Monday, October 10, 2011

Butterflies Are NOT Free

The cost of these colorful, lovely creatures? My stress levels and peace of mind.

I got Max one of those butterfly gardens for his birthday. I thought it'd be fun and educational and pretty cool to watch the caterpillars transform to butterflies before our very eyes. Do you see the kids' faces on the box? I wanted that to be us.

He loved the present from the moment he opened it and I explained what it was. I immediately ordered the caterpillars and we eagerly awaited their arrival. They arrived within a week, six caterpillars in a plastic jar with all kinds of specific, scary instructions ("DO NOT TOUCH THE JAR FOR TWO DAYS WHEN THEY CLIMB TO THE TOP").

The caterpillars became our mutual obsession: every hour, like clockwork, we'd comment on them, speculate about what was to come, discuss how we'd decorate their home. We'd take turns circling around the jar, making sure they were eating, growing, and climbing up toward the top of the jar to start becoming cocoons.

About a week later, they did. One by one, each caterpillar became a cocoon, and it was indeed pretty neat. In a couple of days, they were all cocoons, and then, it was time for him to start his days with his dad. So I called his dad up and was like, "You have to come get these cocoons! He can't miss seeing them open up!!" So, that's what he did, came over the night before Max was due back with him and picked up the jar, which I'd swaddled with soft cloth and placed in a box. I shoved the instructions ("MAKE A SOLUTION OF 1/5 SUGAR AND WATER, THEN PLACE AN OUNCE OF THIS MIXTURE IN A BOTTLE IN THE PAVILION. CREATE A WICK OUT OF PAPER TOWELS AND PLACE IN BOTTLE, THEY WILL SUCK FROM IT." W.T.F.?????) at him, wished him well, and fully expected the cocoons to open at his place.

Except that they didn't, and the night before switch day, we discuss the situation and I agree to pass by after class to pick the pavilion up. So I take a midterm, haul ass to his house, and see that the cocoons look about ready to open up. The habitat looks nice, he did a rig with some chopsticks to place the cocoons so they'd hang down like they're supposed to and loaded it with leaves and sticks, but we're both stressing because the instructions specified mallow and hollyhock as the butterflies' preferred food, and neither of those are readily available here. So already, I'm getting nervous: WHAT DO THESE BUTTERFLIES EAT IN THE TROPICS?

I create a nest on the floor of my car with a soft blanket and place the habitat on it. The five-minute drive home is the most harrowing of my life. Those cocoons seem to be hanging by a slip of nothing and they're shaking so much I'm sure they're going to fall off and die and I'll have to tell my son when he wakes up the next morning that mommy killed his butterflies. I keep turning the light on and checking on them. We make it home intact and I'm so relived I could cry.

Over the next few days, the cocoons open one by one. Each one is miraculous, to see it crack open, see how the butterfly emerges kinda wet-looking with the wings curled up. Within minutes, it's moving around the habitat, and soon enough, flying. Max's delight and amazement are totally worth the stress, because with each one that comes out, he is more and more mesmerized. We had three come out within an hour of each other one morning, and he could barely control himself.

But then, the real problem begins for me: I have to keep all six butterflies alive. An infant is a piece of pie compared to six butterflies! Every second that I'm home, I'm like, are they eating any of these plants? Is that sugar solution enough nutrition? I clean up the pavilion a bit and bring in some colorful flowers (stolen from my sister's house, no less), and I wonder if they're pleased with it. Will they nibble on these? Suck the nectar? Are they happy in there??

One of them doesn't move for a bit, and there I am, poking it (and subsequently freaking it the hell out), to make sure it's alive. My son is counting on me to keep them alive, and the pressure is unbearable. I keep thinking it's only a matter of time before my helpful but passive approach starts to fail and I'm going to need extreme measures to keep these butterflies alive, but I don't know that I'm cut out for this. I can't let them take over my life!

But overall, they seem active, lots of crawling and flying and what looks like sexual activity, so I figure all is well. Even so, I keep muttering at them, don't die, don't die!

Except that these creatures are supposed to lay eggs soon, and I feel a whole new wave of anxiety: are these the right leaves for them to lay eggs on? Is there a good ratio of male to female? How soon will this happen? And - whoa! - do you mean to tell me I'm going to have to do this all over again?

I tell Max that this week, on the last mommy day, we're setting them free. I've been telling him for days that we did this to see them change and grow, but that they need to be free, out in our yard and all over the neighborhood to visit as many plants as they want. He agrees but also muses that by then, they'll have "definitely" laid eggs and we'll get to do this all over again yay yay yay!

I can't handle this stress and am so hoping these suckers are sterile.


Behold, butterflies:


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Posted by Tere @ 10/10/2011   | | | links to this post