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On Finally Figuring Out That I'm a Bumble Bee Instead of a Honey Bee

alec vanderboom

My husband is a secretly a wildlife biologist. Hanging out with him treats me to the most obscure facts about wild animals and their behavior.

I remember the first time this happened. Jon was six weeks into being my boyfriend. I was in my last year of Law School. You can not image the social drama that over-caffeinated brainiacs can twist themselves into by their third year in Law School.  I came over to my boyfriends house at 11 PM after a four hour fight over affirmative action at a Moot Court Society Board Meeting. He took one look at my exhausted face and dragged me over to his favorite dive bar for a drink.

So I'm sitting there sipping this nasty, bitter, dark beer my boyfriend ordered for me straight from the Tap. I've got my elbows primly pinned to my sides because I'm afraid to touch the nasty, non-wiped bar counter. The bar is 96% men and only 4% women. There is smoke everywhere because this is when bars were still smokey. I'm sitting on an uneven, rocky bar stool thinking "I can't believe Jon thinks that coming here is a soothing ritual for me."

But the guy is really cute and a good listener. So I pour out my whole tale of woe while faking drinking my bitter beer. At the end of, I take a long breath. I say "So, what do you think I should do?"

He's thoughtful for a minute. He takes a sip of dark beer. Then his blue eyes light up with a flash of inspiration.

"It's like a wolf pack in the wild!" he shouts with enthusiasm. On and on an on he goes, with all of these obscure details of wolf pack behavior. The man turns out to be a walking PBS special. 20 minutes of details this man sprouts off without pause, straight from depths of his brain.

At first I'm shocked. Then, I'm a little dismayed. I think I'm being dissed. "Um, I'm talking to you about serious people stuff--race and affirmative action. You're comparing my problems to wolves?" Then the guy's enthusiasm starts to win me over. "This wolf stuff is interesting." Of course, this unusual conversation just proves we're two people with completely different interests. Affirmative action and wolves? "We'll probably break up in a few weeks, I'm just not nature girl enough to sustain an interest over the long haul." I thought sadly. "Which is too bad because he's really cute, kind, and smart, in his own weird Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom kind of way."

Three months later my boyfriend took me to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We saw Grizzly Bears in the wild and Mountain Goats. By then I was totally smitten. I liked learning about a world outside my various Government theories and English Literature Cannon Books. 13 years of marriage later, I'm a total nature girl. Now I'm the mother of 4 Girl Scouts who proudly camps on the open beach among wild horses at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Last week, my husband started talking about the behavior of bumble bees at dinner. "Unlike honey bees, bumble bees are solitary creatures. They fly around alone. They have a special pouch in their bodies that holds the nectar from flowers. Then they feed their children directly from their own mouths. That's different from the honey bees where the young are all cared in a big batch inside a hive and fed from store housed honey."

My brain lit up in a giant metaphor. "That's like me!" I said in wonder. "I'm a bumble bee."

I first thought about that comparison with how we choose to do school. Most Catholics we know send their kids to Catholic school (a hive) or they buy these giant curriculum sets (which is recreating the similar hive honey at home). Meanwhile, I'm the weird unschooler who just stuffs knowledge directly from her head to her kids.

Then there is the whole Carmelite spirituality thing. Most of the time I spend in prayer is alone. I hang out with the Gospels. I pray in silence. Occasionally, I'll check back in with the larger church. I go to Mass on Sunday. I go to my community meetings. I go to confession and research stuff in the Catechism. That "checking in" is important to make sure that I'm not creating an individual "Church of Abigail" instead of being a part of the larger Catholic Church.

Yet on the whole, church is not a "hive activity" for me anymore. It used to be. I'm really social. I grew up Protestant. Most of my earlier memories of church before age 30 are not "intimate times that Jesus touched my soul" but of good times shared in large social gatherings. As a United Methodist, I called those good times "fellowship."

Now the fellowship I feel with God and other people is quieter, but usually deeper. It's the flash of recognition that is shared in deep friendship. Its the hug I get from my husband in the middle of a shared tragedy. Sometimes, it's a friendly email from a stranger after reading my blog.

I remember one time I felt a deep sense of longing and loneliness at a Catholic School auditorium in the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. I was there for a parish celebration of St. Nicholas' Feast Day. There were 1,000 kids running around playing carnival games and eating spaghetti. Everywhere there were these Mother volunteers in the know. The ladies wore their most sparkly Christmas sweaters with jingle bell earrings. They ran carnival games. They ran craft tables. They cleared the paper plates of spaghetti and salad.

I had four kids then. I sat at a folding table holding my three month old newborn. I regretted that I hadn't seen in the church bulletin a notice soliciting volunteers for the St. Nicholas Party. Then I realized that all the women I saw helping out all knew each other from the parish school. They probably hadn't even asked the wider parish for volunteers. As a homeschooling parent, I was totally out of the loop.

I felt this sadness that I talked about silently in my heart with God. "I really thought I'd be here." I told him that as soon as I had a kid, I really thought that one day I'd be intimately tied to a school. I'd be the Mom who volunteered to be the room Mom, bring cupcakes at the school parties, and chaperone school field trips. My husband and I love hanging out with kids. I thought we'd be part of this wider school community. Here my kids were running around, enjoying a free party and eating their fill of peppermint candy canes. Instead of feeling part of the group, I was super conscious that I didn't know 98% of these families after attending Mass at this church for the past 2 years. It really hit me in that moment, that homeschooling makes us solitary. That seemed like a big loss.

Now, thanks to this bumble bee metaphor, I feel more healed. I feel comfortable in my own skin. Like or not, God built me to be a bumble bee. I'm unique. I'm solitary. My spouse is unique and solitary. Together we had bumble bee kids. There is something about a hive mentality that for each of us--feels very disturbing and oppressive. It's weird to be an artist. There is something deep that wants to be independent and self-expressive.

That doesn't mean that I can't be social and kind and genuinely interested in other people. After all, Henry David Thoreau, the prototype American hermit loved entertaining company. At the core of my being, I'm a bumble bee. I like hanging out with Jesus alone in the flower fields, gathering inspiration. I like growing my own food and making my own pies. I like teaching my kids myself without a workbook. I like the rhythm of Carmel, with it's 29 days of solitary prayer and 1 day of community meetings.

Most of all, I really like the spouse that Jesus paired me up with 14 years ago. God really knows what suits me far, far better than I know myself.