One of the star attractions of library night this year was the display of house crickets in my 7-year-old son's second grade class. He had been talking about the cricket project since shortly after the school year began, and it was clear from the moment we left home that my credentials as a mother were hanging on how I would react when I saw the house crickets.

I, it should be noted here, have a severe case of entomophobia. I may pay lip service to the environmentalists on cosmic issues, but I am a killer at home. While spring finds most people planting flowers in their garden, it finds me foraging for specials on bug sprays. I have uniodized salt set aside for slugs, deadly spray bombs for wasps, bees and locusts, and various sprays and lotions that can be applied to one's body before venturing out into the back yard. From September on, I am at the ready with rolled newspaper in case crickets should invade the house.

I am married to someone who is obsessed with the preservation of bug life. He will kill bees and wasps in the house, recognizing that they pose an imminent threat to the welfare of the children. But crickets get the kind of protection that the environmentalists got for the snail darter. Thus, the cheerful chirping sound of a cricket in, say, the kitchen produces the following reaction:


I roll up my newspaper ready to kill. He arrives and gets down on his hands and knees, rescues the cricket and then gently transports it outdoors. He is left feeling morally superior and I am left feeling like Attila the Hun.

When it became clear that I was going to be seeing house crickets on library night, I immediately thought of taking along a rolled newspaper. My son, however, assured me that his classroom crickets were a completely different species than the garden crickets, and pose no danger to mankind. "Why?" I asked.

"They're brown."

Which, in fact, they were, and they seemed perfectly safe and happy crawling around little plastic boxes and egg containers in the classroom.

But word arrived not long ago that the crickets were looking for permanent homes. My initial reaction to my 7-year-old's request to bring one of the crickets home was: "You've got to be kidding." But it was clear he was not. It is also clear that pets are one of the great delights of childhood and crickets are, after all, better than snakes. He assured me the crickets didn't eat much food. He assured me that all they needed to live in was some sand and some empty egg containers and a large box. Within minutes he produced the cat carrier box which he pronounced the perfect home for the crickets. He assured me the crickets would stay inside of it and the cat would stay outside of it. My last words to him were: "NO LOOSE CRICKETS!"

His last words to me were: "Don't worry about it, Mom."

The first cricket arrived on Thursday and by the time I got home that night, he (or she) seemed perfectly happy in the cat box. This is something of a miracle since 1) the carrier had air holes in it the cricket could have gotten out of, and 2) Murphy, the cat, was sleeping contentedly by the carrier. We determined that the cricket was in the box and not in Murphy, and I promptly covered up the holes with screening.

The second cricket arrived on Friday, with the story that some parents would not allow their child to adopt a cricket, so my child had volunteered to do so.

The first words I heard Saturday morning were: "MOM, ONE OF THE CRICKETS IS LOOSE!"

The first words he heard were: "FIND IT!"

It seems that Murphy, during the night, had loosened the screening over the air holes and one of the crickets had gotten out. It also turns out that unlike garden crickets, these crickets rarely chirp, so there is virtually no way of finding them unless they appear under your nose. My son finally gave up the hunt with the pronouncement that the cricket was probably somewhere in the bookshelf. With visions of a cricket leaping out of a book and onto my lap, I tried to suggest, as gently as possible, that the cricket might also be somewhere in Murphy. My son was quite sure, however, that this had not happened.

And I haven't gone near the books.