Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Several weeks ago my children found newly hatched caterpillars on the underside of a milkweed leaf at a friend's house. They were tiny mites, one barely visible. The friend kindly tucked the leaves with the caterpillar nibs into a Panera cup for the girls to bring home.
Over the next few days and weeks we would watch them grow as they nibbled their way through those leaves. They and their Panera cup home took up residence on our kitchen counter where we could watch their progress. The tiny specks became little wormy caterpillars, became big striped caterpillars. We laughed to see them double in size in a day as they munched heartily on the milkweek leaves we fed them. And we gagged as the bottom of the cup filled with their droppings and had to be carefully dumped. Always, always, the younger one was just a bit smaller, just a day behind the other. And so as one went, we knew the other would also.
A week and a half ago, I came down in the morning to find a chrysalis where there once had been a caterpillar. And a few hours later his brother took up the hanging "J" form in the Panera cup. Pretty soon, he too had become a small greenish blob with a band of golden beads draped along the top like a necklace. We've held our breaths since then, carefully trying not to jostle the cup, as if doing so could break the hold of the chrysalis on the lid of the cup. Bah! How we doubted the tenacity of this things. They appeared so fragile. We'd watched one chrysalis die before in this stage. We wondered what would happen this time.
By Sunday evening one of them had become clear, so clear that we could see the orangish wings of the monarch butterfly inside. And then, yesterday morning, it became black. Certainly this is the end, I thought. And it was an end of sorts. By lunchtime it had become dried looking. I took the Uber-Princess to get groceries.
When we returned home, I carefully set the groceries on the counter so as not to disturb the Panera cup. What I saw made me gasp, first in horror. Then...in delight! That tiny dried black chrysalis had been replaced by a large, beautiful orange and black butterfly!! I watched as the splindly black legs curled and uncurled, grasping to hold onto the lid so that the butterfly could suspend itself to let its wings dry.
After school my children and I took the cup outside. I carefully held the lid aloft, now aware that the still-green chrysalis could handle some shifting and movement. The butterfly began to flutter in the cup. Carefully, I shook it out onto the ground. Immediately it felt the wind under its wings and began to fly. First slowly, near the ground, with a few shakey dips. And then quickly, oh too quickly, it soared up, up, up. My heart rose and then sank as our butterfly took off up over the roof of our house. So soon it was gone.
It's like that for us moms, isn't it? We hold these tiny things in our arms and watch them grow and change. We feed them and dispose of their waste. We marvel at how much they eat. And then one day while we're out for groceries, they emerge, beautiful and stunning. And we set them free to fly, thrilled and devastated at the same time.