!” Our cat likes to catch beetles and bring them to my daughter, often leaving them on her bed, with a little bit of life left in them. This one had enough life left in him to make a run for it the moment our cat turned her head. As we stripped back the sheets and began examining every inch of her covers, I began to laugh, remembering those little pink toes, that curly blonde hair and those beautiful blues eyes that had looked at me from that innocent face so many years ago. I was promptly informed, “Mom, this is really not funny!”
After we finished searching her bed, under her bed, and her entire room, I sat down on the side of her bed and began to tell her about the story of a little girl and a fat, fuzzy, green caterpillar. She didn’t remember any of that night, but I did, and I enjoyed sharing it with my daughter, now so grown up, but still yelling for Mom to help chase away the bug in her bed.