A non-outdoorsy mom tries to snag a butterfly net

Iam not an outdoorsy mom. I'm a bookish mom, of the nonsewing variety.

My friend Gloria is an outdoorsy mom. I also suspect she sews. I try to remain open-minded, remembering her many fine qualities.

Like the fact that my 5-year-old adores her. After all, she has frogs in her backyard and a Venus flytrap she lets him feed. Who could ask for more?

When I was a kid, my mother's friends had hobbies like painting ceramics and collecting Tupperware. If I gave Gloria some Tupperware she, like my son, would immediately poke holes in the lid and use it as a frog house.

Recently, my outdoor-loving friend Gloria gave a book to my outdoor-loving son, Nicholas, containing 50 "easy" nature crafts for children.

"Easy" is in the eye of the beholder.

The two of them flipped through the book, all eager in anticipation.

"I did this one," chirped Gloria. Nicky studied the photos.

It was a pond. The woman had built a pond in her yard. I can't imagine waking up one morning, yawning, thinking, "Today I'll put a pond in the backyard."

Nicky never mentioned the pond again, which may signal a previously unrecognized developmental stage: The age of knowing Mom's limitations.

He picked another project: a butterfly net. There was a color photo of the supplies. A photo of capable-looking hands sewing (!) the net together. A full-page shot of tan kids, outdoors, with beautiful nets. Smiling.

"I think you can buy these already made at Wal-Mart," I said, a traitor to the concept of quality time. I'd rather deal with guilt than the directions in this book.

Nick wore me down by bringing me the book every few minutes, to explain how "wimple the directions were." By the end of the afternoon, the book automatically opened to the net page.

So I tried.

The netting: This was the easy part. Netting, I discovered, comes in colors. I paid extra to get bright blue instead of white. I figured it would give all those grasshoppers and low-flying robins fair warning. I bought a lot, since I was fairly sure I'd flub my first attempts.

The handle: Nick brought me sticks he'd been saving. Mostly they were covered with mud and leaves because he'd poured glue on them – part of his pre-net project, building a club house for the neighborhood dogs who stop by to visit Nick and poop in our yard.

The clip: The directions said we needed something called a "jubilee clip," which, in the helpful accompanying photo, looked like a really ugly ring. I lugged the whole book to the hardware store. Experience had taught me that whatever this thing was, hardware store clerks called it something else.

"Looks like a pipe clamp," said the hardware man. "I don't carry little ones like that. Try the auto parts store."

"Pipe clamp?" The auto parts clerk has never heard of those, but he had a hose clamp which, amazingly, looked exactly like a jubilee clip.

Nicky and I were very excited. I began to feel handy. I strutted on the way back to the house, where we assembled all our supplies. Almost all.

The handle, Part II: What looked like a stick was actually, according to the no-doubt outdoorsy author, a bamboo cane.

What the heck is a bamboo cane? Studying my simple step-by-step instructions, I discover it is a long hollow stick. Outside of this book, I have never seen one that wasn't part of a wicker lawn chair or sticking out of a panda bear's mouth.

Nicky proposes we use the wooden handle from the snow shovel he broke while he was waiting for me to finish reading the directions.

Creative kid. But the snow shovel is the size of a broom handle, much too large for our hose clamp. More, in fact, the size of the pipe clamp we passed up at the hardware store. There is no chance in the world I'll go there again to be snickered at.

We go to the drugstore and buy a bag of M&Ms to share while we contemplate our options.

By the cash register, there's a display of wooden back scratchers made in China, where panda bears live. Panda bears, you will recall, eat bamboo. This all makes perfect sense to me. The back scratcher isn't hollow or the right diameter, but at the moment I'm convinced this isn't a problem.

The important thing, the vital thing, is that it fits my hose clamp. Almost. A hammer and some duct tape fix it fine.

Gloria calls. I thank her for the book (I'm a saint) and mention the many steps we enjoyed on the way to our finished net.

"A back scratcher?" she says. "Should have called me. You could've used a dowel. I've got tons of those."

Of course she does.

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