These Praying Mantises Taught Her to Trust in God

The insects helped her let go of her job as a nanny and move on with her life.

Posted in , Jun 25, 2021

A praying mantis with wings; Illustration by Susan Gal

”How long is six weeks?” eight-year-old Henry asked as I unpacked the praying mantis pod I’d ordered for our science lesson. According to the instructions, that’s how long it would take the eggs inside it to hatch.

“It’s a month from now, plus two weeks,” I said. I unwrapped the jar that would hold the pod, and handed Henry and his five-year-old brother, George, the bubble wrap to pop.

I felt a pang of guilt. I’d started working as a nanny for Henry and George after my youngest child graduated from high school. We’d been together for three years. When Covid hit I became their homeschool teacher as well. The mantises were part of our science unit on life cycles. We’d studied butterflies, planted beans in the living room, built a garden box outside the window. But this project would be our last.

God had been nudging me to leave my nannying job to focus on my own pursuits—photography and writing—full-time. I’d given their mother my notice, but I didn’t want to tell the boys yet. I didn’t want our last weeks together to be overshadowed by my impending departure.

I told myself I was making things easier for the boys this way, but maybe I was the one who couldn’t face a goodbye. Maybe I was afraid to embark on a new phase of life.

George stuck his nose into the jar, staring at the pod he’d carefully dropped inside.

“How many mantises will there be?” asked Henry.

“Hundreds of them!” I said cheerfully. A little too cheerfully, knowing the secret I was keeping from them. I couldn’t imagine walking out that door and not coming back. Not taking the boys to the park, laughing at their knock-knock jokes. The feel of their hands in mine when crossing the street. I’d taught the boys to swim, taken them to karate class. I was comfortable here. I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know what my new life would bring. I felt like a trapeze artist letting go of one bar to grab hold of another. How to trust what I couldn’t know for sure?

I set the jar on the windowsill where it would be warm. God, is it really time for me to go?

“The boys and I checked the pod every day. The beans we’d planted in plastic bags and taped to the living room window had sprouted, but the pod showed no change.

Maybe I ought to stay those extra two weeks until the mantises hatch, I thought one day as the boys and I discussed how caterpillars turn into butterflies. Putting off my plans even for two more weeks was a comforting, if desperate, thought. How much easier life would be as a caterpillar to just crawl into a cocoon and know you’d wake up a butterfly.

The weeks rolled by in a familiar routine. George made his way through his phonics book, and Henry through his grammar lessons. Every day we checked the mantis pod. They weren’t ready to hatch. Maybe I wasn’t either.

It wasn’t easy telling the boys I was leaving. But eventually I had to do it. “You don’t want to be with us anymore?” Henry asked.

“I love being with you!” I told them. “But you’ll be fine. You’ve grown so much since I came here. And I’ve planned a special goodbye party on my last day. I’ll make waffles—with whipped cream!”

George didn’t say anything. He just drew me a picture of a heart with a sad face and a tear. I wanted to cry too.

When my last day arrived, I had to pause before going into the house. If this is the right time for me to leave, why am I such a mess? I prayed for courage. I prayed for confidence. I prayed that the boys would understand. Mostly I prayed for God to help me walk out the door at the end of the day no matter what. Okay, this is it, I thought, letting myself in the house. The boys came running.

“Miss Marci! Miss Marci!” they shouted. “Come see the jar!”

They pulled me to the kitchen window. There, inside the jar, were at least a hundred tiny mantises.

Henry, George and I transferred the baby mantises to the plants outside. It was hard to imagine all these tiny insects were once a pod on the windowsill. When the mantises were settled in their new home, we went inside for waffles and whipped cream.

“I thought they weren’t supposed to hatch for another two weeks,” their mother said as we all sat down.

“I’m as surprised as you are,” I said. “But I guess God knew they were ready today.”

Just as he knew I was ready too. I’d thought the fear and sadness I felt about leaving meant I shouldn’t do it. I wanted God to make it easy for me. But it was natural to feel grief when a stage of life ended. To feel trepidation about a new phase. Perhaps the mantises were just as comfortable in their pod. Perhaps butterflies were afraid to spread their wings for the first time. Insects couldn’t know what their new life would bring, but they couldn’t stay in their pods or cocoons forever.

That was the real lesson the mantises taught me. To trust God in every stage of life.

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