My daughter talked to a spider for 30 minutes at breakfast this morning.
“I gave Spidey a sip of my chocolate milk!” Violet said, her grin spreading across the room like a sunbeam.
When I smashed a mosquito a few hours later, she screamed, accusing me of not caring about the earth if I kill insects.
“All bugs are my friends,” Violet said. “Every single bug, even mosquitoes and wasps. Spiders too.”
Violet chases butterflies around the yard and wears her Dollar Store fairy wings all day, every day now. She’s a 36-pound flower child, nestled in nature, surrounded by water, cheerfully busy befriending songbirds, butterflies, ladybugs, wild rabbits and deer.
Violet built an ant restaurant on the brick patio just outside our sliding glass door. There are moss tables, lichen chairs, twigs, pine needles, ripped up grass and beach toys everywhere.
Ants surge up from beneath the bricks in the thousands whenever Violet eats a granola bar outside. She grins at me as she drops chunks of crunchy oats, saying “Oops” dramatically before whispering, “You’re welcome,” to her horde of friends.
“Ants are pests,” her dad and I said at first, half-heartedly trying to stop her. “Food costs money.”
But in a world where insects are Violet’s only real-life, day-to-day companions besides her parents, is it really a good idea to insist that she abandon her friends, stop sharing her snacks and toys?
“I made the ants some art to enjoy while they eat,” Violet says, pointing at her sidewalk chalk drawing of a rainbow, a yellow sun, a long-whiskered cat.
In normal times, Violet’s bug talk might have seemed simply whimsical. But mid-pandemic, Violet’s words cast a shadow: Are bugs enough?
I’ve always wanted to keep my daughter innocent, to protect her from growing up too fast, like some kids do, like I did. Then COVID-19 came along.
“Why isn’t that man wearing a mask?” Violet asks one warm day at the Herron Island ferry dock as we’re heading out on a kayaking adventure.
“Well, some people don’t like masks.”
“Let’s go tell him if he wears a mask, coronavirus will go away. Then I can go to the park with my friends!” Violet stomps her small foot, kicks gravel.
“I think that guy’s brain isn’t very good,” Violet says, shaking her head as I struggle not to laugh.
“It’s time to go kayak now.”
There is a new tone to the way Violet says, “Yes, Mom.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, Mother,” in a voice so weary it breaks my heart, followed by a deep sigh I’d never heard before COVID.
Out in Case Inlet, Violet steps out of my kayak and onto her dad’s 10-foot surfboard. From there, she jumps into the cold Puget Sound and squeals.
“I’m doing it! I’m doing it!” she yells as she kicks, paddles, giggles and climbs back up onto the board, her skin covered in goosebumps, her purple lifejacket buckles gunked up with surf wax.
Before life got interrupted, Violet had been working so hard at so many things, making progress in swimming, climbing, eating in restaurants, making it through a trip to the store without a tantrum. I hope when this is all said and done she’ll still be able to jump into the swimming pool without fear or a floatie, submerge and blow bubbles while kicking her way back up to the top.
Violet is already braver and more resilient than most adults I know. Her 4-year-old voice is vibrant with confidence, tough with pride. I’m not sure exactly how and when she grew into this version of herself.
One afternoon I’m reading a book in the yard when fluttering white wings touch my cheek. Violet laughs when I shriek. She pushes the moth clutched gently between her fingertips closer as I nearly fall off my chair trying to get away.
“Are you writing down my bug stuff?” Violet asks me later as I type. “Is every single person gonna know it?”
Violet sighs and rolls her eyes, her mannerisms more teenager than soon-to-be 5-year-old.
I blame COVID for just about everything I don’t like these days. But the truth is that my daughter and all of our children are growing up, for better or worse. No matter what happens in the adult world, politics or the economy, Violet won’t stay little forever.
Even when we try our hardest to slow down, to pause life or grind it to a halt, the kids keep getting taller, sassier, braver, more this or more that, and when the big world is able to hit play again, nothing will ever be quite the same as it was, least of all them.
Maybe all I can really do is buy extra granola bars, knowing that some will have to go to the ants.
Krisa Bruemmer lives in Vaughn.