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How I (sorta) tried to save a butterfly, but didn’t

Diana Fritillary butterfly

Diana Fritillary butterfly

Imagine our surprise last week when we wheeled into the driveway and piled out of the car for the after-school dash. Backpacks, check. Water bottles, check. Morning warm milk cups, not stinky yet – score! Shoes, socks, purse, check. Phone, check. Piggy and Bunny, check. Things 1 and 2, check and check.

Run, run, run! Only have about 45 minutes to get it all inside, put it away, change Baby Girl for dance, refill her water bottle and pack car snacks.

“Whoa, Mom! Mom! Mommmmm!”

“What? Don’t drop my phone, why have you stopped? Come on, Son!”

“But look!”

“Look at what? We don’t have time … .”

And there it was.

This huge, beautiful black and blue butterfly, trapped on the ground somehow. It couldn’t fly, only sadly flap its little wings in a desperate attempt at lift-off.

Little Son was instantly moved to nurture it. And by nurture it, I mean pick it up very gently and thrust it to me for closer inspection. But I don’t do bugs. Even the pretty ones. Yes, it was beautiful, but when it touched me with its long fuzzythick black feet I nearly wretched. Holy cow, that was AWFUL.

I stifled a scream and fought the rising bile.

“No, we are NOT bringing it inside, Son.”

“Could we build it a habitat in the garage then?”

Habitat? Huh? Seems that he was learning quite a bit about bugs in Mrs. Mary’s pre-school class last year.

We found it a box.

Presenting me with a tiny bouquet of crushed wildflowers picked from the side yard, “Did you know, butterflies eat nectar?”

Ummm, no. No I did not.

He arranged them in a neat little pile in the box.

“Next, we need water. But not too much, Mom. We don’t want it to drown.”

OK … so I filled a small snack size Tupperware lid with water and put it next to the flowers.

Then we trooped inside to find some butterfly first aid tips on the computer. I was not down with what I found.

Here is an excerpt: “If the proboscis does not extend naturally, help it out by uncurling it with a toothpick. Carefully place the toothpick into the center of the curled proboscis. It will look like a coiled watch spring. Then gently uncurl it until it makes contact with the feeding pad. You may have to hold it in place for a minute or so before the butterfly begins feeding. Once the drinking tube is extended, watch for any up-and-down pumping action of the proboscis. If no motion is detected, take the forefinger and thumb of each hand and hold the butterfly’s front wings near the front edges. Hold each front wing, one between each set of your fingers, as close to the butterfly’s body as possible.”

Oh hell no. There was not going to be any handling of a pumping proboscis by this gal.

Nurse Hubs came home shortly and I explained the situation. I left the first aid page up on the computer screen. “Can you try to fix the butterfly while we are at dance?”

He looked at me and tilted his head. (Did I mention he was a hospice nurse for more than a decade?)

“Sometimes Melanie, we just have to let go. This may be the end of its natural lifespan.” All low and calm, reassuring.

Cut the caring act with me, mister. I don’t like bugs. Makes no matter to me, but your son seems to be getting invested here.

Little Son has stopped circling the box on his bike. He has now dragged a chair beside it, and he is hanging over the edge of the box crooning at the darned thing.

Bodacious, who is not remotely interested in the butterfly, and I head off to dance. And then McDonald’s. Because I deserved some fries after this long day! We get home. Surprise! Guess who is still in the garage, watching over his butterfly? Guess who checked on it three more times before I forced him into bed? Guess who was pretty proud of himself for rescuing one of God’s creatures?

When we ran out the door the next morning for school, I noticed that the butterfly was not inside.

Whoohoo! It’s a miracle! We were all excited about the thought of the butterfly happily flying along out there. We’re buckled in and ready for take-off.

“Mom, could you go check in the box to make sure it’s not trapped under one of the flaps?”

Well of course I can! But that would just be silly, that bug has made it! But I go the box, happily inspecting the wilted flowers, the water in the lid. Lift a flap all good, lift a second flap. Not all good. There that critter is, trapped sideways and it looks ummmm, diminished somehow. Like it has been trapped under that flap in my stifling garage for a very long time.

But y’all. I just could not tell him the truth when I got back to the car. It’s his second day of kinder in a new school and he knows no one.

“Did the flowers look like the butterfly drank their nectar all up? Do you think he is happy and going to find his family?”

So I lied. Like a rug. And when I got back after dropping the kids off, I gently overturned the box and tumped the still sort of flapping butterfly onto the concrete.

When I left to run errands, it was still there. When I came back, still there. Then it was time to go get the kids again. Man! Still there! What to do? I could not take another night of watching my son watch over a suffering bug. I scootched it to the grass. The wind blew it back to me. I could leave it there for the kids to find again or I could leave it there for one of the neighborhood birds to munch on.

I didn’t know which was more cruel. Breaking Little Son’s heart or leaving it like not-quite-dead road kill. Hospice Hubs always said pain management played an essential role in the dying process. Hearing his words in my head about the natural end of life for the butterfly, I reached for my flip flop. Quick, with a prayer and the outside trash can. “God speed, little bug. God speed.”

When I picked Little Son up, his first question was about the butterfly. “Did he come back home, Mom? Or do you think he found his family?”

And the way he says family is so cute, like fam-i-wee.

“Yes, he did. He has joined with all the members of his family who went before him Son.”

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