4th grade is a whole new world for us. Not that Kindergarten through 3rd grade was a cakewalk for W or anything. The teachers at his school don’t mess around. They run a tight ship, and they are excellent at what they do. I can’t imagine a better learning environment for my kids. We’ve just noticed that 4th grade suddenly feels very…grown up. He’s spelling words like “omniscient” and “camouflage” and doing research projects online. It feels like we’ve turned an academic corner to the uphill climb from here to graduation. Bittersweet for this mama. 12th grade will be here all too soon.

Currently, we’re working on his “Bug Collection” project. Can I just take a moment to say how much I hate bugs? Hate. Them. He is tasked with collecting at least ten different insects or spiders or centipedes, etc. He is supposed to study what they are doing in their natural environment, write down where and when he found them, draw a picture of them and then brutally murder them. Okay, okay. The instructions don’t include the word “murder” but…let’s just say they are supposed to take a trip to the freezer, after which they’ll never be the same. After they are…no more, he is supposed to put them in a plastic tackle box (formerly one of my earring organizers–not anymore. I intend to burn it and its contents on Friday at 4 pm sharp).

So, here’s the problem. My tenderhearted boy does not kill things. He is a vegetarian. A staunch defender of all creatures, no matter how disgusting. For this reason, we are only collecting dead bugs for this project. Less murdery, but more challenging to find bug corpses in good enough condition that they’ll work for the project. So far his diary looks like this:

Name: Common Wasp

Where did you find it? In an old birdhouse. My mom killed it with Raid. I didn’t kill it. She did.

What was it doing? Nothing. It was just curled up all sad and alone under its nest full of dead offspring where my mom ambushed it and killed it.  She killed them all.

You guys, the struggle is real with this boy. He is one bucket of red paint away from an anti-fur rally. We smuggle meat into our house like drug mules. I’ll distract him with a plate of soy nuggets while the rest of us crouch in the corner, stuffing steak in our mouths, shooing the cats and dogs away while we guiltily savor each cholesterol-laden morsel.

Why don’t I drop the hammer, and force-feed him some meat, you ask? Because he means it. It’s not a show. It’s not an act, or a means for attention. He is truly convicted that eating or killing animals is not something he wants any part of. He has stuck to his guns for nearly three years, despite our cajoling and ploys of tempting him with hot dogs (used to be one of his favorites). He knows that God put animals on the earth for our use, but he chooses to go the veggie route, and that’s okay. He’s extremely healthy, his eyesight is perfect and he’s an honor student.

Go on with your bad vegetarian self, W.

I am confident that his compassionate heart for all of God’s creatures doesn’t go unnoticed by their Creator.

Back to the bug collection. While he was at his grandparents’ lake house this weekend, he and his dad found an obscenely large, incredibly crunchy, disgustingly horrifying grasshopper. It was alive. He couldn’t bear to kill it for the sake of science.

Everyone, meet our new pet grasshopper “Lonely.”

I figured it would survive a day or two at the most in captivity. Oh, no. It is thriving under W’s diligent and loving care. Thriving. I swear it’s getting bigger. I threaten it. I show it the tackle box and assure it that it’s “only a matter of time before it joins the others.”

It won’t die.

I emailed W’s teacher today to ask if we might have a stay of execution for our stupid grasshopper so that he can use it as part of his collection but spare its life. If I were her, I would not want to set a precedent of my students (no matter how convicted) bringing live bugs into my classroom. Nope. In her benevolence, however, she has graciously chosen to humor our plight. Lonely is going to 4th grade.

As much as I don’t want a grasshopper in my home, and as much as I would like to eat meat freely in the light of day with the rest of the carnivorous world, I can’t help but admire my son. His compassion is real. It’s honest. As he grows, and that compassion takes root in things besides the sparing of grasshoppers and the avoidance of chicken nuggets, I imagine the difference he could make in the world.

Empathy is in short supply these days. You go ahead and save the planet one bug at a time, my boy. I could learn some things from you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me—it’s time to feed the grasshopper.