Ode to Sammy, a Dead Preying Mantis
Mandy is a sensitive soul. She cries when a fish dies. We’ve had minnows, guppies, and most famously Betta fish as well as hermit crabs, snails and caterpillars that try to turn into butterflies. She names all the pets, even the ones she can’t touch, and mourns their eventual passing. We cannot keep birds or mammals due to allergies. Last summer, I came out of the acupuncturist and found a preying mantis waiting for me on the hood of my car. He stepped onto my finger and let me bring him home. Mandy was delighted. She played with him and took endless photos and we bought him crickets to eat, along with moths, gnats and houseflies we captured ourselves. He seemed well-fed and happy, but about four months later he just stopped moving. He didn’t even eat the last moth we put in his enclosure, but remained green when he died instead of slowly turning brown all over, as one did that I captured at the end of summer 20 years ago that starved.
Over Spring Break while Mandy was with her dad, I got an email from him accusing me of starving the insect to death on purpose and forcing her to watch it die while telling her I was doing it to teach her father a lesson, and that I told him at the time that’s why I was doing it, and that I set the death of the mantis up intentionally to cause her distress because preying mantids live for two years. I had to write it out just like that so his perspective on the situation could be clearly seen. The funny thing is that everything he knows about Sammy she told him prior to the visit on the phone within my earshot, so while she is physically with him and he can ask her about it, he’s playing reruns over in his head of a phone call that happened months ago, remembering that he was “the good guy” because he was going to send her money to buy the mantis food (I think feeder crickets cost about $1.19 at the pet store) and I was “the bad guy” because I said No.
The real issue was I could not get to the pet store. After four years of not paying child support, he should have offered to buy me a car.
* * * * * * * * * *
When we play with dolls, if they have animal mascots Mandy will act out the mascot and not even play with the doll. It must not be as fun somehow to be a little girl.
At the end of Summer Parent Time 2011, Mandy came home from her 45 days with Daddy, and when I unpacked her clothing I found two new packages of Size 8 panties. I felt vaguely violated removing them from her suitcase, as though someone was criticizing my choice of underwear for my daughter. Why were her Size 10s inappropriate? The new undies didn’t have the butterflies, four-leaf clovers and seahorses on them, the patterned illustrations similar to what I grew up with. Instead they were just two colors, fuchsia with turquoise bands around the legs and hips. The new panties were hip huggers, not briefs which cover the navel. I let her continue to wear them, but I thought they seemed pretty trendy for an 8-year-old.
A little girl’s panties are designed for the comfort and entertainment of the little girl wearing them, and no one else.
Two weeks later, when I took her in for a routine check-up, the RN gave me a piece of her mind. “Mandy is severely malnourished. She’s practically emaciated,” she told me, then gave me a stern talking-to about nutrition, eating vegetables and making sure my daughter drank milk every day. I was quite taken aback. I was stick-thin as a child, teased in summer camp about my “toothpick legs” — I guess I thought it was normal to look like a human preying mantis when it had been me. Mandy’s doctor didn’t think it was normal, but I still hadn’t made the connection….
It all came together four months later, when Mandy told me as I dropped her off at before-school daycare, “my underwear are PINCHING me!” that she should never have been wearing Size 8 panties to begin with. She wasn’t emaciated any more. I told her not to let other people make her feel bad about her body and NEVER to let anyone buy her underpants but me.
* * * * * * * * * *
Sammy, you were a pretty neat little guy. I’m sure you knew how much Mandy loved you. Your brief presence in my home continues to be food for thought.
Hindsight being 20/20, I guess Mandy’s dad let her waste away before his eyes to teach me a lesson. He told me that’s what he was going to do when he filed for divorce, that he was never going to pay child support. God help Mandy if he gets custody of her when she’s 12.