What my daughter taught me when she gave a spider a name

 05 Nov 2016 - 17:08

What my daughter taught me when she gave a spider a name
When the author's daughter named this spider, she's taught her some lessons about how quick she is to judge or dismiss creatures she had learned to fear. ()Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff. Photo by: Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff — Handout

By Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff / The Washington Post

I did not think giving a silly name to the spider outside my office window would create an affection for an eight-legged creature, that, in another context, I would have squashed with a rolled newspaper.

But ever since my 8-year-old started calling this arachnid “Spiderella,” I’ve looked upon her as my friend and colleague. And she has taught me some lessons about how quick I am to judge or dismiss creatures I have learned to fear.

I suppose Spiderella and I have become friends because we both like to work at night. She sits outside the window; having set up shop in a gorgeous web spun from her own body, and I sit inside, at a desk I got at HomeGoods.

I arrive about 9 pm, after my first attempt to get the kids to sleep. She is already in a pose I like to call “center web,” a bit like center stage, but without a spotlight and with a supporting cast of bugs. These are her daily catch, to be fair, and they are about to be eaten. They line the layers of her silky net like groceries in the pantry - in a pinch, you know there’s dinner - and she eats them calmly and with good manners.

When’s there’s a spry new arrival, usually something large, like a moth or a green katydid, Spiderella fights with every move she’s got. She spins web, uses her many legs, and warps, traps, and mounts her prey with aggressive speed and dominance. Then she feeds, her pace slowed, on a meal that lasts for hours, sometimes by moonlight, but always alone.

After a really big meal, she takes some well-deserved time off. I’m not sure where she goes, but I suspect that unlike me, she has a private life outside the office.

After a day or so, she comes back looking smaller and a bit bedraggled. It’s then that my kids voice concerns about her health, her demeanor, and try to figure out how many eyes she has.
One morning was full of wind and rain, and after the storm cleared, Spiderella made a surprise afternoon visit. Like a master craftswoman, she went about her work swiftly, swooping from side to side, up and down, making a pattern I could not understand until she came to a rest, her web complete.

Once more she found her spotlight stage center.

We humans rarely have moments of such harmony, when our actions and intentions align in what looks like effortless efficiency. Perhaps we catch a glimpse of this watching musicians, athletes or a mother changing a diaper. With practice and a certain type of concentration, we are capable of getting out of our own way and let a creative skill flow freely.

But I had never looked for this lesson in a spider. I have been too busy running away from them, or worse, destroying their homes.

Spiderella came to me. My third-grader gave her a name, pulled from a cliche, that has allowed me to look upon her as a fascinating and worthwhile creature. Had I not considered her through the eyes and openness of my child, I would have missed this part of life, the very life outside my window, a few inches away.

These days, when I’ve had a tough day or my human ego has been wounded by a setback, I look up from my computer screen and stare at Spiderella’s web. I depend on her nightly visits, and I look forward to witnessing her artful skills of survival. She’s got everything she needs rolled into her tenacious, tiny body.

I don’t know what will happen when the weather gets colder. My husband has suggested I reread “Charlotte’s Web,” but I think that might make me cry, to be honest.

I can say this: The next time your child gives a silly name to a creature, or object, or even something intangible that triggers fear, and you think it’s childish, step back a moment and consider what a kindhearted name can breed. Not only in your child, but in you.