When he was five, my son decided that apricots had souls. His spiritual journey began the day Lull Farm had a sale on fresh apricots. Their unblemished perfection reminded me of the two immense apricot trees that grew in my childhood backyard. These fruit powerhouses kept Mom busy making jams, cobblers, yogurts, and every conceivable confection. Even our dogs harvested apricots, navigating the inner branches to reach choice fruit. Summer wasn’t official until I collected the first pit-filled scat from our scrubby lawn.
To make my favorite treat, fruit leather, Mom boiled apricots into a paste in a two-day marathon. The sweet, almost tropical aroma clung to Naugahyde chairs and bead curtains for weeks. Thick, sticky apricot goop got everywhere, and I licked spoons and fingers until my stomach grumbled ominous warnings. My son deserved a taste of that glorious tradition, so I purchased a few quarts of fruit.
At home, I cleared the table to make a dramatic presentation to him. Like my mother before me, I offered an apricot to him and asked him to admire its beauty:
“Feel its soft fuzz? Soft, like velvet. Like a horse’s snout. See its colors? Yellow-orange, orange, and pinkish-red? Smell it, almost like a peach…”
“Now, take a bite,”
Liev blinked, his eyes filled with tears.
He shook his head.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s too beautiful. I cannot bear to kill it. I feel sorry for it.”
Even though I followed the script that won me over as a child, it did not work for Liev. He is a child who loves the fragile and defenseless — a rescuer of slugs, earthworms, and pill bugs. He understood that fruit is likewise helpless. So, his apricot friend rested on our kitchen table until it shrunk and moldered. “Fruit have souls,” Liev stated as he chose a sunny spot for an apricot grave. He buried it with a song, hoping for a baby tree to grow from its seed.
As he grew older, Liev adopted occasional fruits and vegetables. Anxiety and stress triggered bouts of fruit hoarding. Perhaps he longed to preserve order in the universe by saying, “No, not this one!” After missing three weeks of fourth grade for an infected finger, a family of winter squash moved into his bedroom. Our new guests became bedtime story celebrities, offering sage advice about taking antibiotics and returning to school.
Liev, savior of produce, is also a champion of spiders. His affection sprang from toddlerhood when I taught him that capturing and releasing spiders is better than eating them. Saving spiders became a public affair when Liev turned six. At a nearby Rite-Aid, he chased a swift wolf spider across an expanse of white linoleum near a checkout. Confused patrons and employees scattered as he corralled the wriggling creature on to a sales circular. Shrill squeals erupted from the gathered crowd as the wily spider escaped twice on its journey outside.
So, our home is Halloween-ready year-round. Plump arachnids perch in corners, their children unafraid of newspaper swats. Ghostly wisps of deserted webs remain intact until we are confident the occupants are deceased. If malaria and cholera did not petrify him, Liev would fling doors and windows wide open so spiders could feast on neighborhood mosquitoes and houseflies.
Which brings me to the Cupcake Incident.
Remember Liev’s extended absence? Well, his return day fell on the class Halloween party. An unsuspecting parent hosted the party with a Pinterest inspired activity. She handed out pretzels, chocolate cupcakes, and mournful candy eyes to make “Spider Cupcakes.” Liev was so thrilled to make his a little spider that he stabbed half the pretzel legs deep into the cake and broke the rest. It was his spider! His spider named “Speeder.”
Then his classmates began to eat their spiders. While the details of his outburst are sketchy, it was epic enough for me to pick him up early. Not only did he shout, “No, no, no you’re killing the spiders! You made them! How could you!” but he also and tried to rescue the spider cupcakes by plucking them from his peer’s hands. Paraeducators appealed to his sweet tooth to tame his uproar, “These spiders are for eating Liev, they are delicious! Yum!” Bad idea. Tears arrived in torrents, “I don’t wanna eat my Speeder! No! No! Don’t make me eat him! I LOVE HIM!” Red-faced and tearful, staff escorted him to the nurse’s office, promising that he did not have to eat his cupcake nor watch others eat theirs.
Liev’s upset vanished in a quiet setting with quiet words:
“Liev, the other children don’t see the spiders as real. I know spiders are special to you, and you do not need to eat yours. You can take him home and keep him for as long as you like.”
Some compassion and a way to control a situation that caused big emotions was what he needed. After school, when we walked to the car, he wiped away still-falling tears and said, “Mama, it’s okay for the other kids to eat their spiders, but we should keep this one forever.” To this day, the spider lives tucked away atop the kitchen cabinets—a testament to the durability of grocery store baked goods and one boy’s love.
At twelve, Liev shrugs when I remind him of the Cupcake Incident:
“My brain understood that Speeder was not real, but the thought that he could get hurt was huge. I still worry about hurting helpless creatures. I even feel sorry if I smoosh a banana. It’s an OCD thing. Some people wash their hands. I want to rescue things.”
The voice of OCD csounds like the voice of your conscience urging you to do the right thing. Liev and I bear the crush of this righteousness upon our brows; a forever voice in our ears that calls to us to be virtuous, to do no harm, and to protect the weak. While care and responsibility are traits precious to the human condition, balancing scrupulosity is hard work. Liev is off to a wonderful start!