The short but exceptionally adventurous life of Nicholas Nickleby, Cricket

This week's reference texts

This week’s reference texts (Photo: Shala Howell)

Or,

What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week?

This week, The Nine-Year-Old’s plans to raise an orchestra of crickets hit a snag when she discovers that crickets and cats do not make good housemates.

This week’s books:

For the last project of the year, The Nine-Year-Old’s science teacher has decreed that The Nine-Year-Old and all of her classmates are to adopt and take care of a matched pair of crickets. As part of the project, The Nine-Year-Old is to construct a suitable cricket habitat, feed the crickets daily, and observe their behavior. (As you can see, she’s also been diligently reading up on the care and feeding of crickets.)

The Nine-Year-Old is all in. We did purchase the habitat, rather than build it, but only because Mommyo didn’t want to take any chances that the crickets would escape.

Mommyo, it must be said, had not realized how deeply she disliked crickets until she was faced with the possibility that a small orchestra of them might run amok through her house.

The Nine-Year-Old's cricket tote, with suitable modifications made by the Nine-Year-Old to ensure her cricket's comfort. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old’s cricket tote, with suitable modifications made by the Nine-Year-Old to ensure her crickets’ comfort. (Photo: Shala Howell)

As you can see, The Nine-Year-Old promptly stocked her lovely new cricket tote with a spare toilet paper roll to give the crickets a dark place to hide and placed a layer of peat moss along the bottom “so that the female has somewhere to lay her eggs.”

Yep. You read that right. Remember the bit about the matched set? Turns out that for her matched set, The Nine-Year-Old requested one male and one female cricket so that they could breed and make babies. Other kids in the class asked for two females or two males to preclude the possibility of babies, but not my kid. For The Nine-Year-Old, breeding a new generation or three of crickets was the whole point. She’s even named the crickets so that she can keep the generations apart. This first generation features Nicholas Nickleby (the male) and Debby Davis (the female).

And she made a Cricket Care Chart, naturally using Powerpoint, which includes a line item under “Feed the Crickets” that reads “Check for Babies.”

The Nine-Year-Old's Cricket Care chart, which she has posted to our fridge. Interestingly, it doesn't look like The Nine-Year-Old has been making time to read to her crickets. (Care chart: The Nine-Year-Old Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old’s Cricket Care chart, which she has posted to our fridge. Interestingly, it doesn’t look like The Nine-Year-Old has been making time to read to her crickets. (Care chart: The Nine-Year-Old Howell)

I am shuddering even as I type this.

The flaw in The Nine-Year-Old’s plan to become a Master Cricket Breeder is the fact that our cat Canelo takes his role as Family Bug Hunter very seriously.

Canelo has mounted an unceasing campaign to rid the house of the crickets ever since The Nine-Year-Old brought Nicholas and Debbie home. Turns out, it’s very hard to explain to a cat that bugs that are in cages belong in the house when we praise him so effusively for capturing bugs that are roaming freely throughout the house.

Canelo’s Original Plan: Smash the cricket cage to the floor in the hopes that something will come out.

Crickets in plastic critter totes are some of the most interesting targets for the gravity game in the world. In Canelo’s opinion, they’re even better than glasses filled with water.

So far Canelo’s managed to successfully dump the cricket cage on the floor at least once a day since Nicholas and Debbie have joined us.

In the process he’s cracked two of the cage’s sides and popped the top hatch open on at least three occasions. (That’s why the cricket habitat sides have since been reinforced with masking tape.)

Trying to pry the crickets out of the cage after it’s fallen to the floor is so much more entertaining than watching ice water spread slowly over hardwood.

The only problem so far has been that when the cricket habitat makes its daily trek to the floor, it lands on the hardwood. The resulting crash brings The Nine-Year-Old running before Canelo can pluck out his (in his mind) well-deserved and tasty snack.

Canelo’s Amended Plan: Eliminate the thud by crashing the cage onto something soft. 

On Sunday night, Canelo managed to flick the cage across the room onto the rug, instead of the hardwood.

No thud. The Nine-Year-Old, who was on our Very Large Red Reading Couch at the time, remained blissfully unaware of the cycle of life horror show playing out in her room.

As a side bonus, the softer landing made for a quicker recovery on the part of the crickets. Most of the time Nicholas and Debbie have been too dazed on impact to make much of their chance for freedom.

But on Sunday, the cage remained on the floor, top cracked open, long enough for Nicholas to regain consciousness, and take shelter from Canelo’s probing claws somewhere in the The Nine-Year-Old’s overly stuffed room.

Chasing after a hopping target across the floor is so much more fun than fishing out an inert one from a plastic cage. This is probably the only reason Debbie survived the experience. She was still lying dazed under the peat moss when Nicholas made his dash for freedom.

By the time Canelo’s howls of glee alerted The Nine-Year-Old that something untoward was going on in her room, Nicholas was nowhere to be found.

In her initial panic, The Nine-Year-Old tossed Canelo out of her room while she restored order to the cricket cage, checked on Debbie, and tried to find Nicholas herself.

Given the typical state of her room, The Nine-Year-Old quickly realized that finding Nicholas on her own would be impossible.

We are never ever going to find the cricket in all of that. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We are never ever going to find the cricket in all of that. (Photo: Shala Howell)

But, as we have learned, Canelo is exceptionally good at hunting rogue crickets. So The Nine-Year-Old let Canelo back into her room, under strict orders to find, but not eat Nicholas.

Canelo quickly tracked Nicholas down under a pile of The Nine-Year-Old’s old papers. He then kept Nicholas corralled long enough for The Nine-Year-Old to scoop young Nick up and plop him back into his cage.

Canelo was not terribly pleased with that, but as far as The Nine-Year-Old was concerned, all’s well that ends well.

The Nine-Year-Old, reporting on the episode at dinner later that night, told me, “The best part is that Canelo only tore off Nicholas’ two antennae, so he can still make babies, Mommyo.”

Oh goodie. You can see where this is heading, can’t you?

The only remaining flaw in Canelo’s cricket hunting scheme was the fact that The Nine-Year-Old was home at the time to foil it.

Canelo’s Perfected Plan: Mount the attack while The Nine-Year-Old is at school.

And that brings us to Wednesday. More or less. You see, Nicholas had decided he had enough of this chaotic cat-infested environment. Rather than wait for Canelo to come to him, he wiggled out of the cage on his own while The Nine-Year-Old was at school. Presumably after bidding Debby an appropriately tender adieu.

At any rate, when The Nine-Year-Old came home on Wednesday she found Debby in an apparently undisturbed cage, but no sign of Nicholas. Worse, when she brought Canelo into her room to hunt for Nicholas, Canelo simply yawned and started grooming his tail.

It doesn’t take a world-famous detective to figure out what happened to Nicholas Nickleby, Cricket. We searched the room anyway, of course. But cricket hunting is a lot harder for people than it is for cats.

"You know that I am never going to feel bad about this, right?" (Photo: Shala Howell)

“You know that I am never going to feel bad about this, right?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

Given Canelo’s complete disinterest in finding Nicholas, we were forced to conclude that Nicholas Nickleby is no longer part of the family. At least, not in any way that requires regular feeding.

The Nine-Year-Old is undeterred. Upset, naturally, but undeterred. Today she’s off to get a replacement male cricket from her science teacher. Apparently, she’s not the only person in her class who has lost one pet to another.

The last day of school cannot come soon enough.

Related Links:

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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9 Responses to The short but exceptionally adventurous life of Nicholas Nickleby, Cricket

  1. bobraxton says:

    may have a cricket or few from the “some” emerging in our unfinished basement (since 1984) via spontaneous generation, despite our pest control strips. To me, the crickets are NOT pests – but I do not live alone.

    Like

    • Shala Howell says:

      The “I do not live alone” comment sounds quite ominous for the crickets. I prefer to think of my cricket antipathy as being more along the lines of “Crickets belong free and in the wild,” which is why if Debby Davis, Cricket survives to the end of the school year, The Nine-Year-Old and I are going to release her (and her family) in one of the grassy areas by the Chicago lakefront.

      Like

      • bobraxton says:

        I love catching the cricket (unharmed) in my cupped hands, then gently walking – open and close – through the door – and to wild freedom, too. I like the wriggly feel of the squirming (loose) cricket’s legs.

        Like

      • Shala Howell says:

        HA! That explains why the 9YO kept giggling as she was carrying Nicholas back into his cage.

        Like

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