She sat alone in the dark on the steps of our deck, knees under her chin, arms wrapped around legs, shoulders shaking, and head down. I just happened to see her through the window as I finished putting away the clean dishes from the dishwasher. If she hadn’t been wearing her white “My brother drives me bananas” tee shirt with the monkey on it, I might not have seen her at all.
Just a little while before, we were finishing dinner and her two best buddies along with an assortment of siblings and other neighborhood kids showed up at the door. She shoveled her food into her mouth in record time, jumped up from the table and with a smile that blinded me said “Mom! The fireflies are out! Can I go? Please?” Of course she could. So she whooped and ran barefoot into our backyard which joins many others and none of us have fences so it’s a great, open field for catching fireflies. She scooped up her firefly cage as she went, and I took a minute to savor the breeze through the window and the laughter of children as they ran chasing fireflies in the night.
Not thirty minutes later, she sat on the deck while the others were still running and shouting and laughing, and I didn’t know what happened. Stubbed toe? Finger to the eye? When you get a crowd of kids together, things like that happen. I sighed and wiped my hands on a dishtowel, then headed outside to sit beside her.
“What’s going on, sweetie? Did you get hurt?” She turned her tear-streaked face up to me, then threw herself in my arms.
“Oh Mom. They won’t stop. I told them they had to stop and they didn’t and they just laughed at me and …” She was sobbing again, so hard I couldn’t make out any more words. I held her close, wishing I could absorb the hurt and just diffuse it, sending it out into the night and away from her. I stroked her hair, waiting for her to calm. Obviously, it was her feelings that were hurt and not her toes, but that doesn’t mean it hurt any less. No, that means it hurt more. After a while, I wiped her tears with my shirt and asked again what happened.
“We were catching fireflies and putting them in my carrier and then I went to put one in and they had taken some of them out of there.”
“Oh, so they were taking your fireflies?” I said, nodding sagely. This indeed, could make a six-year-old cry.
“They were taking them …” Her voice broke. “They were taking them and then they were putting them on a rock and smashing them. They smashed them all. I kept telling them no, not the fireflies, and they smashed them and they were laughing about it. They killed them all and smashed the pretty stuff that makes the light.” She was sobbing again, and I held her tightly. I want to rush out there and slice those kids open with the sharp edge of my tongue. How dare they! But the truth is, kids do that stuff. When all is said and done, fireflies are just bugs and kids sometimes like to smash bugs. Only a few, very special kids recognize the wonder and beauty of a bug – particularly a bug that can light up the night and match the stars with their radiance.
So I held her instead, picking her up and taking her over to the swing on our deck, where we swung and swung, holding hands and just talking in the cool night air. I told her that some kids don’t realize that beauty is all around them, if you just look for it, and sometimes it’s in really small things like fireflies. I told her that sometimes kids—and adults, too—get so busy chasing one thing, that they ignore the little things that make their lives beautiful. I told her that even if it only makes your life beautiful for a few moments, those moments are the things you look back on as you get older, and those are the things that stay with you. Nobody remembers what they had for dinner that night when they were six, or what they wore, or what time they had to go to bed or what was on TV. But they will remember how those fireflies looked and what it felt like to have the wind in their faces and the cool grass between their toes as they chased them. I told her not to stop looking for the little moments of beauty, and not to let the other kids stop her from looking, and savoring those moments. Then I asked her if I could catch fireflies with her. We jumped off the swing just as her Dad came outside.
“What’s going on?” He asked.
I explained the whole story, watching his body stiffen and I put my hand on his arm when he started to head off the deck after the kids that dared to make his little girl cry. He gave me a disgruntled look, sighed, then turned to kneel down by his daughter.
“Don’t worry about them, Boo. They don’t know what they’re missing. The fun of catching fireflies is in letting them go so you can catch them again. You just catch the ones in our yard. We have a rule that no one is allowed to hurt a firefly, so if they want to catch fireflies the right way, they can come over here.”
“We were going to catch some now, Daddy. Do you want to come along?” She held up her carrier, and slipped her hand in his. He slipped his hand in mine, and I called for her younger brother, who opened the door and joined us on the deck. Then we headed down the stairs, into the cool grass and the clear night, running and chasing beautiful specks of magic only to let them go, our laughter carrying on the breeze as the lights danced all around us, blurring with the stars.
Don’t ask me what we had for dinner, because I don’t remember.