Small Miracles

My wife is a Principal at a York Region school.  She is a very good, hard working, dedicated and thoroughly professional educator. What she wants, more than anything, is for her students and staff to be successful in their teaching and learning. A principal, though, gets caught up in the administration cycle of putting out fires, and soothing ruffled feathers, and dealing with all the "stuff" that comes with managing and leading any large organization.

There are days when all she wants to do is teach again, to be that inspirational library teacher who fired up the passion in students to be excited about learning, and inspired teachers to grow through ongoing professional development. So this week she was overjoyed when she got to do that once again, in the form of a tiny insect egg case.

Every spring, when I work at Kortright Conservation Centre in Woodbridge, Ontario, I scour the dry grasses for praying mantis egg cases. Once you find one, you never forget the pattern of what you are looking for – a beige, oblong object about as big as an adult's thumb from the knuckle up. I describe it to students as looking for a little foam peanut in the grass.

The female mates in the late summer, eats the male for nutrition (nothing personal, it's all for the kids), lays her egg case on a plant stem, and dies. The little egg case lays unseen through the fall, and the winter snow, and, in the warmth of late spring, stirs to life. The young nymphs, dozens of them, chew their way out of the egg case and emerge as perfect tiny models of the adult. The young mantids will hang around the egg case for a while, often preying on each other, before moving out into the great meadow to live and die.

I bring home one egg case every spring, and put it in a ventilated insect container with a magnifier lid and wait. The other day, my wife heard her kindergarten students choral reading a poem about a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, and she told the students that she had a praying mantis egg case at home. Of course, they all wanted to see it, so that night she asked me if she could take it in to her school. As fate would have it, when we went to the back porch to check on it, the first nymphs were just emerging. Perfect timing!

The next day she took the egg case and container and magnifier into her school, and four classes of wide-eyed kindergarten children watched the miracle of life unfold as the tiny nymphs emerged. They were absolutely intrigued by the little mantids climbing up and falling off the stems and climbing up and falling off again, just like little toddlers learning to walk. One child commented, "I can't believe they look just like their mother!" Others just thought it was all so cool. All were mesmerized by these tiny insects and a new respect for ife emerged.

Like Barry Lopez once wrote, it's not the role of an adult to know it all. It's the role of an adult to affirm in the eyes of a child that this life around us in all its forms is all so cool. To see that look in the eyes of a child that says, "I did not know until now that I needed someone much older to confirm this, the feeling I have of life here. I can now grow older, knowing it need never be lost."

Well done, my love.

Skid Crease, Caledon

p.s. The nymphs are safely back home exploring our garden. Life is good.

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