Fall Fever: The Tale of Luna.

Every fall, as the weather shows the first signs of getting cooler, I become a little bit manic.

Because Alabama falls are so magical. And so fleeting. Because if it’s cool today, it’s gonna be 90 degrees tomorrow. Then it’s gonna go straight to 40 degrees and – oops! You missed fall.

And also, I love fall. Not the basic-white-girl Pumpkin-Spice-and-Scarves-and-Boots type of fall, but the smell of the leaves falling, the clear, crispness of the air, the beautiful colors, and the outdoors. Yes, I’ve loved Fall since way before it was cool to love fall – and the proof of that is that my birthday falls right at the cusp of fall, making it therefore magical-by-association since I was old enough to understand birthdays.

In years prior, when the kids were younger and therefore not as mobile, my fall manicness has mainly been a burden that Chris has had to bear. The first time I got a whiff of leaves, I would start begging him to take me out of town. Up to north Alabama. To the mountains. To a bed and breakfast or a lodge. It was an urge within myself that I COULD NOT control.

I’m not typically a naggy, demanding wife for stuff or experiences, but fall is always the exception. Last fall I got so desperate that I experimented with traveling alone with children. It wasn’t so bad.

But this year, they’re older and sturdier. Ali has been running and hiking for a year (to impressive lengths – we’ve had up to a 4 mile run and a 6.75 mile hike, the latter of which was kind of an accident that she may never forgive me for but she brings it up with pride every time we go hiking), and Noah can hike with minimal whining on a happy day.

So, at least for the early part of fall (I mean it is JUST BARELY fall here), I’ve been able to quench my Fall Fever by taking the kids hiking locally. We started a few weeks ago having one hike a week. But last week, my mania reached a new level, and we went on three hikes in four days for a total of 7.6 miles. Pretty sure my kids got in their PE credits for the week.

On Monday for our first hike of the week, I felt as if we needed a new adventure (my manic fall-ness demands a bit of intrigue), and so I chose the hike down to Peavine Falls at Oak Mountain State Park – a trail I’d never done but heard was “fairly steep.”

We set off on a nice, wide trail that was quite pleasing to the kids.


And then we got to the Peavine Trail. The way down was scary. Not adult-scary, but four-year-old scary? Absolutely. It was nearly straight down, and Noah was not happy about it. I knew I could get him down with a bit of coaxing and a lot of hand-holding, but what about back up? I worried greatly at what I had done to our future.

We got to the bottom and Peavine Falls was barely a trickle. Had all been for naught?


I decided that we would sit and play for a while before I attempted shoving my kid up the side of a mountain. Noah always prepares for hikes by packing his backpack with all sorts of sugary snacks, so he was more than happy to sit a while and rest his chainmail.


While eating muffins and Fruit Roll-Ups, Noah found a microscopic inchworm. We all studied it and I praised him highly for his nature eye. Which made Ali determined to also find some fascinating bit of nature, which is how we came to meet Luna.


She was quite possibly the most beautiful creature with more than ten legs that I’d ever seen, with her endearing cankle fat rolls and rubbery translucent skin.


Thankfully, the bottom of Peavine Falls has good cell service, and Luna was more than happy to grasp a piece of pine straw so that I could see all of her angles for scientific Googling. Look at those thigh dimples!


We discovered that she was a Luna Moth caterpillar (hence her name), and that the orange color she was sporting showed that she was getting ready to spin a cocoon.

Ali begged to take her and keep her and love her forever.

I reminded Ali of our steep hike down and how there was no way she could keep Luna from getting smooshed on the way back up.

She began frantically searching for temporary housing. Noah had packed down a game of Spot It from his Chick-Fil-A kid’s meal, so she bartered with him, promising to give him her Spot It cards if she could use the plastic case from his set to carry Luna.

Noah was not happy with this idea, but I made him agree to it.

Unfortunately, Luna’s generous fat rolls did not fit in the Spot It case.

So Ali went back to thinking.

A water bottle!

We hadn’t drank any of our packed water yet, so she put Noah and I to work taking turns with giant gulps of a Dasani so she could have the empty bottle.

She carefully rinsed it in the stream, put leaves and sticks in it to make a homey carrying case, and I gently plucked Luna off of the rock and nudged her into the bottle.

(Because of course Ali didn’t want to touch her beloved new pet. Just to gaze upon her and learn all the things about her.)

“Can we go to the pet store? And the bookstore? And the library? I need a cage! And an instruction manual! I need to study everything about taking care of Luna.”

Now my job was to get a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a rotund caterpillar out of a canyon that would almost certainly require some light rock climbing.

I strapped Luna to the outside of my camera bag (because Noah was decisively not having her in his backpack) and we headed up.

Shockingly, because climbing up rocks is way more fun than shimmying and slipping down them, both kids scaled the side of the ravine quicker than I could even keep up with them. Who knew? Up is easier. When we got to the top, I miraculously still had a happy hiker.151005s.jpg

…a Happy Hiker who was very much looking forward to the promised playground bribe, even though his sister was much more interested in getting proper care facilities and instructions for her new pet.

I kept my end of the bribe and took them to the playground while I snapped a couple of pictures of Oak Mountain’s beautiful Lake.


Ali very carefully positioned Luna, putting her in the shade on my tailgate, and not completely screwing the lid onto her Dasani home so as not to suffocate her. Until that gust of wind knocked the improperly sealed bottle off the car and I found Dasani, open, on its side, pointed underneath my car, and a “quickly” waddling Luna midway under the vehicle.

Ali panicked.

So I did what any good mother would do and crawled under the car, caught the escapee, and put her back in her apartment.

We had native leaves, lake water, and proper home from the pet store all obtained on behalf of Princess Caterpillar.

But when we got home and Ali went to dump her into the carefully Feng Shui’d and much larger permanent residence, she said “Mom! What’s this sticky stuff Luna put on the inside of the water bottle??


She had apparently become accustomed to her Euro-sized Dasani apartment and had the very beginnings of a cocoon.

“BUT MOM!! If she cocoons in there and comes out as a giant Luna Moth, how will we ever get her out?!”

Ali’s logic was inescapable. Luna Moths are quite massive.

There wasn’t much silk yet. Surely this could be remedied. Without putting much thought into it, I shook her gently off the side and she plopped in her new home.

Later that afternoon, Luna looked different. Her skin had changed color to a darker magenta and her body wasn’t as rubbery.

I put on a matter-of-fact face (because Ali is very matter-of-fact), and explained that she could be going through one last molting, or she could be dying. But on the inside, I was feeling giant heaps of guilt regarding what could be a future caterpillar death.

We Googled some more. We adjusted the cage. We got her out in the sun and grass to boost her serotonin (do caterpillars get serotonin?) We did everything we could, but by Tuesday morning, Luna’s fate was sealed.

We “buried” her in the flower garden, and Ali was unemotional about the entire thing. I, however, was filled with silent angst over the death of such a magnificent creature (and kept reminding myself that she was just a caterpillar and I’d probably unknowingly stepped on three of her sisters trying to get down to Peavine Falls.)

Ali and I clinically discussed each step in our encounter with Luna. Did we not bring her enough leaves that she liked? Maybe. Did we put too much moisture in her cage? Quite possibly. Should I have let her cocoon in that Dasani bottle and worried about getting her out later? Probably. Then I reminded myself that this was still absolutely education – Ali was guiding me along the paths she was interested in, and we were learning both the good and hard lessons about life and nature.

“Hey Mom – can we go on a hike today so I can find another caterpillar? They’re my second favorite bug behind butterflies – and isn’t that convenient??”

Yes, she was definitely pursuing her interests.

The rest of the tale, including the replacement of Luna and one very decisive non-replacement of Luna, will come tomorrow.

The 10 Stages of Schooling Double the Students.

Noah is now four years old.

Last year, I sent him to 3K at a preschool – for many reasons.

It was quite lovely.

This year, he is doing 4K at home – for many reasons. It will be lovely.

Dear God please let it be lovely.

We’re four weeks in, but that first week had a massive rollercoaster of emotions – for all involved. Herein lies the steps that a mother goes through when transitioning between homeschooling one very studious child and homeschooling two children, one of which is…not so studious.

1. Anticipation: The glee and excitement of First Day of School pictures. Because two students makes this opportunity so much more adorable!

Noah. Smile like a normal human. Ali. Look at me, not your alien-smile brother.


Hold your sign down. I can’t see your smile.


Thank you. Now smile.


Not bad. Hold your sign a little higher please.


I said a LITTLE.


Put your head down. Hold your sign up.


Okay fine. Good enough.


(Drops the Mic)


2. Excitement Building: The presentation, and following thrill, of the rewards sheet.

You, dear child, will get to earn REWARDS with your AWESOME school achievements!!


3. Realization: The adorable promise of a student doing their first assignment: this year is going to rock.




4. Darker Realization: the older child is going to have trouble paying attention when I’m talking to the younger child. How do teachers teach more than one child at a time? This seems completely impractical.


6. Baffledness: What does one do when the four-year-old realizes that he has the power within him to simply…not do school?

“Yeah, I’m not doing school today, Mom. It’s really just not fun.”


A dark power indeed.


7. Strategy Shift: FaceTime with Principal Daddy.

8. The Abomination of Convenient Memory.

“But I forgot how to do that.”

“You KNOW EXACTLY how to do this, son.”

“I weewy weewy forgot!”

9. Justification:

“Eh, 4K isn’t that important. Right? He’ll be able to get a job…somewhere…without 4K.”

10. This Feeling. For Everyone.


We’re working on strategies to make school more fun and palatable for everyone. Educational iPad games are a big part of that, as they were for Ali at the age of four. He will live. As will I. Dear God please let me live through 4K.

On Independent Study.

Ali has a lot of free time compared to most children her age.

She’s nearly nine and in the third grade, which is prime time to be besieged with the first loads of homework. But since we homeschool, she escapes this fate.

I am never one to tell people that they should homeschool, nor do I dare think it is right for every child or family. However, the one benefit that is fairly global is the extreme efficiency of time. We are done with school at lunchtime. There is no need for homework, because teaching one-on-one takes so much less time. There might be afternoon educational outings such as nature walks, visits to the zoo, and children’s museums, but all post-lunchtime education is purely fun.

Ali also fills her free time by busying herself with independent learning. She’s a little geek, after all, and adores using her afternoons to pursue her own interests of study.

(It’s like I’m homeschooling her, and she’s unschooling herself. It works for us.)

Ali’s current three favorite self-inflicted “textbooks” are Extreme Planet (subtitled “Not for Parents”), Guinness World Records, and Space: A Visual Encyclopedia.


Each has been scoured and studied countless times (except for Guinness, which is pretty new but getting devoured by the day), and each comes with its own unique set of experiences.

Extreme Planet started out as a library check-out that Ali found beloved enough to beg me to allow her to take it to her grandparent’s to show them (because it was Not For Parents and she needed someone legal to show the magic that was found within), and after enjoying the book with her, my Dad bought her a copy to keep.

Not that I’ve read it because ACCORDING TO THE RULES I cannot, from what I gather, Extreme Planet is full of facts and pictures of the most extreme items in nature. I have built my assumptions about the contents from events surrounding this book. Such as when we were at the beach (and had our fabulous babysitter Sarah along.) We were all playing in the sand when Noah casually mentioned, “The bedtime story Sarah read us last night was about BUGS in your BUTT!!”

I looked at Sarah with wide, amused eyes.

“I swear I didn’t pick it! Ali had that book and they picked the page they wanted me to read!”

Then Ali added, “And anyway they were bugs in ANIMAL’S butts, not human’s butts.”

Well that makes it better.

Guinness, the newest treasure trove, was on Ali’s “Absolute Must” list of items she had to take with her to stay at Gramamma’s house last week. I asked her if she was going to read it with my mom, and she said, “Well actually we’re going to look through it together and find a record we can break so that I can be in the next book.”

When I picked her up, I asked if she was able to break a record.

She sighed.

“Not yet. All of them were either super dangerous, like how many candles you can fit in your mouth WHILE LIT, or they were stuff you just couldn’t do, like having fourteen fingers.”

I felt like I should apologize to her for not taking some Class IV drug while I was pregnant with her so that she could have fourteen-and-a-half fingers.

And then there’s the Space book. She’s fascinated by Space and knows significantly more facts about our universe than I do. She can quickly name all the planets in order (I cannot even name them all), can explain what would happen (theoretically) to an astronaut who got sucked into a black hole, and can share information about every celestial body.

One day last week, she disappeared into her room for a few hours after school. I figured she was reading. She came down for dinner, then disappeared again. While I was doing the dishes, a mysterious invitation showed up on the kitchen counter.


I wasn’t exactly sure where Space was, but walked up to her room on a hunch. She peered around the corner, and I took in the slightly messier-than-usual state of her room.


Then I started looking closer. And was drawn in by the detail of her interpretation of space. Our galaxy was all present, including clouds around the sun and a warning not to get too close,


An (angry) alien resident of Neptune,


A black hole made out of recycled glow sticks,


A Lego satellite,


And the moon, complete with a (GIANT) NASA spaceship on it.


And then there were the other galaxies. They were magnificent, creating an environment of intrigue and imagination.


This one made me realize I needed to introduce her to the show ALF.


And the planet that she’ll be introduced in a few years, poor girl.


There were three imaginary galaxies containing dozens of planets, all labeled and decorated.


Before bed, Chris helped her add even more details to her diorama, including rockets and meteors.



So that she could share her fabulous creation, I told Ali that our neighbors and their nanny could come over to visit Space the next morning.

Ali hurried through school, fretting that she needed enough time to make some last minute arrangements to Space before introducing it to a crowd.

I checked in on her, and she’d rearranged the galaxies so that she could create a path.

“I want it like a museum,” she explained.


Our friends came over to observe. Ali was sure to instruct them to stay on the paths provided, but offered a thorough tour of every feature.


Including, of course, a light show.


And throughout all of the many versions of Space, her precious book sat watching, propped up on a chair leg, intensely proud of the creativity it inspired.