- Family and Parenting
The Butterfly Effect - Childhood Traditions and Lessons
There are not many things I remember from my childhood and most of the things I do remember came from a time I would rather forget. My parents separated when I was eleven or twelve and a lot of things went wrong in my life from there.
I had to step forward at a very young age and take care of my younger sisters because my father worked a lot of long hours. I moved out when I was 18 and instead of going to collage and setting up a future I took another path. I got a job, a shiny new addiction, and a felony charge that could have all been avoided. So needless to say, my life is littered with things I would like to forget, but there is one thing that I think on fondly everytime I see a bright orange butterfly flutter past me.
Making Memories and Family Traditions
If you are ever near me, walking down a path or in a nearby park, and a monarch goes flying by, you better watch out! I am going to catch that sucker and I don't care who I bulldoze in the process! Then I am going to spend the remaining daylight hours finding the nearest patch of milk-weed and turning over every single leaf on each plant. Why? Let me explain.
When I was a young girl we lived in a farm house with pastures all around us, and there was no shortage of milk-weed plants. Monarch butterflies were a common sight and we would often find the remains of a chrysalis attached to the walls of our house. Sometimes we would even find ones that had not hatched yet, but we could never quite catch the moment they hatched.
My dad, being the creative man that he is, had a solution to this problem. He made us a bug box! It really was quite neat and it is one of the only things I wish I still had today! Honestly, if I could go back in time and take one thing from my childhood it would not have been a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, it would be the bug box my dad made me!
It is hard to explain it in words, but what he made was really cool! It had two circular ends that were attached by a wooden bottom and he had put window screen around the sides and top of it. There was a little piece of wood covering a hole in the side and that was how you could open it, but nothing could escape when it was swung closed! My dad is a carpenter, he even made me a dollhouse once, it was a really cool bug box!
He is probably going to call me tomorrow and break the bad news, "Uh kiddo ... I bought that at Toys-R-Us". Please don't tell me Dad, let me think that you made it because that is what I want to believe! Plus, I really do think he made it!
Searching for Connections in a Field
I would spend hours, and I do mean hours, in a patch of milk-weed looking over every single stem and leaf. I wouldn't go back to the house until I found what I was looking for and it didn't matter how long it took, how hot it was outside, or how bad I had to pee!
I can remember me and my sister being really young, probably five and six in my earliest memories, and out their in the middle of a big cow pasture looking over these plants one by one. We would talk among ourselves while we worked, and sometimes would make games out of it. If we didn't find what we were looking for before it got dark, you better believe we were up first thing the next morning and right back at it.
Eventually our Dad would wander out and start turning over some leaves and we would all laugh and have a great time in the middle of that field. I would look over and try to see how he was doing it and then imitate him, because maybe he had some great secret to finding these caterpillars. He would point out leaves that had been eaten and explain the caterpillar had eaten them. He would tell us all about these fat little things but where the heck were they?
I can't really put into words the magic that filled those summer days. We have family pictures from being at the circus or state fairs, we would go apple picking and carve pumpkins, we did a lot together as a family but these are the days that stand out in my memories the most. Maybe it was because I always had an acclimation towards the outdoors even then, maybe I just liked being outside doing something I really enjoyed with people I loved.
We found one! You cannot imagine the rush of excitement a young child feels when all of their hard diligent work has finally paid off! We found one and stuffed that sucker into the bug box with some milk-weed! The rest of the day I carried that caterpillar with me everywhere I went! Him happily munching on his plant leaves and me happily showing him off to anyone that would give me the chance.
My dad would help me take the old milk-weed out and put in fresh food. He probably didn't need water, but the pestering of a child will make you do just about anything, so he carefully filled a bottle cap with water and put it inside for the little guy. Of course, I would end up spilling it while toting him around, but he would fill it back up for me.
Weeks went by, feeding the caterpillar, watching him eat, watering him, taking him out for playtime (of course), and finally watching him hang upside down and transform into a chrysalis (Not a cocoon there is a big difference between the two). Then we would have to put it somewhere safe and leave it alone. Over time the butterfly would hatch and we would allow him to go free. This is how we would spend countless summers at that farmhouse and looking back now I think I learned a lot from those days.
Besides learning about caterpillars themselves, which was really neat, I got to share something with my father that carried on into later years. Every time I see a butterfly I think back fondly to those muggy days as a little girl running around a field trying to find caterpillars with her father.
I remember the way the pasture smelled and how the grass tickled at my legs, and I remember my dad pouring over the milk-weed to find a caterpillar for me. I'm positive he could have found something else to do with his days off, but he chose to stand in a field looking for bugs. I remember the milk-weed being sticky on my hands after touching a hundred leaves, and the way the caterpillar smelled inside its cage. These memories were so powerful they prompted me to carry on the tradition with my children!
I now live in the city and there are very few patches of field around me, and the ones that are around don't have much animal life. So when we went on a nature walk at a park and found a big patch of milk-weed, I just about lost my mind!
I grabbed my daughter and drug her off the path into this patch of weeds and told her to start looking for bugs. Which she responded too by looking at me like I had eight heads, what the heck has gone wrong with mommy?
After a while my excitement rubbed off onto her and the two of us were running around laughing and pointing out other critters, people walking the trail even stopped to ask us what in the world we were doing!
Eventually I found what I was looking for, it was the only one we found even though we went back a handful of times, and I am so grateful we found it! The minute I saw that milk-weed I had a desperate need to share with my children what my father shared with me. I wanted to give them that awe and excitement that I had experienced as a child and as soon as I found that bug I could have cried I was so happy!
My daughter responded the way I had hoped she would, she showed everyone on the trail what she had found, told anyone she met that she had a caterpillar at home, and spent days watching it eat and replenishing its food. It eventually turned itself into a chrysalis and we got to watch it!
It just hatched a couple of days ago, and they were over joyed when it allowed them to touch it and sat on their fingers. I saw myself reflected in them in so many ways, and I wholeheartedly hoped they felt the way about sharing this experience with me as I had with my father.
Last night I sat down and thought about why that caterpillar had been so important to me. Why did I care so much about a stupid bug, and why did it make me so happy when I found it? Then it came to me ...
I am who I am today because of my father. He was a very hardworking man who put himself through hell to give his family everything they wanted. He worked countless hours as a carpenter in the blistering sun, pouring rain, and freezing cold to support his family. I am very much like that, and it is because of him that I am such a hard working person. I have so much dedication to my family, and I now understand where that comes from. I can work a 14 hour day and still find time to do something special with my children, much like a man who spent his days off in a field looking for a bug.
That caterpillar was more then a fun hobby, it reminded me of who I am and where I came from. It helped me to connect to my children in the same way my father found a way to connect to a daughter who might have been happier playing barbies. It taught me patience and hard work do pay off in the end and can be beautiful in their results.
Thank you Dad. Thank you for taking the time to teach me those lessons. Thank you for caring enough to spend time with me when I am sure you would have rather been doing a million other things. Thank you for teaching me how to care about my children and be a good mother to my family. Thank you for making me who I am today, who I don't think is a half bad person! Thank you for being you, who I know is not a half bad person! Thank you for loving me and teaching me how to love, through butterflies.
Have you ever learned a life lesson through something that seemed insignificant?
© 2017 Meagan Ireland