Yellow Jacket Sisters

We had trauma this past month. And I do mean trauma.

At one point, I sat on a crate in a tight circle facing heart-wrench-crying children. We huddled, our backs to danger, our knees and heads crunched in together. Through their tears, the children cast quick fearful glances over their shoulders looking for bees. What kind of bees were they??? We couldn’t even investigate because their fear of these buzzing creatures was overwhelming.

Three children had been stung by yellow jackets. The stings had not happened at school, but the memories and the desire to not be stung again ruled the day(s). The change of seasons and rain patterns brought honey bee drones kicked out of their hives to the playground. Actually we didn’t know if they were honey bee drones because the fear of yellow jackets took over everything else.

It was heartbreaking.

The crate sitting session happened after days and days of tension and fear that brought us to the point where these children could no longer even move in the play yard. Sitting was their only option. Soothing chatter and encouraging further investigation only brought little moments of comfort. One of the parents brought in a book of Greek myths (linked below) featuring the myth about how the honey bee got its single-opportunity sting, but we couldn’t even crack it open because of the tears and these were building to screams as a bee hovered in and around the seated group.

The fearful crying was interspersed with forceful warnings (and reminders) to stay still, stay still. One of the terrorized children KNEW all the facts about staying still, about how the bee could be looking for moisture or sugary food and drink, and he was able to remind himself and the others to stay still, but all that did NOTHING to relieve his utter terror of this buzzing insect.

We had been in a holding pattern for days, trying to get a good look at one of these buzzers. The tear-filled reminders worked for one of the children who had not experienced a recent (or ever) sting and she stood resolute and still as still — a true gift for her peers and we were able to finally got a photo of the insect to confirm that it was indeed a honey bee! The knowledge that a honey bee could only sting once and identifying it as a honey bee chipped away at the fear gripping these children.

A honey bee drone. Standing still and allowing us to get a photo helped us both identify the flying insect and provided comfort to the children gripped in fear of getting stung.

A honey bee drone. Standing still and allowing us to get a photo helped us both identify the flying insect and provided comfort to the children gripped in fear of getting stung.

Now that we got the photo, we turned to research and play to address the fear. So many good things happened over the next weeks. We read Fire Race, A Karuk Coyote Tale (linked below) which features three of the most fabulous characters ever — THE YELLOW JACKET SISTERS!

These sisters are so compelling that they instantly inspired play. This is how you play Yellow Jacket Sisters. First, you tell your other sisters how old you are. You find some fire to protect. We have a lot of charred wood from campfires in the yard, so that was easy to do. You figure out who you will give fire to (sometimes Coyote) and who you won’t (sometimes Raven). Then you make food for your baby sisters. They’re so hungry and they only like sweet things! Once all that is sorted, you find a good nest. After that then you keep that nest doorway clear, and finally you protect the fire from Raven and Coyote all while keeping clear of Bald-faced Hornet Queens.

This play, which is absolutely scaffolded by an adult and inspired by and held close through story, was set in motion to resolve the overwhelming fear of yellow jackets. It is for-real a very enjoyable bit of play I have to say mainly because it leaves a lot of room for additional research and detail.

A hibernating Bald-faced Hornet Queen.

A hibernating Bald-faced Hornet Queen.

When we visited the forest recently, the children uncovered two barely hibernating Bald-faced hornet Queens in a rotten log. These hornets are not hornets, but are a kind of yellow jacket!!! But they EAT those stinging yellow jackets. What a fabulous predator. They eat so many yellow jackets that the inside of their hives are often tinted yellow.

Oh, the children hung on every word, I tell you.

Then, all the stories and all the play allowed the yellow jacket-stung children to come into their own power when I discovered a yellow jacket hive at the base of one of our cut trees on the brick path. The day was cool enough that the yellow jackets were quietly, slowly busy. The children were able to observe how the launched and grounded, like slowly hovering aircraft, in and out of their hole. The doorway of their hive was “clean as clean” because their wings shimmer and buzz away debris — so easy to see the hole! They also got to see the yellow jackets flight pattern change as some signal from us turned up their agitation, but because we held still their agitation limited itself to loops in their flight pattern but they still maintained this in and out, in and out of their hive. None approached us.

All of this enriched their play. All of this brings us closer to making sure that the outdoors and nature is not seen as a place that works against us, but holds something that works beyond us and works with us. We are its protectors even if it means protecting those things that sting and bite.

The Yellow Jacket Sisters (aged 8, 10, and 1) keep the entrance to their hive clean as clean.

The Yellow Jacket Sisters (aged 8, 10, and 1) keep the entrance to their hive clean as clean.

Fire Race
By J. London, S. Long