Categories
Weekly Update

Metamorphosis

We bought two milkweed plants a couple months ago after a neighbor showed me her caterpillar-covered milkweed.

Alice followed me as I carried the plants out of the car. “Where are you going to put them?” she asked, big blue eyes darting around the yard. I told her I planned to put them on the side of the house, because, to be honest, the milkWEED didn’t really fit in with the landscaping.

Alice had other plans though. She wanted them front and center, right next to our walkway. Though it didn’t help the decor, there are some times it isn’t worth arguing with Alice. In fact, it is almost never worth arguing with the dimpled-handed, wide-eyed, dictator.

She helped dig up the sandy soil and wrestle the weeds into their new home.

The leaves were covered in small dark dots. Eggs.

We checked the plants daily. I grew impatient as the black dots remained black dots. I began to wonder if they even were caterpillar eggs, or if the plants were just diseased.

But one morning, as I examined the plants, I noticed tiny holes covering the leaves. I flipped a leaf over, and sure enough, there was a teeny tiny caterpillar, munching her way through a leaf.

In the beginning….

I was mesmerized. Alice and Avery were…. sort of intrigued?

Each morning, I dragged the girls outside to stare at the caterpillars. We watched as the tiny holes on the leaves turned into large holes. We watched as the caterpillars shed their skin and grew larger. We watched as entire leaves disappeared and as the caterpillars ate down the stems of the plant.

Caterpillar looking for milkweed.

The plants disappeared as the caterpillars grew chunky, and I began to wonder when we would find a chrysalis.

Google told me that when a caterpillar is around 2 inches long, it turns into a chrysalis. So I measured them. They were easily two inches. I looked at them expectantly. I checked on them hourly, not wanting to miss the big transition.

But they didn’t. They ate, and they ate, and they ate. Again, I felt impatient. The same sort of impatience I felt when I was nine days overdue with Avery.

Nature really irks me sometimes, with its slow, never rushing progress.

I grew convinced that the lizards who live in our petunia plants must be eating the fat caterpillars, so I bought more milkweed plants and moved the remaining caterpillars to plants inside our screened-in lanai, away from the lizard population. I put them next to the glass sliding door in the kitchen, where we could watch them.

Finally, one day, I watched as a caterpillar hung herself upside down in the “J shape.” And I knew, it was about time.

I camped out in the kitchen, unsure of what I was looking for, but not wanting to miss the transformation of a chunky caterpillar into a green, gold-studded chrysalis.

Well, it turns out they hang in that J-shape for 12-24 hours, sometimes longer. So the next morning, as I darted to take a shower, it shed its final layer of skin.

And when I returned to the kitchen, it was in the final throes of scootching, bunching, and swinging itself into its beautiful green home for the next two weeks.

Caterpillar -> Chrysalis

Again, the waiting games were on.

I examined the chrysalis multiple times each day, looking for a sign- any sign- that a butterfly might emerge. If I looked at the chrysalis from the right, sun-lit angle, I could see the wings, neatly folded up.

As the days passed, the chrysalis turned from bright green to a darker green, eventually becoming see-through right before the butterfly emerged.

Hours before a Monarch emerges.

And then one morning, right as the sun was rising under dark thunder clouds, I noticed that the shape of a chrysalis had changed. I went outside to investigate further, and watched, as a newly emerged butterfly hung, her wings still folded and crumpled.

The crumpled wings of a newly emerged Monarch

Consistent with the great timing of nature, I had to go drop Avery off at school, so I couldn’t watch the transformation unfold.

When I returned, her wings had expanded to full size, wrinkle-free, and breath-taking. I brought her out of the screened-in enclosure, outside to the world. Her dainty legs clung to my finger.

She began to flap her wings, testing them out.

And then she flew. As if she had never, as Chad likes to put it, slimed around, eating leaves.

As I watched her fly away, I was reminded of a question Alice asked weeks earlier as we watched the caterpillars devour leaves. “Mom, does a caterpillar know it is going to turn into a butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” I had replied at the time. I was struck by her question. It was so deep, and simply worded something I often wondered about myself.

But now, after watching the whole process, I don’t know if that piece of the puzzle even matters. Maybe they don’t need to know the end result.

Maybe, the end result is a tiny piece of the puzzle, holding the same weight as every other moment. While I was caught impatiently waiting for the next transition, the caterpillar moved at her own time. Each moment was beautiful.

It is in the becoming, that I learn a lot from these chunky creatures. That they didn’t rush. That transformation wasn’t a loud, crowd-drawing process. It was silent. And patient.

The world continued to revolve. The transformation took place without applause or encouragement. The butterflies didn’t listen to my impatient muttering about hurrying up, nor did I get a notification about when the caterpillar would change into a chrysalis, or when the butterfly would emerge.

The butterflies reminded me that the best things happen in their own time. They gain inherent beauty from following their own path, growing on their own terms, transforming on a schedule only they can determine.

And the end result? It is perfect. But so is every other step of becoming.

Categories
Weekly Update

Wildflower

Country music gains a new dimension when listened to while driving through the country. The dirt roads, open fields, and endless blue sky add depth to the music; a new understanding. It’s one thing to hear it, another thing to be in it, completely submerged.

As we drove up and down country roads, the should-be exhaustion from a day filled with travel melted into calm. Our view was lit by a pastel sunset, hay bales, and cemeteries backlit by a gradation of colors. Black tree silhouettes stood firmly in the fading light. And I found my anti-country-music-self, humming along to Garth Brooks.

Dusk fell, and my eyes widened, trying to catch a glimpse of the fireflies that I knew were in the fields.


We took our annual trip to Iowa and Missouri, where Chad’s family has a farm and lake house.

Again, I found myself running up and down the endless hills of Missouri, trying not to die on the uphill’s, and distracting myself with views that only country roads can supply.

I was surrounded by open fields of wildflowers with farmland in the background, dotted by hay bales- a stark contrast to the houses that sit 4 feet apart in Florida, every inch of ground being developed and marketed.

The flowers gave me a good excuse to pause and catch my breath as I closely examined them. I ran among the milkweed, chicory, Carolina horsenettle, and wild carrots.

Coming from flat Florida, my legs were not ready for the rolling geography. I ran, fully present to a moment that contained both pain and beauty, focusing on just getting to the next patch of red clover, the next crack in the sidewalk, the next.


As my legs whined over-dramatically, I tried to distract myself.

I wondered how long it took for the flowers to spread across the fields. I wondered if certain wildflowers are more likely to grow next to each other- like friends.

I wondered if they were scared, when they took root. I wondered if their end goal was covering entire fields, or if they just focused on the beauty of the square inch they occupied.

One wildflower is beautiful. But a whole field? It’s next level.


It wasn’t until we were back in Iowa, bumping across the dirt roads that I spotted one, then many, fireflies rising from the ground. After tucking the girls into bed, I stood at the window, watching as they lit up the night.

One firefly is awe-invoking. But a whole field? Next level.

These moments, for a suburb girl, are pretty magical.


On the plane ride home, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have noticed the wildflowers if I hadn’t been stuck in the oxygen-deprived, gasping search for air as I ran up and down the hills. I wouldn’t have seen the fireflies if it wasn’t dark out.

Sometimes, I purposely put myself into these uncomfortable situations. Like when I laced up my running shoes and coaxed one foot in front of the other. Other times, I find myself in these situations as inevitably as day transitions to night.

Dark, but with beauty.

I’m intrigued by the combo. It seems they are often paired together, dark moments the perfect backdrop for the beautiful ones. Darkness, accentuating the light.

I don’t know what it means exactly, but I do know that we all experience darkness in one form or another. So the next time you find yourself in the dark; whether self-inflicted, or inevitable, find your wildflower or firefly to focus on.

Find your light.

Laura

PS- including links to my recent work published outside of this website:

You Don’t Need Another Parenting Book

Mom Jeans

I’m Not the Mom I Intended to Be