Making a Butterfly

Having  children has filled me with so much appreciation for life… creation, growth… the profound and beautiful mystery that is becoming…

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When you become a mom you learn new things every day…

Who your children are… what they love… what they dislike… what scares them.

You discover the preferences they have for everything from how they wear their socks to the way their food should be served.

You become an expert in behavior, psychology, and discipline – whether you want to or not.

You learn physics, medicine, toxic chemistry, and the edible or in-edible nature of just about everything.

You discover (or re-discover) rocket ships, dinosaurs, princesses, sand castles and clouds.

You learn hidden functions on your phone that you never imagined were there.  (Why are kids so innately good with technology?)

You learn things about yourself – the limits of your patience, the depth of your devotion and the expanse of your inner restlessness.

Your kids are always showing you new things.  Often you discover them together.  In this case, we learned about caterpillars, metamorphosis, butterflies… and the mind bending beauty of life itself.

My daughter Estella never cared that much for bugs until after we explored the world of caterpillars.  Now every time she finds any insect she jumps up with excitement and wants to know everything there is to know about them.

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The first thing you will need if you want to explore this project yourself… is a caterpillar. We picked monarchs because they are abundant in our neighborhood. You will find monarch caterpillars over the summer months feeding out of a plant called milkweed. Odds are you might have not even noticed the plant until you start looking for caterpillars, and then you will realize it’s everywhere around you.

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My neighbor, Bella, directed the project at first since I had no previous experience with caterpillars.  She picked them up and at first they curled up in a bun. However, it was not long before they were playfully crawling up her arms as we were all getting to know each other.

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The girls went all around the neighborhood collecting milkweed, flowers and pretty leaves to decorate a house for our caterpillars.

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At first we used a big tupperware.  As the days progressed we ended up moving them to a nicer caterpillar house. We made an oldschool, homemade house for them.  If yours want a more stylish house, there are lots of different types of butterfly houses and butterfly kits on the market.

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Daily we fed the caterpillars milkweed. They ate and ate.  We had to gather loads of milkweed as we were raising 8 of them! We also had to clean the house daily and remove all the droppings. Sometimes we would take the caterpillars out and place them on the plant itself so they could eat freely.  Estella, my 4-year-old, was so enchanted with them.  She wanted to take them to the park often and show them to everyone we knew.  Those caterpillars definitely got their fair share of attention!

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They became our pets for a week. They were the perfect pets. The children cared for them, fed them, played with them, watched them grow, and then released them into the world… all in such a short period of time.  If you find your child asking for a pet, but don’t want anything you have to care for long-term, these are perfect!

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By far the most stunning miracle was when they started crawling to the top of their house on a mission to transform. In place of caterpillars we would find bright green chrysalises. They were smooth and so incredibly perfect.  They looked like jewels.  Dazzling.

On the bottom of their home there was a little liquid splash and part of their body that they released when they made the chrysalis.

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7 to 10 days later the chrysalises started changing color.  They turned a deep black.   We began to see the wings through the wall of the chrysalis. It made us impatient knowing that any minute then a butterfly was going to pop out.

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One morning we left to walk our dog and when we returned we found our first butterfly out.  We were all so very excited.  I took a hundred photographs. And then it occurred to me that I was not sure what to do next: how to release it.  So we placed the container’s lid on a plant in our yard and waited for the butterfly to open its wings.  It remained in the yard for almost a day – drying its wings; and then it flew away.

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One by one the others emerged.  Each dried its wings and flew away.

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One day as I was loading the car a monarch came and landed in my hand. That was the last day I saw any of them.

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Ever since then, any time I see a monarch I smile.