Dear Tiny Grasshopper (yes, you Lil E, not the bug you captured and kept in a jar for four days),
Sometimes, the choices we have to make, even when we are very small, aren't easy. Sometimes, choosing life instead of captivity is even harder, for ourselves and the people (and even creatures) around us. Sometimes, letting go is both joyous and tearful.
But you did it. After three days of conversation, you conceded to letting the grasshopper go free. Never mind that it was hundreds of miles from its home, never mind that it was woozy and wobbly and wary on its six spindly legs when we unscrewed the top of the bug catcher jar. You did it. Even though I reminded you that the grasshopper would have a better chance of living and would probably be happier hopping through the grass in our front yard than clinging to the side of the jar on our dining room table and that he would probably die in there if we didn't release him, and you said, "I think I'd like to have a dead grasshopper!" with a twinge of mustered hope, you did let him go out into the world.
As we held hands and the railing and our party supplies, you said assuredly, "Some of us might be sad," the same words I told you before we attended Uncle Allen's memorial service several weeks ago to let you know that crying is OK.
You reminded me to put a candle in the low-fat blueberry muffin we bought from Starbucks for the occasion and to get a twisty blue candle so we could sing to your bug friend. And when we got downstairs and designated Daddy as the photographer and made a circle on our tiny strip of grass, you pulled off a small piece of muffin and tried to put it into the air holes for the grasshopper to feast on before his departure. When it didn't fit, you pressed the muffin to your lip and looked at me wide-eyed, asking me with your expression if you could eat it for him.
"I am sure the grasshopper wants you to have that," I reassured you. And you quietly ate the piece, taking the jar with the grasshopper clinging to the inside of the top.
"You were a good friend," I added.
"Strong hopping, little buddy!" Bruce chimed in behind the camera.
Ethan raised his hands in the air, muffin crumbs at the corners of his mouth, small face shadowed in the light of the candle and camera flash and said, "Strong hopping!"
With that, it was time to unscrew the top and unexpectedly, coax the creature from captivity. Just when I thought I might have to stick my fingers into the grass and water and whatever grasshoppers leave behind in their living quarters to fish it out into freedom, it took a lackluster dive into the grass and dirt.
"Strong hopping, little buddy!" you repeated.
And then, like a final farewell, the grasshopper lept up, this time with more determination, landing itself squarely on Daddy's forearm.
"I'll miss you!" you half-said, half-sang and Daddy nudged the little grasshopper off into the night and our city's bits of nature.
Thats when the tears came. You coaxed them out a bit, but they came in earnest. You said you were sad to see him go and we said we understand. You buried your head in Daddy's shoulders as we ascended the stairs to our apartment.
After jammies and tooth-brushing and putting on a Pull-Up, after our family kiss and snuggle and my own special mommy love, I whispered to you that I was proud of the choice you made, that I was proud of you, my precious boy.
You raised your eyebrows and widened your eyes in response, then nodded your head. You knew. It was hard but you knew.
What you don't know yet is that Daddy and I are going to give you a fish to take care of for your birthday, just one week from today. A fish that will be able to swim around a bit and that you can build an attachment to as you learn to feed it, clean its bowl and talk to it in your squeaky voice.
And I hope -- I think -- you will give as much love and yourself as you did to that little guy making his way through the urban jungle right now.
For now, the morning after our party and well-wishes and tears and muffin-eating, I see a flicker of what I always hoped you would have -- compassion, courage, care. Those are the biggest lessons of all, tiny grasshopper, and at nearly three, you're already learning them well. Strong hopping, kid.