A few minutes after I watched Kent crush the field of swimmers at Ironman Lake Placid on a live feed from New York, the kids called me excitedly to the other room. "Egrin has wings!" they screamed. "Egrin has wings!"
My heart had been racing since the night before when thoughts of Kent's first Ironman kept me awake. And I'd been glued to the computer since I found the livecam a few minutes before the start of the race. The extravagant spectacle of 2,600-plus swimmers treading water in Mirror Lake, or milling at the edges, as they waited for the sound of the gun and the start of the grueling race was riveting.
So, when I saw Kent run from the water after the first 1.2 miles and loop back for the second round -- ahead of many of the pros - well, my heart nearly burst. Then the kids called with their own thrilling news and, holy crap, as if the day needed more excitement.
Sure enough, Egrin clung from the side of the terrarium, a full half-inch bigger than when we'd said 'Goodnight' to her/him (it's really past time that we settled this issue). Her old skin lay in a heap on the floor below, and she had wings, beautiful translucent wings. It was the moment we'd been waiting for since she rolled out of the egg case with hundreds of her siblings 81 days earlier.
Her wings appeared the very day Kent flew through the water and over mountains as if he owned a pair of his own, my mother remarked later.
Kent will write his own story (which I'll share) and I may fill in with some details of my own on what it was like to watch him realize his dream. But, for now, Egrin:
A few weeks ago, we didn't think we'd make it to this milestone. Her brown exterior looked duller one day, dryer. And she started acting strangely. I feared she was starving, that we weren't catching flies quickly enough to meet her appetite. When we finally caught one, I tapped the exterior to spook her away from the top of the terrarium where she clung too closely to the zipper.
"Move," I told her. "You need to eat."
You should hear me talk to her. I use a sing-songy, gentle coaxing voice. The one I used with the kids when they were babies. The same one I fall into when I meet a puppy. It's ridiculous, but this bug, I cannot tell you the depths of affection and responsibility I feel for her.
So, I continued tapping and Egrin dropped to the bottom of the terrarium. Except it didn't look like the normal drop. Typically, Egrin drops like a cat and rebounds the instant her body meets surface. She didn't look happy with the turn of events this time.
I put the fly in the terrarium but Egrin ignored it which only made me worry more. I had to walk away because the anxiety was killing me. Later, though, I noticed she had contorted her entire abdomen around into the shape of a 'U' instead of her normal 'I.' The hell?
Now, I was convinced she was starving and dying an excruciatingly slow death. Does your brain work this way? Or is it only me?
Anyway, it was First Thursday in the neighborhood and I needed to make a cake and get the kids ready for the festivities. Just before leaving the house, in the frenzy of the cake and four people with shoes and final trips to the toilet, I peered in the terrarium once more and gasped, my hand to my heart.
Egrin lay in a shriveled pile on the terrarium floor, motionless. I wrote about seeing shriveled skin before and mistaking Egrin for dead. Remember? But that time, I realized it was just skin and a bigger Egrin was hanging out in a different spot of the terrarium.Not this time. It was all one dessicated mess there on the bottom. I poked at it. No movement. Oh my God, my god, my god. Should I throw her away before the kids see? Tell them Egrin has died?
I was devastated.
"Esme," I called to the other room. "Please come here."
The others followed and I shared the news that Egrin had died. There wasn't any wailing, just silence. Then the questions. So many questions. But my mind was still reeling and I was so upset I couldn't think straight and I'm ashamed to admit that I silenced them. Told them I couldn't talk about it now, that I was just too upset. I marched them to the cake walk in silence.
And when we came home? You've guessed the ending by now, I'm sure. The damn thing was alive. She wasn't dead at all, just shedding her exoskeleton, a process she previously saved for night when we couldn't see or interrupt her.
So, yay, she lives another day. Egrin the cat with nine lives. Small problem, her back foot was broken, crunched up the wrong way. My worry started anew: will she be able to eat? WILL SHE DIE?!
I started to compare the process of raising this insect to the emotional tumult of an epic sports conquest like Kent's Ironman and we were still in the thick of it, say Mile 85 of the bike ride when the exhaustion is extreme and we're still staring down another 27 miles on the bike, plus a full marathon. I was cursing and spitting and saying, "Never again. I'll never raise another mantid, the drama is too much."
But I figured, I'll probably sing a different tune when all is said and done, just like the nutty Ironman who signs up for the second, then the third and fourth race.
Of course, I could have made all of this easier on myself if I knew a few things before jumping in blindly. Like this crucial fact: apparently a mantid can live up to two weeks without eating. We fed Egrin upwards of eight to 10 flies a day! Lucky bastard. And this: a mantid doesn't eat before it molts. Well, of course, I know that now.
From the beginning, we planned to release our mantid once it grew wings. And now, here we are. Be free, Egrin! It's been a fun and fascinating journey.
Epilogue: Kent already signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2013, and we'll likely raise another praying mantis next year. Suckers, the lot of us.