A Mitzvah for a Ladybug

Hello from North Haven!

My daughter Penrose and I were outside enjoying the unseasonally warm weekend, climbing around on the sticky piles of snow heaped around the house from shoveling and plowing, when a spot of red caught her eye.

“Look Mom,” she called from across the front yard. “I found a ladybug!”

She was on her stomach, poking her mitten into the mound of snow. Skeptically, I waded over. Sure enough, a tiny ladybug was futilely paddling its legs in the air, trying to navigate its way through the slush. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. The sun reflecting off the snow and beating on our cedar shingles must have roused it from its hibernation. If we left it, would it freeze? Starve? I doubted that any aphids or mites were awake with no vegetation to eat.

“What should we do, Pen?” She thought, just for a moment, and then dispatched me to get the bug house she’d been storing in her bed for just such an occasion. She stayed on her belly, watching her new friend, while I slipped my boots off in the entryway and ran upstairs. When I rejoined her, we carefully shepherded the ladybug into its new temporary home.

Penrose toted the bug house with her all around the yard. From the top of a small hill, the ladybug watched while Pen rode her sled down. It visited the inside of the snow cave, and then came inside with us when it was time for lunch. We made the hard plastic bug house a little more hospitable with a slightly damp sprig of lavender from the bushes lining our walkway. The ladybug spent the night on top of Pen’s toy shelves, warm and dry away from the snow.

The next morning, I started to worry. We really didn’t have any way of feeding Pen’s friend. She was excited to see the little red insect when she woke up, watching it circumnavigate the confines of its cage while she ate breakfast.

The ladybug went with us on an adventure. Our first stop was the North Haven Baptist Church’s donut hour. Every toddler in town pressed their excited faces against the mesh walls of the bug house, watching the surprise out-of-season ladybug make its rounds. A friend with expertise in zoology joined us for donuts and confirmed my worry that the ladybug was without a food source this time of year.

The ladybug, in her bug house, at church donuts. Photo by Kathryn Ella, used with permission.

The ladybug, in its bug house, at church donuts. Photo by Kathryn Anderson, used with permission.

Pen toted the little cage with her on a walk down to the community center and then back up to the car at the church. After we returned home, Penrose immediately dove back into the snow, putting the ladybug in the bug house next to her as she climbed and dug.

“Pen, what do you think we should do with the ladybug?” I gently asked. “We could keep her in the house, but I don’t know what she would eat and I’m worried that she’s hungry. If we let her go outside, when it gets cold she’ll hopefully go back to sleep until it’s spring and she can eat mites and aphids again.”

I’d been worried that Pen had gotten attached, and could already feel a lump rising in my throat at the thought of watching my daughter say goodbye to her new friend. But she handled the transition with aplomb – her motivation was to do what was best for the ladybug. She opened the round bug house door and, pulling off one blue mitten, scooped the ladybug out of the bug house. Together, we put it on the dried twigs and buds of the potentilla bush next to the porch steps. It immediately began exploring, moving its way down the bush towards the warm, sheltered underside of the porch.

I was moved by the mitzvah I had watched my daughter perform – a selfless good deed, first in her impulse to shelter the ladybug from the snow, and then in her willingness to let it go in its best interest. As we lost sight of the ladybug, she went back to playing, and soon asked me to put on her new red snowshoes for the first time. As we rounded the corner of the house, coming to the warm South face, we discovered four more tiny red ladybugs in the snow. We scooped them up, two in my hand and two on her blue mitten, and shuffled on our snowshoes back to the potentilla bush to let them go.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!