jayellebee's Blog

November 8, 2012

The Birds and the Bees (and Crayfish, Too!)

      One of the great things about having sons is their father was responsible for handling “the talk.”  That division of labor seemed fair to me.  Had we borne girls,  I would have shared feminine wisdom from the ages with them.  But we didn’t and I was off the hook.  Or so I thought.

     As a young teacher, I attended an in-service program presented by representatives of the San Diego Zoo.  The gist of the day-long seminar was that peer pressure can be used in positive ways to encourage children to try things from which they might otherwise shy away.  An opaque, plastic gallon jar held the proof of this pedantic pudding.  Back-lighting revealed eight longs legs and a bulbus body inside the container.

  Tarantula Spider : Tarantula spider, Poecilotheria Miranda, in front of white background   “Tarantulas are fascinating, gentle creatures,” the speaker said, unscrewing the lid.  “Charlotte, here, has visited countless schools.  We find children willingly hold her when they see their classmates doing so.”  He handed the hairy arachnid to the poor soul in the front row’s aisle seat.  “As Charlotte is passed around the room this morning, take time to notice….”

     I went to stand at the back of the room, fighting to control my trembling hands and rising bile.  Spiders, eww.

     Fast forward several years.  My first-born is something like six months old and squealing with joy, splashing in the bathtub.  I’m drenched, kneeling on the floor to support his wobbly body.  A largish spider, possibly dislodged from her web by all the steam and noise, drops into the bath water.

     I scream.  My son takes a dive.  Ken dashes in fearing the worst.  That evening I vowed not to imprint my fears on my children.  I didn’t want to raise timid youngsters, afraid of the harmless creatures they would meet. 

     The decision emboldened me and I discovered an inner courage.  One day, I allowed a garden spider to crawl across my gloved hand as my toddler and I marveled at her nimble progress over the uneven terrain.   When this male child was five, we found a spectacular shiny black spider with an almost spherical body.  The boy brought his bug jar outside so we could corral the treasure, and he took her to kindergarten the next day for show-and-tell.

 Tarantula Spider : Black Widow spider Stock Photo    “Mrs. Brown,” his teacher met me at the door after class, “sending a black widow to school was not a good idea.”  She held the jar at arm’s length.  “Don’t do this again.”

     Black widow?  Oops.  Guess there’s a difference between lack of fear and lack of smarts.  

     Over the years, my sons enjoyed all the typical pets.  But the most unusual critter to share our home was Garbanza, a crayfish we scooped up at Clear Lake and relocated to a 30 gallon aquarium in the oldest son’s bedroom.  He must have been about twelve at the time – the son, not the crayfish – and our family learned much from the diminutive crustacean.

     One morning we awoke to find two crayfish in the tank.  Garbanza had molted her exoskeleton during the night, creating a perfect carbon copy of herself.  She then ate her shadow.  Fascinating stuff.

     Crayfish can migrate a significant distance overland.   This became clear when son number two stubbed his toe on Garbanza while they were both walking down the dark hall.  She had escaped her sanctuary by climbing up the filter intake tube and, in what must have been a tremendous leap of faith, threw herself to the floor three feet below to begin her walk-about.

     Then there was the time all three boys rushed into the kitchen.  “Mom, Mom!  Garbanza’s going to have babies!”

     They dragged me to the aquarium and pointed out a mass of gel-encapsulated eggs cupped between the crayfish’s abdomen and tail.  Garbanza had been our celibate guest for well over a year.  This development clearly belonged in Ken’s domain.

     “Guys,” I said, “you’re right.  Those are eggs.”  Where was Ken when I needed him?  “But I’m afraid the eggs won’t grow into baby crayfish because, well, you see….”  Maybe their father could come home from the office if I called him.  Six worried eyes pierced me.  My sons weren’t about to be stalled.  “Garbanza doesn’t have a, um, husband.”

     My G rated version of the birds and the bees had a sad ending.  The boys would see  Garbanza’s eggs disintegrate over time.  Instead, we learned female crayfish are special.  Let’s just say those girls don’t need a blue dress to hold onto evidence of male companionship.   When they are good and ready to become mothers, voila!  Eggs materialize, fertilized at the factory.

 Crawfish : Big alive crayfish isolated on white background    Garbanza’s brood hatched in an explosion of life.  Hundreds of infants swarmed their mother and the artificial aquatic plants, filled the water and covered the sand.  Garbanza feasted on scores of her little ones, sending my babies into hysterics.  We spent hours netting miniature crayfish and removing them to preditor-free, water-filled bowls.  I’m pleased to report Ken was home when the boys questioned this miracle of birth.  I have no idea what he told them, but it’s probably just a coincidence we don’t have any grandchildren.

     One last lesson from Garbanza:  There are worse mothers than me.   I’ve never eaten any of my offspring.  Not even under the influence of peer pressure.



  1. Another wonderful lesson on life. Thanks for your bons mots.


    Comment by Bee Hylinski - Author and Baseball Fan — November 8, 2012 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  2. Delightful, Joanne. Your writing is so warm and inclusive, I feel I am a guest in your home, part of the adventure of the boys and Garbanza. (Wherever did you find that name? I love it!)

    Comment by Jean Georgakopoulos — November 8, 2012 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

  3. Great story, I love to hear about family adventures and you have them. Keep me on your list. Fran

    Comment by Fran Wojnar — November 10, 2012 @ 8:59 am | Reply

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