When my boys were young, we took them to a live butterfly exhibit that we found while on our way back from a long car trip. Going into the large screened-in tent with butterflies flying all around us, landing on our heads, backs, and arms was magical. The boys were all under 6 at the time and they loved it. This spontaneous stop on the road turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of that vacation.
About 60 miles away from our house is a large park and educational center that also has a butterfly pavilion. I’d been driving by it regularly for the last two years, and had wanted to take the girls ever since the first time I noticed it. Its only open May through September, and we’d made an attempt to take them, only to find out it was the day after it had closed for the season. So last May, on a weekend their dad was on duty, we decided to have a girls day out and go see the butterflies.
I told them stories about when I took my boys to one. I told them about the butterflies flying everywhere, and how they would fly right by their faces, and land on their heads. I told Smartypants to be extra prepared for butterflies to land on her since she was wearing a bright yellow shirt, and they might mistake her for a flower.
We left the 58 degree weather of Coos Bay, and drove the hour or so to the warm and sunny small town of Elkton, OR. Smartypants and I eagerly got out of the car to feel the warm air and find the butterflies. Unfortunately, Giggles had fallen asleep about half way through the drive, and I was required to go all evil stepmother on her after a failed 15 minute session of negotiation to convince her to get out of the car. Eventually the 3 of us made our way to the butterfly house.
And this is what we found when we got inside:
Among the beautiful plants and flowers maybe 5 butterflies were flying around, and there was this big board covered with a sheet with things pinned to it. We get to see plants every day, we live in Oregon where green is in abundance, and a 120 mile round trip to see a static display of who knows what stuck to a big poster sounded about as much fun as a 5th grade science fair.
Fearing the worst from her, I was relieved when this was the worst I actually got from Giggles:
Actually, this was the best I got from her that afternoon, and was the only picture I was able to get of her since I was required to carry her around for the next hour as penance for interrupting her nap.
We listened to the presentation being given by the young man working in the butterfly tent (a local high school student). Smartypants was very interested.
Then this happened, and we couldn’t look away. As the young man explained why the butterfly wasn’t flying, but instead just slowly flapping its wings, drying them off, a pair of legs suddenly sprouted through a nearby chrysalis.
As more people came into the exhibit, and the young man had to give his presentation 3 more times, we just stood there and watched as two more pods morphed from chrysalis to butterfly. It was amazing. It was magical.
We watched the young Monarchs slowly unfold their wings, stretch their legs, then begin to flap their wet wings to dry them. Five year old Smartypants didn’t miss the butterflies. She knew that what we got to witness was far more rare and precious.
Like the gems that the young chrysalis of the Monarch resembles, this was not something you get to see just any day.
We learned a lot that day, like the difference between a moth and a butterfly (or chrysalis vs. cocoon), the life cycle of the caterpillar/butterfly (2-4 months, total). What they like to eat (milkweed). And how long it takes for the Monarchs to migrate to Mexico (4 generations, no butterfly makes it the whole trip).
Sometimes timing is perfect. If I had researched the trip, googled it or made calls first, I would have postponed the butterfly pavilion till the following month. But just like that spontaneous detour to see the bug and butterfly exhibit that day with the boys, taking advantage of “girls day” and making the trip on a “wing and a prayer” gave us an experience we may never have again. The best moments in life are rarely planned out.
It’s days like these that mothering and step-mothering truly begin to merge for me. Sharing an experience that I wanted to give them, and seeing them so happily receive it makes me feel like more than just the “head cook and bottle washer” at daddy’s house. I’m in no competition with their mother, I will never try to take her place, but I hope to find some lateral position in their hearts, as they are finding in mine.
Ariana Gruver is a mother (and landlord) of 3 grown sons. Being single after 25 years of marriage seemed pretty awesome, but then Mr. Right walked into her life, bringing with him two little girls. Starting over again, moving from vibrant Portlandia to the soggy Southern Oregon Coast, changing from a full-time career to being a part-time insurance agent, thrice-weekly stepmom, growing blogger, and full-time wife, she is embracing adventure and sharing her experiences and lessons on her blog. Still Growing. You can learn more about her by following her on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/