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The boy and the butterflies

Submitted by on Thursday, 8 September 2011 No Comment

Boots  loves critters – anything with fur, feathers and fins. He’s always loved winged creatures the best, so I suppose it was inevitable that once the infomercials hit we would be buying a butterfly kit eventually.

The time arrived when we saw one in a museum gift shop this summer. “Oooooh!” he moaned. “I’ve wanted to do this my whole life! Can we get in, Momma! Please! We can grow them and let them go and they can fly to Mawmaw’s. She has that bush in her yard that’s just for butterflies.”

He’s so hard to resist when he asks sweetly. I found myself agreeing to buy worms to crawl around on my kitchen counter.

He waited impatiently for the few days it took the caterpillars to arrive, punctually checking the mail every afternoon because I’d warned him that the critters wouldn’t fare well in our 110-degree weather. Finally, the box came.

He was disappointed to see the caterpillars curled up in the bottom of sealed plastic cups. He must have thought they really were going to crawl around the counter. “This one is a goner,” he said pessimistically an hour later as he eyed one that had been immobile since arrival.

“Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “The instructions said that some might be really still for a while but they’ll be OK by the next day.”

He frowned, and I feared the worst, especially after reading a small percentage of online reviews blasting the company for sending them caterpillars that were kaput on arrival. The next morning, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Hey, look! The indestructions were right! He’s moving!” Boots smiled.

And so it went for the next week or so. He bounced out of bed every morning to tell his critters hello. He stopped short of naming them, but he did comment on how much each had grown over night. He eyed them intently in the afternoon to see if the ones crawling toward the top of the cup were ready to stay there and form their chrysalides. Finally, they did.

“What now?” he asked.

“We wait. They should be ready to come out in a week or so.”

“Ah, just like we learned in preschool.”

Yes, just like he learned in preschool. Except this was better, because he could see it before his very eyes. He could show it off to his friends. He could brag about it at the bus stop.

Finally, one afternoon just before school let out the first butterfly emerged. He wasn’t there to see it happen, but he was over the moon when he got home. “My babies! My babies are here!”

A few weeks later, it was decision time. The butterflies have a life span of only about a month. While Boots knows that creatures eventually die – we’ve lost three hamsters – I didn’t necessarily need to make that point again.

I also knew, though, to choose wisely when we released them. I didn’t want to let them out in the full blast of the desert heat, and a teacher at his school had told me to be careful of birds. Her first-grade class had watched in horror one year as the butterflies were devoured shortly after they were released.

We picked a cool, breezy evening when the sun was barely peaking over the mountains and took the net-cage outside. Boots unzipped the top, and three quickly fluttered out. Several others had to be coaxed, and two were dead in the bottom of the cage. Boots buried them behind the fence. “I need to do this so God will take them up to heaven,” he said solemnly.

That left one reticent creature in the bottom of the cage. I gently scooped it up, and it fluttered on my hand. It took off momentarily before falling to the ground.

“He’s a goner,” Big Guy said.

“No, he’s not. He’s going to fly. C’mon, boy. You can do it!” Boots cheered.

We watched intently as the minutes ticked by and the flutter-then-fall pattern continued. “He’s  making his wings strong enough,” Boots said knowingly.

“C’mon! You can do it!” Big Guy, now a believer too, pleaded. “Fly to sweet freedom!”

And finally he did, fluttering  first over the fence and then soaring across the rooftops. No birds were in sight.

“Hey, guys! He’s headed East. Maybe he really is going to Mawmaw’s,” I said.

“He’s going to love that butterfly bush!” Boots added.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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