On a hot, humid summer afternoon, my sons, then 4 and 7, came rushing, breathless, to ask me to watch the praying mantis they caught in our weedy flower garden eat the cricket they just put in its cage. It was one of those days. The past week had been exceptionally busy. The lawn and garden desperately needed attention. The laundry, accumulated over the past week or more, needed to be done. I had work to catch up on, and the house was dirty. I told them I didn’t have time right then to wait for the cricket to make the wrong move and the mantis to strike. And I didn’t really notice the disappointment on their faces when I said I wasn’t going to take the time to share that moment with them.
A few days later I was in the shower shaving my legs before going to a water park and I timed how long it took me to do an adequate job. Eight minutes. Now if I extrapolate this out, assuming an expectation of shaving three times per week, I calculate 24 minutes of shaving over the course of a week. During one year, shaving my legs would consume 1,248 minutes, or 20.8 hours. Of shaving. Legs. But I didn’t take the time to watch a mantis eat a cricket with my boys. Hairy legs suddenly looked pretty good.
Eleven years later, my legs are pretty hairy, but I’ve had almost 230 extra hours of living. I’m not sure what I did with those 230 hours during the past 11 years, but I hope it included pausing to let the awe of an amazing sunset sink deep into my soul, lifting a glass of good red wine with my husband over a dinner we cooked together, walking along a nature trail and enjoying the dragonflies as they dance in front of me, cheering for my son as he ran down that last hill of a cross country course and listening to my parents tell me stories from their childhoods. I hope some of those hours were spent curled up with a blanket, a cup of hot tea and a good book as the snow fell outside, chatting with my daughter on the phone, playing a rousing game of Settlers of Catan with friends or listening to the voice of God in the silence of a still autumn night. And yes, watching a praying mantis strike an unsuspecting cricket with my sons.
Two weeks ago I was sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by piles of grading and working on my laptop while my 15-year-old son prattled on about how amazing Josh Groban’s vocal range was when I realized I wasn’t really listening to him. I looked down at my hairy legs and smiled. I lowered the screen of my laptop, tuned out the papers and asked him to play an example for me. We talked for the next 20 minutes about his favorite music while I gave him my full attention and unconsciously rubbed my legs.
I believe in hairy legs.
Sara Tolsma is co-editor of Perspectives. She teaches biology at Northwestern College, Orange City, Iowa.