Monday, May 14, 2018

"Bye, Bye, Butterfly!"

For the past several years, the grandfather of two of the children enrolled in our school has taken it upon himself to purchase caterpillars, lady bug larva, and, more recently, a praying mantis egg sac. It's the gift of metamorphosis, a process that we watch over the course of a few weeks. For whatever reason, our classroom climate must have been perfect this year because every single caterpillar pupated quickly and became a fully formed painted lady butterfly. In years past there have always been one or two that haven't made it or that emerged from their chrysalis somehow deformed and unable to fend, but these, to my eye, were as nature intended.

I've been telling the children the "story" of the butterfly lifecycle over and over again. Each time children gathered around to peer at the caterpillars or chrysalid I would say, "Caterpillars are born from tiny eggs, they eat leaves and get bigger, then they split their skin and form their chrysalis where they turn into butterflies. After they emerge we will let them go outside so they can find mates and lay eggs so we will have more caterpillars." Sometimes they ask me to tell it again and again, especially the youngest children. We have a song we sing about the process. We compare this story to that of the ladybugs or to the seeds we've planted. I usually call them "circle stories," because they go on and on, round and round. Some of the older children have started identifying other circle stories, like the ones about weeks or seasons or even our own human lifecycle.

The lifetime of a butterfly is short, only a couple weeks. In years past, we've made the mistake of keeping them in their cages too long, releasing them when they're already too geriatric to fulfill their part in the lifecycle, except as food for something else. That's why I've made sure to emphasize the part about us letting them go outside. I wanted the children to know it was coming.

Last week, we took the butterflies outside. They had been quite active indoors in their cage, but outside where it was a bit breezy, they grew still, something the children noticed.

"Maybe they're shy."

"I think they're scared."

"I don't think they want to leave us."

Then finally, one fluttered out and away into the sky. Spontaneously, all of us, the children and their parents, called out, "Bye bye, butterfly!" As we stood waiting for the next to take flight, one of the girls urged everyone to take a step back so the butterflies could feel "safer." Her classmates complied. Then another took to the sky to a chorus of "Bye, bye, butterfly!" One by one over the course of the next 15 minutes, they launched themselves. A couple failed, tumbling to the ground, a dangerous place on a playground, but we were careful, waiting with still feet until they finally figured it out. The last one was reluctant to leave. It was still feeding on the sugar water we had manufactured to feed them, but finally it too fluttered away as we called after it, "Bye, bye, butterfly."

When the last one was gone, a boy burst into tears. He had wanted to keep one. I told him the story again, the circle story about butterflies, about us all, but it didn't console him, at least not right away. One of the butterflies then made another pass overhead, hunting for food, looking for a mate. I pointed it out to the boy who stopped crying long enough to notice it. He said, his eyes still awash, "Bye, bye, butterfly." And then it was gone, off to fulfill its destiny.

The Butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
And hasn't any tax to pay
And hasn't any Home
Is just as high as you and I,
And higher, I believe,
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve --
                                                           ~Emily Dickinson

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