Slipping From Their Shells


They are everywhere in our yard right now – the crinkly, crumbly shells left behind by the masses of cicadas that sing to us from sun up to sun down. (I grew up calling these “locust shells,” but I’ve recently learned that is not entirely accurate.) One evening our family was outside after dinner, and I made mention to my husband that though there are scads of shells all over – on the house, on trees, in the grass – that I had never actually seen a cicada slipping out of its shell.

“Do they only shed their shells at night?” I asked.

“Well, think about it,” he answered.  “It’s the moment when it is at its most vulnerable.  It needs to know it’s safe before it starts to shed.  It probably feels the safest at night.”

As I’ve picked cicada shells off of the tree bark and out of the vine bed, I’ve thought about how much change one summer can bring. When I was teaching, I was always surprised when school began to see the differences the students brought with them as they sauntered back into the building.  They were usually taller, most often had different hair styles, and almost always bore evidence of time in the sun.

But there were other changes, too.  A seventeen year old boy can grow in surprising maturity from the end of May to the end of August.  A whirlwind of life changes always seemed to have happened in the swirling social lives of the girls I taught.  Very few of my students came back for a new school year as exactly the same person they had been when last they left.

As I recall, this was true when I myself was a student.  That was part of the thrill of Back to School – discovering what had changed for my friends in the three months we had been apart.

I think, however, that it’s harder for me to see the changes in my own children, the ones who are constantly slipping from their outgrown skin right before my eyes. Sure, I can detect some physical differences.  My oldest daughter has outgrown the shoes that were comfortably fitting back in the spring, and my younger daughter is just now filling out the 2T clothes I had pulled out of the storage bins in May.  But if I stop and think about it, there are certainly other ways they have changed in the past few months.

Our “baby” is suddenly insistent on independence – from graduating from diapers (almost) to dressing herself.  All of that is quite appropriate for a little one approaching two, but it seems like there has been a definite surge recently.  Our four year old’s artistic abilities have exploded.  It seems like just a few weeks ago, she had just begun to draw the most primitive of people, and suddenly her drawings are now incredibly detailed.

I have to think there is something about a few months in the safety of home – in the break from routine and obligations that summer invites us to accept – that allows children to feel protected as they emerge from what has been outgrown. Change always means vulnerability, doesn’t it?  What a privilege to offer a safe place for growth in our homes, even if those changes are so subtle we have to squint to see them clearly.

As summer begins to wind down, take a moment to take note of the shells this summer will leave behind.

What changes have you observed in the children in your life in the past few months? Will they move forward into the fall a little bit different from the person they were in the spring?

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  1. Well, with the littlest, who is four months old, I’ve been seeing LOTS of changes! 😉 From little red newborn to the wiggly, social, opinionated, full of smiles little girly she is now.

    And the 16 month old is full of changes too, this summer… he is beginning to be aware more of other people as such, and is starting to show empathy towards his sister. He is also starting to communicate- he has been signing “more” consistently this week! That is a BIG step forward and I’m soooo excited about it. 🙂

    Yes! Lots of changes over the lazy days of summer for us. [2009|08|2e693d25d48121b742511579c12ddf78]

    • @Natalie, oh yes. Those wee ones really do just change before your eyes, don’t they? And yay for signing with your toddler! Definitely a busy summer of changing in your home.

  2. Since the beginning of summer my one year old son has: stood up on his own, started to walk, signed a few things “more” and “bye-bye,” pointed to our nose and toes and made a round-round motion when he points to the ceiling fan. Summer is a fun time! We’ve spent days outside playing in the dirt, picking weeds from the garden, playing with the garden hose, and watching lizards crawl across the window pane. It’s exciting to see him learn things about his world around him. I’ll miss it when I go back to work (part-time teacher) in 2 weeks.

    • @Jaymi, oh wow! What a beautiful and bountiful summer it has been for you, then. So wonderful you got to have some sweet time off with him in the summer.

  3. What a beautiful post. Change is a time of vulnerability. I guess I never really thought of it like that. I’ve recently written on my blog about the changes I’m seeing in my 4 year old:
    My 2 year is now talking in sentences. I forgot how wonderful their sentence structure is when their language skills are exploding. It’s such a fun time with them right now.

    • @Erin, it is CRAZY how much of a difference it makes when the language explosion happens. Just mind-boggling.

      That was a beautiful post on growth and change. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Beautifully said, Megan!

    My kids are changing by the minute. I see it in my 4.5-year-old, who is reading faster and better every day. And I especially see it in my 19-month-old, who is babbling much more, playing more (instead of just banging toys around), and showing more interest in interactions.

    I love this reminder — it’s a great one.

    • @Tsh, wow! Reading! I am so looking forward to that day with Dacey. I can’t wait! And that span from 18 months to 2 is just incredible in terms of daily, weekly, and monthly growth and change. It’s good to stop and note these things. (And I need to do better with recording the changes!)

  5. this is such a good and thoughtful post.

    i can’t speak for any children yet, but i will have certainly left parts of a shell behind by the time this summer comes to a close.

    the actual shedding is a time of vulnerability, but the new that is emerging is so empowering, if a little shaky.

    thanks for these thoughts this morning

    • @laura, that is such a great insight. There is something so empowering following change. Thanks for pointing that out – I think that gets lost in the swirl of emotions that change often brings.