“Mom come quick, there is a bear in our backyard.”
When my 8-year-old daughter makes such a statement around 8:20 in the evening my immediate response is not “Oh my goodness, let me come check it out!”
You see in our house (and I’m guessing in many of your houses too….) that’s the time of night when all sorts of things can happen. For example, my daughter may suddenly determine that she MUST have that old ratty stuffed bunny in the basement to get to sleep (you know, the one she hasn’t played with in about five months and I’m amazed she still remembers). Or she may decide that the library book in the back seat of the car is the ONLY one she could possibly read before bed. Or she may realize that despite the giant bowl of pasta, side dish of broccoli, seven cookies, and yogurt shake, she is so famished that she NEEDS a glass of milk and a banana in order to fall asleep.
So when I hear such a phrase at such a time of night I tend to do one of two things (and either may be accompanied by an eye roll).
- Tell my daughter to stop fooling around and get back into bed
- Make a sarcastic comment like “Oh yeah, and there’s a monkey on the roof!”
In this case, I chose to do both.
But my daughter was insistent, so I went to take a look.
Lo and behold (make fun of me all you want for using that phrase, but in this case it works), there actually was a large black bear ambling across our backyard. We’ve lived in Weston for seven years and we’ve seen a lot of things in our backyard. We’ve had coyotes, and foxes, and baby deer, and neighbor’s dogs (and kids), and birds and bugs of all shapes and sizes. But I have never seen a bear that wasn’t a) stuffed and usually a lovely pastel shade, b) staring vacantly at me through plated glass at a museum, c) behind a fence and bars at a zoo, or d) animated and singing a tune on a large screen.
Seeing a live bear about two feet off your back porch is a bit disconcerting. It’s like a surreal game of “One of these things doesn’t belong here” – especially when you realize one of these things REALLY doesn’t belong here!
So what’s a mom to do upon sighting a bear in her backyard? Well, I immediately began counting. Luckily I only had to count to four, two children and two dogs, all inside.
My older daughter ran to the window and kept repeating “This is so cool!” My younger daughter leaped into my arms and started yelling “Don’t let the bear in the house!” No worries my child, no chance of that happening.
My dogs, well…let’s just say that my dogs aren’t as astute as my children and so it was only after we all gathered at the window that they started barking. Truthfully I’m not sure if they even could tell there was a large animal outside, I think they just figured something exciting was happening and they wanted in on it.
My next coherent thought was to call animal control (as a long-time Weston resident, I’ve called that number before, but luckily this was the first time someone actually picked up!). I had a lenghty conversation with….so sorry, you were lovely to speak to and yet I have absolutely no recognition of your name! Please forgive me as I was a little thrown off by that whole bear-in-my-backyard thing. Anyway, I learned that bear cubs had been sighted close to my neighborhood. I learned that the furry beast wandering across our yard was most likely the mama given that she had to weigh about 250-300 pounds. I learned that the Department of Environmental Protection was monitoring bear sightings in Connecticut. And I learned that I would have received a little more acclaim if I had actually gotten a picture.
Since I had the phone and a few moments of lucid thinking, I called my next door neighbor (who also happens to be a good friend). “Everyone out of the pool NOW,” was her immediate response. Personally, I didn’t think the bear would have joined in a pool party, but this is Fairfield County so who knows.
Then I sat down with my children for a quick course in Bear Safety 101. I didn’t take the time to confer with Google, I just went with my gut and some brief recollection of a few hours of Animal Planet when it was the only channel I could get on a Jet Blue flight ages ago. We covered the basics: stay calm, move slowly toward the house, don’t antagonize the bear. And since my kids were huge fans of Little Bear when they were younger, we spent some extra time chatting about how this one probably wasn’t friends with Duck and Cat and wouldn’t invite you home to bake cookies and sing in a band.
And we made some new rules about playing in the yard: stay on the lawn, don’t wander into the woods without an adult, and look both ways before crossing (my younger daughter suggested that one and really, how could you ever go wrong with it?)
(By the way, I did my obligatory Google search later that evening and was pleased to find I was fairly on target. Although the DEP guidelines did suggest shouting at the bear which intrigued me - what exactly are you supposed to shout? Get off my property? We already donated to the World Wildlife Foundation? Try the neighbor’s house, they have a cat?)
Ironically, we’ve been talking a lot about “curse words” lately at our house. Yes, as my good friends know well, I’ve been known to follow-up a stubbed toe, a spilled plate, a really (really) bad day with a well-chosen and well-placed four-letter word. And my kids are at the age where other kids start testing out swears. I’ve tried to help my daughters understand that words are indeed powerful, but they are also just strings of letters and thus should be considered carefully and used wisely.
Now, if there ever was a truly curseworthy moment, a time when a well-placed swear would perfectly capture the sentiment and the situation, well I think seeing a 250 pound black bear wander across your yard is one. So I gave my children the green light to go ahead and break out a good one. “Holy crap!” yelled my younger daughter. “That was the darndest thing I ever did see,” exclaimed my older daughter.
And I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Michelle Albright has two kids, two dogs, a PhD in Psychology, and occasionally a bear in her backyard. She is a Weston resident and currently directs Albright Educational Consulting which provides a range of services for children, families, schools, and communities, in order to enhance children’s social, emotional, and academic success. To learn more please visit www.albrighteducationalconsulting.com