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Taking Mommy Guilt To The Next Level

There’s something about becoming a mother that makes you feel responsible for, well, the entire universe. I spent one entry about a week ago linking to therapeutic blogs to help work through this, so I’m not going to dwell on the rightness or wrongness here.

I’m just going to acknowledge that it exists.

Once you become a mother, you see every single child out there as, to some extent, your own. From very early on, I found myself trying to help out frustrated toddlers on a playground, or cautioning complete strangers that they were doing something dangerous (“Do you think your Mommy would let you cross the street blindfolded?”) Just last week I spent a lovely evening with an author friend of mine, attending his book signing and just being a fly on the wall. Once we left the gathering and were walking towards the parking lot, he looked bemusedly at me as I grabbed his hands and proceeded to squirt – uninvited – hand sanitizer on them.

“You don’t know where all those hands you shook have been, and it’s a long book tour and you need to be healthy. Rub your hands together for as long as it takes to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and don’t give me any grief about this,” I said, half ashamed and half defiant and wholly unable to stop myself.

So I guess it’s no wonder I’ve begun to feel responsible for the animals in our side yard.

As I mentioned last week, we have – well, had (spoiler alert!) – ten caterpillars in our side garden, busily eating my dill plant as they prepared to cocoon. Every time I saw my gigantic dill plant getting smaller, I simply shrugged and said, smiling, “Hey, we never eat all our dill anyway – I’m sure there will be plenty left over.”

I underestimated how much ten caterpillars can eat.

Sunday morning we went outside and saw the plant, completely denuded and bitten down to the stubs. Of the ten original caterpillars, only four were still stubbornly gnawing at the remains. The other six had made a break for it, in search of further sustenance. I spied one caterpillar on the neighboring basil plant and didn’t take time to look for the others; I simply ran out to buy another dill plant. I know, you see, that most caterpillars only eat one or two types of plants at the most – who knew if they’d find something else edible in the nursery – er, garden?

Well, apparently dill-starting season is past, for there was nary a dill plant to be found. Thinking about how we’d found one on the basil, I quickly bought another one – heaven knows our current two basil plants wouldn’t last them half an hour – and hurried home.

By the time I got back, there were only two caterpillars left on the dill. I looked around and spied a less-than-alive one in the no-man’s land under a bench: a veritable wasteland of dry Texas dirt, no weeds or plants or anything to feed a Very Hungry Caterpillar.

He’d chosen the wrong direction in which to explore.

Almost in tears, I picked him up anyway and set him inside the lavender, where I found another caterpillar. Yes! So perhaps they like lavender? I went inside to tell the girls.

Cora came back out with me to see what was going on, and to help with the rescue effort. With her help, we found one in the oregano, one in the cilantro, and two poor valiant souls on the walking path, still alive but liable to be trampled at any moment. We carefully picked them up and set them in the oregano and cilantro, by now simply swinging wildly and hoping we’d come up with SOMETHING else they’d like to eat.

Of the last two caterpillars, we saw no sign, even though we searched assiduously. Cora, ever the pragmatic, finally said, “I’m guessing birds found them and ate them. At least they’re moving up the food chain.”

I found myself coming back to the side garden over and over yesterday, worrying and hovering like the worst kind of helicopter parent. They’re just silly caterpillars, I know. But I invited them to my garden with my irresistible dill, and then didn’t provide enough for them to stay alive. I made promises, built up false hope, and then didn’t provide for them, didn’t keep them safe.

In short, I’m a bad mother.

If only I knew what kind of plants they eat, I’d fix everything. If only I knew how close they are to cocooning, I’d know if I should move them or leave them be where they are. But I don’t have enough information and don’t have enough control over the situation and I feel like I’m letting them down.

I know it’s not just me: I saw my mom sneaking repeatedly outside to “check on things” and see if she could help rearrange them some way. At one point she came to me, a live caterpillar in her hand, and said, “I found this one on the steps into the house. Do you think it was coming in to ask us for help?” Then, to the little guy, “TELL ME WHAT YOU EAT! AND WE WILL HELP YOU! I CAN’T FIX IT IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG!”

Once a mother, always a mother.


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