Please… Don’t pet the bumblebees

bee3.jpgI love conversations that begin with… “Mom, here’s an interesting fact…” I can’t help but smile with anticipation and the realization that I am about to be schooled…

I don’t think I was as drawn to facts when I was a child… though perhaps I just don’t recollect this pull… because I certainly feel it now.

I also feel the pull toward the fantastic, as does H, which is more how I remember being as a child… imagining… dreaming… pretending…

I was frequently one of the last to complete my work in early elementary school. I usually knew what to do – but it didn’t hold my interest. My body was quietly working to behave in the confinement of my school desk. I was just barely contained and possibly betrayed by my bouncing knees, or the hidden stuffed elephant with silky ears who was lonely if left in the cloakroom, or my stretching-out and letting-go of the retractable threads of nylon in my often snagged leotards.

I was able to sit (relatively) still – but my mind was moving – occupied by my thoughts and winding imagination. As a result, I spent many a’recess inside – completing the work I should have done when everyone else was working.

Yes… this is how I remember being as a child… imagining… dreaming… pretending… and  most of this, the best part of this, was done outdoors  – very likely in our back yard, in the woods by our house – or quite possibly up a tree.

I distinctly remember, one evening, warily approaching the cotoneaster bush that grew against the fence at the back of our yard. It must have been spring because it was in flower and it was abuzz with bees.

It was that time, near the end of the day, when the light was angled so that the sun shone with spotlight intensity upon the bush. It beckoned me – with the drone of bee-song and the dancing play of light upon the waxy evergreen leaves and the blossoms that would later become berries.

As I made my way closer, it pulled me in and I grew brave. I watched long… as was my style, and I grew convinced that this one particular bumblebee should become my friend. It was so fuzzy – like a tiny flying stuffed animal – and I was dying to hold it – and pet it – feel its softness – and make it mine to keep as a companion.

I was certain that it would understand me: that it would realize my intent, and feel safe in the knowledge that I would not hurt it.

First I let it crawl upon my finger… and talked to it softly.

I knew then, that I could talk to bees and I was certain it understood.

Then I held it gently cupped in my 7 or 8-year-old hands for the briefest of moments…

I was amazed to hold this tiny creature and feel its softness, and I opened a tiny crack in my fingers to have a peek and whisper my reassurances.

Probably 2 seconds later –  I got stung.bee2.jpg

I remember feeling shocked.

A strange combination of betrayal – misunderstanding – and embarrassment at my naivety.

I suspect there was an incredulous pause and gasp before the tears came – and I ran to find my mother to calm me and help me get over the sting.

I don’t remember that I admitted to anyone what I had done… that is until this week, some 40 or so years later,  when I shared the story with some colleagues at work – and later on with Craig.

I don’t know what made me think of it… what made me remember and share this childhood sense of self – wrapped up in this little tale – a metaphor of sorts.

I suppose I could frame this as learning about the sting of betrayal – and the risk of trust and naivety – but that is not what speaks to me. Instead, I see it as sweet and charming – and in all honesty, actually quite funny.

I still get stung sometimes.

I am still trusting – and naive – and I take people at face value. I could be tougher and more guarded – but I’d rather get stung now and then than give up that perspective.

As circumstance would have it, a bee flew in the house tonight as I was winding up this post. I told Craig I’d help it make its way back to the outdoors. He isn’t quite as fond of insects as I am.

Relieved, he said, “That’d be great, thanks!”

Then after a pause – he added with a smirk, “Just don’t try to pet it!”

Ya… well, we’ll have to see about that… because in all honesty – a small part of me remains convinced that I can communicate with bees.

I plan to continue to be the kind of person that still ponders and considers the pettablity of a bumblebee… The fact that I want to reach out my hand every time I see one reflects some of the best parts of me and that is made of win!

And for those of you who like the facts… here is a cool article about bumblebees and an interesting fact: did you know they were originally called Humblebees and there is a connection to Darwin?? Check it out:

Bee1.jpgPhotos: Bees on the bachelor buttons and cotoneaster in my backyard and at Shuswap Lake.


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2013)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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21 Responses to Please… Don’t pet the bumblebees

  1. Oh I love this post!! Just love it!! And you! Love you too! (And apparently exclamation marks, love those also) 🙂


  2. amazing how smart bumblebees actually are, if they are in your house you can usually talk them out the door, it is very unusual to get stung by one. they die instantly after they sting someone. i love watching bumble bees in the flower bed, tho i have never tried to pet a live one.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      I don’t remember ever having a bumblebee fly inside. It seems like mostly wasps do that at our house. I find turning out the lights and darkening the room sends them straight to the open window or door as they seem to be attracted to the light. I used to do that in my classroom as well…

      I’d love to know how you talk them out the door…


  3. I still remember crying, with sadness, when I was 5, because the ants I was trying to befriend by petting them IN THEIR NEST suddenly stung me. I felt very rejected. I LOVE this post! Finally, someone who has had the SAME experience, only with a different stingy insect! This is making me cry, too. But not because I just got bitten.


    • My son sometimes asks me, “Tell me about the time you tried to make friends with the ants.”


      • Leah Kelley says:

        I love that!
        There is something really magical about imagining and meeting your parent as child… I used to feel that connection with my mother when I was a kid. I’d say: ‘Tell me a story about when you were a kid in the olden-days.’ It was so powerful to have this story hero that was my mom and at the same time a child. I was fascinated by the way imagining her as a child played with time…


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Oh Paula… that is so sweet. I am pleased to know that I am not alone, and I am honoured that this post spoke to you ❤


  4. I can relate to this one a lot. It’s a struggle being someone who wears their heart and hopes on their sleeves but to not would in so many ways just not be living fully.


  5. rebelmommy says:

    First, I happen to love bugs more than most, so I love this story to no end…


    I am still trusting – and naive – and I take people at face value. I could be tougher and more guarded – but I’d rather get stung now and then than give up that perspective.

    that is something I was just pondering myself. It’s hard for me to trust lately, but I figure being trusting and open is good, and I will not stop being good, no matter what people will do. I can’t take responsibility for whether or not people are actually trustworthy or not. That’s on them.

    Third, the sting is the bee’s only and last defense, which, you know, ends up killing them. I can forgive the bee.


  6. Life Skills Teacher says:

    Having just gotten stung, and not wanting to give up my naïveté either – I appreciate this post.

    Also, I recommend you the out of print and hard to find children’s book “Fiona’s Bee” – it was my favorite as a child.


  7. A Quiet Week says:

    This was an exquisite post Leah. I spent so much of my childhood imagining and pretending. If dinosaurs would have walked the earth, I would have been eaten for sure!


  8. Bek says:

    Such lyrical wording, you brought me back to childhood and that innocence and curiosity and then the sting. I’m teetering on the edge of a good and much needed cathartic cry from the memories this brought back. I was raised on private property surrounded by a nature preserve and most of my childhood was spent walking in the wild, getting lost, and finding my way back. I was fairly fortunate that I did not try to pet any of the creatures (lots of copperheads and other cantankerous critters)! Your story is so sweet and it does ring so true. I see it in my little boy too, that curiosity and getting stung because of it, but never letting the fear of getting stung deter him from trying to approach whatever it is again and again and in new and slightly different ways. Bees particularly are astounding creatures, so tiny but the fate of the world seems to hang in their little (hands? legs? wings? need to google bee anatomy. again.)… So small but one small bee killed a loved one almost two years ago. Anyway, thank you for sharing this. Thank you for bringing me back to my memories of those first stings, literal and figurative. One of my dear friends has a quote on her facebook page that says, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things”… I realize bees aren’t sweaty (that’s another thing for me to google!), but for some reason it popped into my head when I read your dialogue with Craig.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      ((Bek)) Thank you for your comment. I am not exactly sure how to respond, but I am moved that this spoke to you, and brought you back to a place or memory of bittersweet innocence… Though it doesn’t change our loss, sometimes that helps us even our or reframe the more difficult times when we are reminded of our childhood selves and perspectives.

      I love your description of your own experience and how that relates to what you see in your son.

      “…surrounded by a nature preserve and most of my childhood was spent walking in the wild, getting lost, and finding my way back.” Such a beautiful line. I get it… this is adventure and freedom and risk… and I guess ultimately, life!


  9. Alana says:

    I spent a lot of time keeping my youngest sister from having things like this happen to her. Being stung by her friends the bees was ok…that just hurt and she would get upset that her friend would do that to her. But she also had an unfortunate tendency to play with black widows…or if possible, to not learn the difference between the other spiders and black widows. So many times I ended up getting yelled at for killing her friend (you really shouldn’t hold a black widow).

    But wandering through trees is the best way to spend childhood and it is quite sad that some of my climbing trees aren’t big enough to support me anymore. Or have been cut down.


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