Butterfly, fly away (please. Fly far, far away …)
If you follow me on Instagram (and why wouldn’t you? I take oversharing to the next level on Instagram, peeps!) then you would have seen this nice little pic last week:
with the description:
It's May, which means its butterfly-raising season in my classroom once again. #shudder #idoitforthekids
After posting, I realized a follow-up explanation might be in order. After all, most people love butterflies. Heck, I loved butterflies once, too.
Until I made the life-changing decision to raise some in my classroom a few years ago. And since then, my opinion of those lovely, ethereal creatures-who’s-only-purpose-in-life-is-to-brighten-summer-days was forever altered, and my hate for them goes so deep that I now want to ruin them for everyone else, too. I’m vindictive like that.
It started off innocently enough. “Hey, wanna grow butterflies with your students this year?” asked one of my teacher-friends at school. “I’m ordering some Painted Ladies this week, so if you want some, let me know!”. Ignoring the obvious you’re-ordering-Painted-Ladies/hookers-for-the-kids? joke she’d just lobbed my way, I instead eagerly replied “Yes!” (I’m nothing if not professional). A true ingénue to the world of butterflies, I had visions of smiling students at our sunlight-drenched release ceremony filling my head. It would be spectacular, the photos would be incredible, the students would love it. I was in.
A few weeks later, our caterpillars arrived. And my idealistic dreams crumbled instantly.
For one thing, Painted Lady butterfly larva are gross. In terms of cuteness they are just slightly above maggots and about par with meal worms, if that gives you an idea. And what’s worse: they only get grosser with age.
Like your Uncle Saul, they get fatter and hairier every day they’re alive. Their homes are soon covered in feces and feces-covered webs, and they spend their days molting and wiggling and pooping. Yum.
I was thankful when the caterpillars finally built their chrysalis because swallowing vomit every time I sat at my desk and saw them, resting there, was starting to get old (*side note: I was pregnant and in my early-2nd trimester with Avery at the time so that may have had a teensy role to play in my nausea, but I prefer to think it was 100% caterpillar-induced).
I’d also grown weary of playing the its-a-natural-thing-guys-chill-out card with my students as they’d scream “Eewwwwwwww! Ms. C! Why is he eating his own poo?!” each time we did our observations.
I was thankful … until I learned what came next.
“Ok Andra, today we have to peel the chrysalis out of the cups and attach the lids with tape to the top of your butterfly enclosure” my larva-purchasing-probably-sadistic-now-former-friend said as she bustled into my classroom early one morning.
“Peel? What do you mean “peel”? Don’t the lids just pop off?” I asked, stirrings of new horror deep in my stomach.
No, dear readers, I learned the lids do not just “pop off”. Rather, they must be forcibly pried due to the apparent Schwarzenegger-strength of those strands of webbing the productive caterpillars leave in their chrysalis-making wake. Most of the time you have to use scissors to snip away at the threads until the lid comes clear, and woe be the teacher who pulls too hard, as I did, out of sheer frustration. Because then the damned, disgusting chrysalis actually falls off the lid and flip-flops all over the ground like some oversized Mexican Jumping Bean. And then you’re left, screaming and dry-heaving and in a panic having to actually touch the flip-flopping cocoon, and attempt to reattach it to it’s lid with tape. And you’re cursing your teacher-friend and calling out to Jesus for help and it all ends with you, an emotional mess on the ground in the corner of your classroom, as your students walk in for the day.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Strolling into my room two weeks later I was finally past the terror that was the chrysalis-removing and had become excited, like my students, for the first signs of our butterflies emerging from their cocoons. I eagerly leaned over my desk to take a peek at the enclosure and SWEETHEAVENLYFATHEROHMYGODNO!! AAAARGH!
Inside the cage, it looked like a massacre had happened.
Where once there were dangling pupas there were now empty shells, butterflies upside-down and spread-eagled on the ground, and what looked like red blood sprayed all over the inside of the cage.
“Aaaaargh!” I screamed again. “Oh my god, what happened?!! What happened to the butterflies?!!! Why is there blood everywhere?!!”
Turns out my mini-heart attack was for naught. No, some butterfly-killing psycho had not swept through my class the night before. Apparently (thanks, butterfly-ordering-sadistic-definitely-no-longer-my-friend teacher for omitting that important bit of “info”), when butterflies emerge from their chrysalis they tend to expel copious amounts of red meconium.
That’s right. Meconium. Sticky, tar-like poo just like human babies except, oh yeah, IT’S RED.
(I wish I had a better picture to show you of the red-meconium-sprayed butterfly cage but students’ faces were in my other ones. And to be honest, you’d probably lose your dinner at the sight of it anyways so you’re welcome).
And the upside-down spread-eagled butterflies? Just an indication of their overall intelligence and will to live, folks. Every. Damn. Morning I’d have to retrieve them from their flipped-over idiocy, poking and shuffling them around the enclosure to assure they were alive lest I traumatize my students with the good ‘ole facts of life and death. I swear those insects were doing it to me out of sheer hatred, because no other teacher in the school had the extent of “butterflies on their backs” problems that I did.
But finally, the Great Day came. The day I’d been looking forward to for over a month, the Day Of The Great Butterfly Release.
I knew all my hard work and persevering would pay off. I knew seeing our classroom butterflies pour forth from their cage into the vast blue sky above as my wonder-filled students looked on, would make up for the weeks of disgust and vomited lunches I’d endured to get there.
As we headed outside, I reminded the students of the Butterfly Release Rules. “Remember guys … the butterflies are delicate living creatures. We must be very gentle with them. Do not under any circumstances touch the butterflies, just watch them and observe with your magnifying glasses”.
It was with bated breath that myself, the kids and the two classroom staff gathered ‘round the butterfly cage on the grass and slowly unzipped the top.
We held our breaths, lifted the top and …. nothing.
Not one damned butterfly moved, let alone flew.
“Uh … Ms. C?” asked one of the students finally . “When’re they gonna, y’know, come out?”
I told the kids that the butterflies were probably nervous, and to just give them a few minutes. So we waited.
Eventually, after no movement from the inside we decided they perhaps needed a little persuading, so to speak, to embark on their adventure. So I picked the cage up, and began gently shaking it.
Desperation sinking in I began shaking the cage harder and harder, ignoring the still-tiny baby in my belly as I violently brandished the basket up and down in an effort to get some sort of response from the insects.
When that didn’t work, one of my classroom staff stepped in to help, the two of us agreeing that “two shakers is better than one!”.
Nothing. The students began quietly edging backwards as the two of us continued to pull and jerk the cage, to no avail.
We then decided on a new method, with me shaking and her poking and scraping the butterflies in the manner you would the last bits of peanut butter in a jar.
Those butterflies. They’re tenacious little devils.
Ten minutes later, exhausted and confused (maybe our butterflies are too dumb? Maybe they spent too many nights upside-down in their bowl of sugar water?) we finally resorted to handing each child a straw, and gave them free-reign to gently coax each individual insect onto their sticks and out of captivity.
And as I watched my students chase joyfully after the orange-and-brown winged creatures they’d helped grow from larva, saw the excitement in their eyes as one would alight on their shoulder or finger, I thought to myself.
“Over my dead body am I raising these things again”.
And yet, two years later and here we are. Not only did I ask to order butterflies last month (from my teacher-friend-who-I’ve-since-forgiven-for-sins-of-the-past), but I made sure to double my gross-out factor by bringing a few home so my own children can experience this “miracle of life”.
Yes, those are six disgustingly-hairy caterpillars making a home on my kitchen table. Its not like the kids ate much at dinner, anyways.
Well, because that’s what parents do. And that’s what teachers do. Regardless of your own feelings on a topic, if you know your kids are going to benefit you’ll move heaven-and-earth to bring it into existence. And that’s what I’m doing.
Just don’t expect me to like it. But, for the sake of the children, I’ll pretend to.