Chalk it up to “We had NO earthly idea!”

Every year, around the end of May, the kids start looking expectantly in the yard at dusk for the first lightning bug of the season. They usually don’t appear until the first days of June, but it’s like the kids know that when the days start to get longer, the fireflies can’t be far off. As a Yankee, I didn’t grow up with the fun of fireflies. I remember visiting a cousin in the “country” and delighting in seeing them there, but other than that, my childhood consisted of the annual fish fly invasion, not cute little bugs whose bums light up. What’s that, you say? You aren’t familiar with fish flies? Well, click here to be enlightened. You don’t know what you’ve been missing until you hydroplane on a million dead fish fly carcasses.

But I digress.

This story is not about the stinky fish flies in Michigan; it’s about my two oldest kids and their run in with lightning bugs several years ago. It was a mid-June evening, probably around this time of year, because my parents were here for their visit to celebrate Brendan’s birthday. Earlier in the evening, Hannah and Patrick (and probably even toddler Brendan and possibly even baby Ben) had happily run around both the front yard and back, collecting as many fireflies as they could cram into their bug cage–a dollar-store plastic container. What child doesn’t squeal in delight as they chase the bugs all over until they capture one in their little hands? Our kids were no exception; they loved it. So it was no surprise, then, when bedtime finally arrived that the kids did not want to part from their new “pets.” What was a surprise, however, was their reaction upon being left alone with the big jar and their iridescent buddies. Without really thinking too much about it, Todd and I allowed Hannah and Patrick to have the container in their room, and we tucked them in and closed the door to their room, walking back to the living room to join my parents in a quiet evening.

It did not seem like even five minutes had passed before blood curdling screams erupted from H and P’s room. Terrifying screams. We ran down the hall and burst open the door, only to find the pair cowering together and openly crying. Being excellent parents, we immediately started hollering too. “WHAT IS GOING ON?? IS ONE OF YOU HURT?! WERE YOU PRACTICING STRANGE RITUALS YOU LEARNED IN OUR ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HISTORY LESSON TODAY?!? DID THE GREEN PEPPERS FROM DINNER NOT AGREE WITH YOUR DELICATE DIGESTIVE SYSTEMS?!? WHAAAAAAT!!??” (OK, that last one was obviously made up; no green peppers have crossed the threshold of our home. We have a prenuptial agreement stating as much.) Imagine our surprise when those two nature-loving children absolutely howled that the fireflies had escaped the cage and were now flying around the room. This somehow made the kids fly into a fit of fear and everyone within a ten mile radius probably heard it. Again, as excellent parents, upon learning that no one’s limb had actually separated from any axial skeleton, it was difficult not to laugh at them. Seriously? The same bugs you chased after and then caught with your bare hands outside are now the source of your complete terror? How can this be?

The two youngsters banded together to assure us that once out of the cage and flying around the room, those otherwise harmless insects transformed into menacing fiends. Holding back the chuckles, we calmly collected the stray fireflies and closed the top, thinking we had just accidentally opened the lid the first time we’d placed it on the cage.

Our mistake came when we said goodnight again and left the bug box in the room. Those bugs with the light up bums once again crawled out of the box, and once again Scream Fest of Epic Proportions began. My parents sat on the couches and watched us scramble back to the kids’ room, amused and probably holding back their own giggles (or maybe not. In fact, they may have been quoting something from Bill Cosby’s Himself album. “Having a little trouble, eh, son??”).

This time the two were nearly frantic for us to remove the offensive insects from their room. One of us tried to calm them down again while the other dutifully caught the bugs for a third time. After one last round of goodnights, Todd and I–and the box of bugs–made our way back to the kitchen and for the lightning bugs, they were released back into nature. Hopefully they weren’t equally traumatized.

Now, whenever I see the first bright bugs of summer, I can’t help but see past the childhood joy of running around and chasing them all the way to horror movie auditions in the kids’ room. We all share a laugh as we recall the hilarity of that night.

And almost inexplicably, the two oldest have never asked to bring captured lightning bugs into their rooms again. I just can’t figure out why not…!


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