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?