Love Just Kinda Hangs Out With Butterflies by Kathryn Merrifield

The Insect Lore butterfly kit arrived without the caterpillars so they, about six of them, arrived in a separate shipment.  All I could recall was watching the butterfly release during the event at my children’s preschool.  It was a parent co-op and every day a parent volunteered to support the class.  If a parent was not available for their rotating slot, then the parent was to pay a nominal fee for a substitute.  It sounds easier than it was and involved childcare for me when I was caring for three small children at once.  Anyone was able to attend the butterfly release though.  Connective thought tissue to those two memories seems only linked by the fact that in both cases, I had to pay extra.  The caterpillars were a surprise.

Children from my oldest son’s class formed a circle out on the side lawn at the church where the school was located.  Siblings were invited that day and all were excited as one of the lead teachers brought out the wide tube of enclosed netting.  She held it by the nylon handle, placed it on the bright, green spring grass outside of the Methodist Church on Boston Post Road, then lead the children in a song of which I don’t recall… though I do remember the many times I sang, not well, to my children – my oldest especially.  I sang until he ate:  Raffi and Dan Zanes and Wee Silly Songs but Raffi especially.  There was not one thing about being a new mother that I didn’t like.  Even the sleep deprivation seemed a mere inconvenience.  That’s all it was.  All it was everything to me.

One aspect did bother me though – the one thing that I did not expect, though I have no idea what it was that I expected.  Perhaps it was that my love would suffice.  That I would know.  What bothered me was my ignorance, my unfamiliarity: the not knowing what to do.  Not just learning how to read while nursing, how to comfort colic, how to heal from a C-section (three of them, actually) and move through the pain of abdominal surgery or have faith that my grossly swollen kankles were that way because I didn’t get up to walk after childbirth soon enough and that they would go away (though I knew it would because I just became a mom so anything was possible).  Meeting the expectation that I was to know the answers to everything like the signs of a bilateral inguinal hernia and how to cope with my son’s outpatient surgery at five weeks old.  Then his nine-month-old diagnosis of a coarctation of the aorta and planning his surgery that demanded its correction.  Not other diagnoses or other problems.  Not knowing immediately that I had to consult with the most magical lactation consultant on the planet so I could get my sleepy infant daughter to eat using a special bottle originally created only for babies born with cleft palates.  Or, having my third child, my son’s frenulum snipped because he was tongue tied, then using the same method I’d used with my daughter to also get him to eat.

One would think, that mothers really just have to figure out ways to get their children to eat.  It’s pretty basic but my powers of empathy and imagination cannot summon the sense of dread and failure that would strangle my heart should I not be able to feed my kids.  Problem-solving and immediacy are two things I learned that I would have liked to have learned prior to having my children.  Perhaps I did know but there was no need so exacting for me to be good enough at this particular art.

Not this.  Not that.

“It takes a village to raise a child” is something that I did not fully understand until now.  Mothers need all of it.  We don’t raise our kids in our little village anymore with extended family on hand to help with both the extra set of hands and eyes, the wisdom and words and solutions to problems we now have to find via heartless Google search, a capable and connected pediatrician or friends in a supportive new mother’s group (best option).

So, when I hear mothers criticized for over-programming their kids or doing something wrong, I may agree with some of it.  But on the flip-side of that, where I found my answers was with other mothers who told me where to go and who to see.  Doctors, yes, but even my son’s first pediatrician told me that the reason that medicine also has its gaps and for that reason is referred to as the “medical arts.”  I didn’t find much solace in that.  I found that it made me frightened enough to know that constant advocacy and questioning of those around me, including medical professionals and people who loved me and raised me, was the only way to find an answer, and that answer was typically with my other mom friends – the honest ones who shared their problems to obtain solutions.

That day on the grass for the butterfly release was its own sweet and simple net of pure joy: smiles, little legs running around, delighted song and the reverie that accompanies the eventual kiss of spring’s arrival.

Photos bring the experience back to me fully and my spirit is lightened by it.  Those teachers were truly loving.  Each one of those butterflies took flight as though summoned by a conductor.  It seemed the were ready to do as expected.  Maybe they sensed the frantic and eager energy of the children and parents watching from the circle around them who said, “Go.  Now.  Fly.”

My realization as I sit down on the sofa to write about my attempt to “grow” my own butterflies is simply that those seasoned nurturers had the repeated experience of growing butterflies more times than I who had none.  They’d released the butterflies before.  It’s not likely that they let the one chrysalis stranded at the bottom of its original container live like I did.  But perhaps they’d done it before and learned. They learned that perhaps one would need to stay.

None of our butterflies flew away on command.  It’s almost as if they sensed my inexperience and my hesitation.  “Were they ready yet?”  “Is it the right time?”  “I can’t possibly open up the top now because the one with the wings destroyed by its bad luck can’t fly and has to spend its life here with me.”

This butterfly with the bent wings is now named Jerry.  This one stepped onto my finger this morning because all of his siblings flew away in their own time, literally one at a time, and when they were ready.  This butterfly seemed to not enjoy but need to flutter around spastically in my hand, trying to use the wings it had been given but could not use.  Jerry pretty much just needs physical therapy and a little bit of company plus watermelon slices.  It’s not much for what I know will be a short life from my perspective, but for this, I don’t need a Google search, I only need some patience and life-won wisdom.  Perhaps if I talk to the little creature, I can get it to eat.

Perhaps while I’m here I’ll do my best to love the guy…

Love is the most gentle teacher.

Love just kinda hangs out with butterflies.