Keeping bugs where they belong
Bugs keep finding their way into my house. I don't mean the winter flu variety; rather, the ones that fit pleasingly into small hands, tickling and writhing against their cheerful captors' palms.
I'm not squeamish about insects, but I do have my boundaries – primarily, the four walls of my home. I uphold these boundaries. My children do not.
My four-year-old is a careful, thoughtful kid, who doesn't particularly like mess but has no problem with critters. His treasure box enshrines a shriveled worm that he peeled off the driveway, as well as a handful of cicada casings that he periodically pulls out and wears snagged onto his clothing.
My youngest son, who is almost two, has just started at daycare a couple of mornings a week. When I picked him up recently, I was assured that he'd had a great day, with lots of outdoor play after the rain abated. Indeed, he'd filled his pockets with the worms he'd dug out of the sodden grass. Were there any still in there? I asked, thinking despairingly of my washing machine. Maybe just one or two, they reassured.
Insects do provide children with a gentle introduction to the issues of life and death. In summer, I watched Millan carry a displaced praying mantis outside to liberate it in the garden. A minute later, I heard a heartbreaking wail and hurried to his side.
"I put it on the leaf," he was howling, "and it fell off!" I hugged him, and was crouching down to help him look for the insect when he sobbed, "And then the chicken ate it!"
He may have learned something from that resourceful hen, however. A few weeks later, he glided inside after helping his father stack firewood, carefully brandishing a large piece of bark.
"Look, Mum!" he said, with breathy delight.
"Hmm?" I smiled distractedly, followed by, "Oh good grief!"
His strip of bark was a platter for a bloated, squirming huhu grub. "Me and Dad are going to eat it," Millan told me solemnly.
That night, while I cooked tea, my partner and son were also heating a pan on the stove. "We want him to be nice and crispy, don't we?" they consulted each other.
I know that there is a growing movement in favour of the consumption of insects – in fact, 80 per cent of the world's population already include them in their diet. Cricket flour has even made it onto the shelf at my local New World – but never into my basket. Shamefully, the huhu grub was too far outside the comfort zone of my Motueka kitchen. My boundaries were breached. I lost my appetite.