Archives for October 2012

Learning to Fly: Kids, Caterpillars and Unfinished Homework

When our kids started kindergarten many moons ago, they were asked to bring in a Monarch caterpillar for their first day.  We searched and searched.  And searched.  And searched more, wandering through overgrown fields and frantically turning over the leaves of milkweed plants that the caterpillars eat. But no luck.  As a parent, I kind of felt like a failure. “Sorry kids, I know it’s your first day of full-time school and all, but we can’t hand in your first EVER homework assignment.”  Gulp.

As the years passed, I still searched for the elusive Monarch caterpillars and got that pit in my stomach every time we saw a milkweed plant.  That kind of crazy fist waving, “Ooooh, I’ll get you!” feeling. Clearly, I was tormented.

By early this summer however, as our kids prepared to enter fourth and fifth grade, my obsession faded.  I gave up hope of our family ever raising caterpillars and to witness first hand the miraculous metamorphosis of the Monarch.  I felt like it was time to throw in the towel.  My scrappy, hunting prowess had failed me.

…Until my friend Stacey tells me about her caterpillar menagerie!  (Cue the valiant trumpets!)

Stacey and I have been friends for many years and she is a fifth grade teacher so I often look to her for advice and guidance.  So when she mentioned in passing that she had LOADS of caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, milkweed plants in her yard, etc etc etc, I knew it was kismet.  She was to become my caterpillar sensei.  All hope had not been lost.

Stacey loaded us up with four caterpillars all at varying stages of growth, and a bundle of milkweed leaves to bring home.  She suggested wrapping them in a damp paper towel and storing them in a plastic air tight container in the fridge.  We did this and it worked really well.  We would replenish our supply every few days and change the caterpillars leaves daily.

Stacey taught us about their different phases, timelines for each phase and more.  We discussed the Monarch’s annual journey to Mexico, organizations that can track your butterflies, and different books  about the life of these magnificent and complicated creatures.

Our front row seats to the the circle of life exhibition performed by the monarch caterpillars was nothing short of awesome.  Doubling in size every few days, the journey was like watching our own lives in fast forward.  Egg, baby, shedding your first youthful layer, growing, getting big and fat (HA!), unzipping the outer layer you no longer need, and eventually becoming the being you were intended to be… then spreading your wings to fly.   Maybe I’ll go to Mexico too.

In the end, our kids were not scarred permanently because we did not complete their first ever homework assignment. Hooray! They were however thrilled to “raise” their caterpillar family and watch them grow, evolve and eventually fly away.  One in fact, hatched from his chrysalis in our car.  We knew he was close to breaking through and didn’t want to miss the transformation so we brought him with us. When we arrived at our destination we were in possession of a beautiful, newly emerged Monarch.

In an ironic twist our caterpillar adventure came full circle.  The afternoon after I started writing this post, I got a message from a friend, desperate, as her daughter was starting kindergarten in a few days and SHE DID NOT HAVE A CATERPILLAR!!! We still had one chubby guy in our possession. We packed him up and sent him with his new caretaker, Annie.  Grateful, she marched off with her new creature and her kindergarten homework, her first big homework assignment EVER – complete.