When it’s cicada season you know it the second you step out the door, and sometimes before you have even left the house. This could be in instances when your dog brings various slobbery, dead and half-eaten cicadas into your kitchen, or when the cicada symphony is so loud you can hear it before you even open your front door. That’s the thing about cicadas, they have a presence, a collective presence.
Until we started foster parenting, I had sort of forgotten that many children are afraid of bugs. Probably because I was the weird kid who would lift up rocks in search of insects for hours. They fascinated me. I would become completely absorbed in their little worlds and always needed multiple prompts to come in for dinner.
“Ah!” He screeches grabbing me around the waist and hiding behind me.
“It has a stinger! It’s going to sting me!” He continues pointing at a cicada in the midst of its sloppy, heavy flight.
I reassure him that they do not sting. “Then what do they do?” He asks.
“Shhh listen. Hear that?” I say pointing towards the trees and the hissing symphony. “That’s what they do, all together they do that.”
The cicada he’s hiding from comes dive-bombing towards us again and crashes onto the porch. I allow it to crawl onto my finger and show him its fire red eyes and golden transparent wings shining in the sunlight.
“And this,” I continue, “is where it came from,” I walk over to a tree in our yard and show him the beige brown empty encasing of cicada skin, still clinging to the bark of the tree.
“See it never used to be able to fly, then it changed and shed its skin,and when it came out, it was really different.”
“What’s wrong with that one?” He asks, pointing to a cicada that has not yet emerged.
“Nothing, it just hasn’t come out yet,” I reassure him and he bounds along into the backyard looking for his football.
Days become weeks and more weeks and each day he checks the not-yet-emerged cicada. It has turned a deep black color and those fire red eyes hiding behind the thin layer of skin have lost their glow. I finally break the news to him and he gives a only slightly defeated shrug.
I stand there as he walks off and I think about that cicada though. I think about how sometimes we do all we can for a positive change and it doesn’t work. How sometimes you use all the right techniques and the child’s tantrum rages on, how you call 20+ dentists and no one takes his Medicaid card, and sometimes when you reach out to countless workers to advocate you only get met with frustrated “We’ll get to it”s and voicemails you could recite by heart. Foster care is not for the weary, although it can make you that way.
But as I look at that dead cicada, I still hear the collective song of all of those who did come out of their shells. I instead think of all of the times something did work, all the times someone answered my calls, all of the appointments I was able to schedule, all of the times I have tucked him in at night and he smiles in a way I know he feels safe. I think of all the times I have earned my wings.
If you focus on the song you can have hope. If you focus on the song, you realize your collective efforts have meaning and make lasting change, despite any dead cicadas along the way.
I turn back around and see our kiddo on the back porch. A cicada has landed dangerously near him and he lifts a foot as if to squish it. I want to stop him but instead I watch.
The cicada crawls slowly towards him and he lowers his foot away from the insect. Instead, he squats down and watches the creature dragging its heavy body along. It adjusts its wings and then it flies away.
Another cicada to join in the song.