I watch as my middle child sneaks furtively into the kitchen and scamper out with a disposable plastic container. I call out to her and she freezes. She hands over the container and refuses to answer my questions on what it was for. I am miffed and curious but not suspicious yet.
A little while later, my oldest comes inside the home with a strange request. “Amma, can you peel an orange for Laddu? She asked me to get some for her.” I smell a rat and send her packing.
The next morning I catch the three of them red handed with a box of squirming caterpillars, gifts from a neighbor next door. I squeal, collect myself and send them back into the garage while I figure out how to respond. Creepy crawlies creep me out. I also realize my fear is irrational. I order them to stay in the confines of the garage. They oblige. The wriggling worms find a home in a toy cadillac. A fabric box from Pattu’s room is now lined with leaves, has oranges (a dutiful offering from a doting grandma) and a couple of grapes.
In a couple of days, I film the girls showing off their new ‘pets’. They are Violet, Black Pink, Eagle and Pinchy. They have verbose explanations for how each name came to be. Pattu claims one of them is ready to move on to the Chrysalis stage. I am amused but not brave enough to hold any of them yet.
A day later, Eagle suffers a tragic accident and is crushed under a boot. The girls mourn their wriggly friend, one going so far as to sob her heart out. Our neighbor quickly replaces Eagle with two more caterpillars.
The wrigglies are still cozy in their fabric bed, well fed and often taken on walks around the neighborhood. They get to meet their other friends and come home to their cadillac each evening.
My children wake up eager and excited to track the progress. They end their day with poignant goodnight wishes.
I hope the worms will sprout wings and fly one day. Until then, I will be making peace with housing them and treating them like the pets the kids have always wanted.