This is why I did it, Donna: the bees are dying.
She is five years old and I do what every parent is expected to do. I register my child for kindergarten. But I am wanting a half-day option, so I visit the school to see if I can work some magic in my daughter’s favor. I’m willing to pick her up at the half-day point. It will be no extra work on their part.
Scientists think they have pinpointed the problem: neonicotinoids. This is why the bees are dying.
I am greeted at the office door by the tall, young principal whose name I cannot remember now. His skin is pale, his hair an even light brown. I remember his smile. The kind that says, “You and I will come to terms.” But they will not be my terms. “All parents have these difficulties separating, Mrs. Barkat. You need to give your child to us and trust us.” It has the ring of truth to it. I will go observe the classrooms, one of which my daughter will end up in just two months from this moment.
It was not just the bees, Donna. Truth be told, it was my friend who I just met a few short years ago. Her father once found her playing, instead of cleaning her room like she’d been told to do. She was five years old and deep in play-thought. She did not hear her father enter the room. He spanked her, and in her surprise and confusion she wet herself. She began to cry. He spanked her again for crying. She learned, Donna. She learned.
The classroom is orderly and clean. The children have learned to keep it so. It is the model setting, and the principal is beaming as he introduces me to the teacher. The wall is hung with a long string of identical apples. Each apple holds a child’s name.
They say that some bees will engage in suicidal risk rather than bring disease back to the hive. The disease they are dying from is because of the neonicotinoids. Not directly, though. It’s complicated.
At age two, my daughter can write all her letters and is already creating little “books” that are incomprehensible to anyone but her. At age three, she will surely learn to read. She doesn’t. Not at three. Or four. Or five. Not until age seven—“late” by many people’s standards. She spends her time on things that interest her, like making a web out of the dining room—string to chair rung to table leg to thermostat to chair rung to chair rung to chair rung. She hangs everything she can possibly find onto the tangle of string. A white teddy bear, bouncing on air. Red yarn. Blue plastic hangers. What a mess. This is what happens when I get lost in thought, cook dinner for an hour and trust that my daughter is at predictable play.
It was my friend, yes. Or it was the bees. It might have been Picasso.
Five years before my daughter was born, I visited the Picasso museum in France. I tried to take my daughter there a few years ago, but it was closed for renovations. The French are always doing this to me. I think it is their scheme to make me return every decade, so I can find one set of doors reopened only to find another set newly closed. Picasso was closed. I could have cried. I wanted to show my girl the incredible range of Picasso’s work. The black period surprised me most. No one had ever showed me Picasso’s black period.
Neonicotinoids are a class of chemicals found in agricultural pesticides. We use it to narrow the possibilities of what can live where. It has spiraled outwards into the environment, where even small amounts of it can weaken the immune systems of the bees. The bees are dying, Donna. And with this death will come the death of honey and almonds and pears and plums. I don’t know if the apples are at risk.
When I see all the five- and six-year-olds raising their hands, waiting quietly for their teacher to come and check their lower-case letter ‘l’s, I know I have come to terms. It is late June. The children have spent the first year of their education here in this room. They are writing the lower-case letter l over and over again on their worksheets. Filling the pages with single files of the body of a stick figure without arms or legs, head or eyes or mouth. At age five, my daughter is drawing aerial views, figures half on half off the page, dimensions. I call her my little Picasso.
My friend is nearly fifty now. In many ways, she is just coming into her own. Characters are appearing in her writing, bursting out from hidden places. Yesterday it was circus clowns. Playful things deep in the psyche seem to be gradually dancing into view.
My daughter Sara is a sophomore in high school. I came to terms when she was five and I canceled her registration with the school. For years she has been home educated. For years, my house has been filling up with her artwork. She is currently in a distance-learning school. It was something I did to transition her to something schoolish before college. She is “behind” right now. Ten lessons in English, eight in Chemistry and History, a few in Spanish. Ashley from student services wants to talk to me this week because of “future concerns.” I am not sure what to tell Ashley. My daughter’s grades are mostly As, but she goes at her own pace. She prefers to go deep instead of wide; it slows her down. And there is the matter of her exams, which she never excels at because she refuses to study. “I’ll remember what’s important to me,” she says. “If I don’t remember it, that’s because I didn’t care.”
There are some who care about the bees, Donna. They are suggesting that we introduce Russian bees into our colonies to recreate diversity. If my friend were the one doing the introducing, the bees might be wearing babushkas and dancing the mazurka. My daughter would laugh and dance at the magic of it, I’m almost sure.