Life With Ferris: Taking Time For Lightning Bugs


I wrote this column in what appeared to be a different life when my boys were babies. Now as a grandmother, I can relive and enjoy a precious childhood because I know how fleeting it is. I also know now that there aren’t nearly as many lightning bugs as there were 30 years ago, and we need to protect them. “Watch out, don’t catch” is one of those magical insects, and as soon as my granddaughter is old enough for it to get dark, we make ourselves a cozy spot in the courtyard with a blanket and watch in amazement as the fairies seem to flicker through it Summer evening. Hopefully these fireflies will be there for them to do the same with their own grandchildren.

It’s almost 9pm on a Tuesday night and we’re finishing dinner over an endless baseball game in the 100-degree heat. I am hot, tired and exhausted. The oven is on, the air conditioning is off and the kitchen is on. As of now, I’ve driven about 80 miles to pick up and drop off children at their various sporting events, orthodontists, birthday parties, and vacation jobs. I did laundry, I could have sworn I only washed it yesterday, and I wiped the kitchen counter about a hundred times. Even so, I haven’t made a dent in my to-do list for the week.

Now I’m standing over the sink and scratching the plates in a trance of irritation. I look across the yard as I mentally go through the list of pre-bedtime tasks: feed the dog, bring recycling on board, fold more laundry, empty the dishwasher … I mumble to my husband that my summer looks like it is going to be he make long wait list. I stop in the middle of a sentence. I suddenly see a tiny flash of light under the hemlocks and feel my face soften as I wait, my eyes fixed on the lower branches. I am rewarded with a golden lightning bolt that is instantly over.

I know it’s late and that I’m so far behind; we have baths, bedtime stories, and housework before us. Nevertheless I call out to my sons: “Lightning bugs!”

My middle son gasps in disbelief and then runs into the yard before getting a glass. My youngest son hurries after him and only knows that his brother is on his way. I leave the dishes and the hungry dog ​​and sit on the front stairs and watch my boys reach for the magical bugs that slowly move through the summer evening air.

I take a deep breath and remember. When I was a little girl, we caught lightning beetles almost every night during the summer. We drove a nail through the lid of a mayonnaise jar a dozen times, then lined the bottom of the jar with leaves and a few drops of water. My grandmother let us bathe after dark and used our jar of lightning beetles as our only light. We sat until the bath water got lukewarm, looked up at the mass of beetles yellow-green for a split second, then waited for them to flash again.

I get up from my seat on the front stairs and go into the kitchen. The dishes are piling up in the sink, not yet scraped off, and the milk is on the counter. Lima beans dry in their pot and what’s left of a salmon croquette quickly sticks to their non-stick pan. I walk past the leftover food and bend over to the lower cabinets. I rummage through all the cupboards until I find a large mayonnaise jar. Then I rummage through the utensil drawer until I find a suitable lid, then I put the milk in the refrigerator. I grab a hammer and nail and go into the front yard.

My middle son has caught a lightning beetle and is carefully showing his little brother how to grab his hands and hold the creature without injuring them. My boys’ heads are bowed, almost touching the crowns, and their eyes are full of wonder.

I take another deep breath and think of all the many moments like these that I missed because of my to-do list. Now I don’t think about what to expect in the kitchen. I know it will still be there when I leave the cool summer night. I watch my two sons for a long time and don’t even lift the hammer to start my next task.

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Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books “The Queen Who Banned Bugs”, “The Queen Who Accidentally Banned Birds” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished”. “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love – Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true stories about man’s best friend. Their website is and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.