My twenty-year-old daughter Brandy called me the other night. While we were talking, she asked me if I remembered the day we watched a spider spin its web. I told her that I did, and she went on to tell me that the experience was one of her fondest childhood memories.
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She was a little surprised when I told her it was also one of my favorite parenting memories!
Our family consisted of myself, my wife Sharon, Scott, my twelve-year-old stepson, eight-year-old Hugh, seven-year-old Brandy, five-year-old Justin, two cats and a Labrador mix named Mitch. Since our apartment had only a small yard, the kids and I would take Mitch on short daily walks during the week. On the weekends, whenever possible, we would take him on long walks through our small coastal community.
During one of these weekend walks, we saw the spider.
It was Sunday afternoon on a beautiful California spring day. The sun was shining while the birds added their sweet melodies. The air was filled with that special atmosphere of newness that is unique to springtime.
My four children, Mitch and I were headed east, down Ninth Street. Ninth Street, in this part of town, is mostly small shops and offices, and most of these are closed on Sundays.
Mitch, like all dogs, felt bound to investigate every tree or shrub along the path. As he was inspecting an oleander shrub in front of a small flower shop with an alcove, I noticed the spider scurrying about in the left corner of the alcove.
Since most of the spiders I encounter usually just sit around waiting for lunch, I stepped over to investigate this little flurry of activity. It appeared the little fellow was building a new home. The spider had already built the main structure of its spiral web. The supporting rays of silk were attached to various points on the stucco wall and window casing, and the first few spirals, at the center of the rays, had been completed.
I gathered the kids into the alcove and showed them the web. Mitch, having lost interest in the oleander, settled into the shade of the alcove for a nap. As we watched, the spider began a fascinating dance! Its eight legs moved swiftly in a repeating sequence, while its abdomen pivoted from one ray to the next spinning silk, all the while moving in an ever expanding spiral. We continued to watch the little spider until it reached what it, and Mother Nature, determined to be the outer ring of its new home.
Every one of us, except Mitch (who was still napping), were enchanted and impressed with the performance. The spider, however, appeared oblivious to our adulation.
As we continued our walk, we talked about the spider over and over. When we got back home, all four children kept interrupting each other in their eagerness to describe to their mother what they had seen. Hugh did an enthusiastic imitation of the spider’s dance, wiggling his fanny to and fro while gesticulating wildly with his arms and legs. His efforts had us all laughing until we had tears in our eyes.
I have always been charmed by the natural world: the acrobatics of squirrels, the cooing of pigeons, the soaring flight of hawks and falcons. Just the sight of a dragonfly sitting still on the end of my fishing pole grips my soul and fascinates my eyes.
I had always hoped that I would pass my love of nature on to my children, so that they too would know the particular wonder that only nature can inspire. At the time as I watched and listened to my children’s excitement over the simple dance of a small spider, I felt my hope might be becoming a reality. Knowing that the memory is still cherished by Brandy thirteen years later I feel sure she, at least, got the lesson right.