I am trying to teach my youngest granddaughter Ada, age 5, not to be afraid of spiders. It’s relatively easy given that she’s interested in bugs.
Her favorite bugs are roly-polys, the little gray potato or pill bugs that curl up into a ball. She collects them. More than one roly-poly bug has curled into a ball in our backyard and uncurled at the library or city hall.
A couple of years ago, Ada spotted a small black fuzzy spider crawling around on the ceiling. She was frightened until I explained that spider was Frank, and he was my friend.
To prove it, I got Frank down from the ceiling and let him crawl around on my arms. Then I put him back. Later, when we moved, Ada noticed “Frank” crawling around on the ceiling of our new place.
Ada • “How did Frank find your new house, Papa?”
Me • “I gave him money for an Uber.”
Despite my vast bug knowledge, there are a few things that I’ve been mistaken about regarding Frank. First, that Frank is almost certainly a girl. Second, that she’s classified as a bold jumper, or Phidippus audax. She can leap up to 50 times her own body length — or roughly two feet when hungry.
That’s amazing. Two jumps like that and I could almost reach the corner convenience store from my back porch.
I got this information about Frank from University of Utah entomologist (bug person) Christy Bills. She didn’t come right out and say I should properly identify Frank as Francine, but it got me thinking that Ada needs to know some spiders are female.
Speaking of which, I was raised by a woman who kept tarantulas. As a result, I’m not afraid of spiders per se. But a couple of years ago, I was stung by a black widow in the garage. Still got the scar. So I make sure Ada summons me when she finds a “different” kind of spider.
Ada • “Is it a good spider or a step on one?”
Me • “We’ll step on this one, but don’t tell Grammy where it was.”
Ada • “‘Cause she will freak the hell out?”
Me • “You bet, punkin.”
Everyone has some kind of creep-a-phobia. I don’t particular care for full-grown cows. I once had a friend terrified of chickens. One of my missionary companions was afraid of reptiles. They must have liked him, though, given how often they kept turning up in his bed. Odd that it stopped happening after he transferred.
The first defense against an irrational fear is to not develop one in the first place. But since that’s not always a choice, the second best defense is to educate yourself about what terrifies you.
Ada is not going to grow up being afraid of spiders on the sole basis of their being creepy looking. As long as I have any say in it, she’s going to understand which spiders are our friends.
The same is true of bees. I want her to know which yellow flying things we can shoot with our Bug-A-Salt gun and which ones we can’t. Wasps and hornets are fair game (as are flies and skeeters). Bees are not.
A few days ago we found a honeybee in the backyard suffering from hypothermia. It was too cold to fly. We picked it up, brought it inside, and put it in the sunlight near a window. A few minutes later, it was warmed up and ready to get back to work.
Calling Christy Bills was fortuitous. She explained how to construct a small habitat for roly-polys, what to feed them, how they reproduce, and their expected life span.
Good. Maybe now they’ll stop turning up in my desk drawer.
Robert Kirby is The Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.