A few weeks ago, Isabel and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden with friends. Our main stated goal was to visit the Butterfly Pavilion, but of course we were open to any random plans that materialized along the way, and with 5-year-olds in tow, that’s not uncommon.
So we meandered through the garden, stopping to watch quail scurry across the path with bobbing head-crests, and exclaiming over a monarch butterfly on a wildflower, and letting the kids grind mesquite pods into flour at the grinding station. When we got to the butterfly garden, there were hundreds of monarchs clustered on the mesh ceiling, very still, and just a few fluttering around the plants. The day was overcast and coolish, and the monarchs were sleeping in. It was a perfect day for photos around the garden, but the girls were disappointed that the butterflies were not landing on them, and they kept hopefully putting out their finger for butterflies to use as a perch (Thanks, Fancy Nancy, for making that seem reasonable.)
Isabel was close to crying because butterflies were not approaching her, even though we’d discussed M.A.N.Y. times that butterflies don’t land on fingers, and they don’t seem to land on you even if you wear yellow, and Daddy is just super-lucky that they always land on his jeans even though he’s the least interested in them of all (he attracts them, they way aloof people attract cats.) So when we saw one butterfly resting wings open on a flower, the girls were excited to get really close and take a look. “It’s wings are OPEN!” Isabel exclaimed. “Is it a moth?” We had learned that butterflies keep their wings closed when landed and moths keep them open. She and Elena discovered that it was a boy monarch. The guide had explained: Boys have a black dot at the bottom of each wing; girls do not.
The butterfly was extremely cooperative, and lay there, wings open, as the girls got so close that their eyes crossed and their noses were almost touching it. It was SO cooperative, in fact, that I became certain that it was dead. “I think,” I said carefully to the girls, “That butterfly might not be….alive…any more.”
A volunteer was hovering nearby, like a too-close saleslady in a department store, following you through aisles to make sure you are not planning to steal something. “Let’s not get too CLOSE!” he called in a fake chipper voice. “Remember, we don’t touch the cute widdle wiggly budderflies!”
“This one is not very…wiggly,” I told him. “It’s rather motionless. In fact, I think it’s deceased.”
The volunteer came closer and bent down.
“It’s antennae are all floppy,” Isabel complained. “And they’re not moving at all.”
“It’s brief time of mortality is over,” I explained. “It’s gone to the Great Butterfly In The Sky.”
The volunteer interrupted loudly, “This one is maybe having a TEENSY little problem. Just maybe. We’ll get a staffer to take a look at it later and see if it, ah, needs any, ah HELP.” He looked around to see who had been shattered, ruined, sent into a mental tailspin by my comment. Nobody seemed to have even heard, except for our small group.
“It’s beyond help,” I said to the general area. “The only help IT needs is to be boxed up and sent back to the mothership.”
The volunteer shot me a pained look.
“What?” I said. “Don’t you collect them when they die and count them and send them all back?”
“Ah, well, YES, but ah, I think this one just NEEDS A LITTLE HELP,” he repeated firmly.
My daughter looked at him like you’d look at someone slow.
“We think it’s dead,” she told him, skipping around.
“Since it’s clearly no longer of this world,” I said to the volunteer, “Don’t you think it would be OK to let the kids touch it, just for a second? I mean, just one touch, to feel how soft and powdery a wing is. It won’t hurt it now, know what I mean?”
He ignored me and waved at a group of older kids, like 8 and 9 year olds. “This one is just RESTING!” he proclaimed desperately. “Sometimes they nap!” The kids were not looking. They were asking their leader about lunch.
“Its legs are all shriveled up, “Isabel observed. “It looks kind of dry.”
“It just needs a little help!” the v. said, and then, “Are you on your way OUT now?”
I bent over to look at it. “It’s all part of their life cycle,” I told Isabel. “It’s a little bit sad when they die, but before they die, they lay lots and lots of eggs which will eventually turn into new butterflies that we can enjoy. Their life span is much shorter than ours.”
“I’m not sad, Mama,” she said, “I know there will be more of them.”
The volunteer shot me another look. “It may just need a LITTLE HELP!” he almost shouted. I thought he might be going to cry.
“Ok, let’s head on out now,” I said in my own chipper voice. I was distressing him, clearly, and it felt mean, like poking a caterpillar on a branch.
I refrained, as I walked past the V., from hissing in a horrible scary-movie voice, “It’s DEEAADDD! AAARRRGGHGHH!”
His misplaced sense of protecting the innocents from the “harsh realities” of the butterfly life cycle was awesomely hilarious. I always know I can count on the butterfly garden volunteers to do something wonderfully stupid and make my day complete. It’s part of the whole package, and I love it! Butterflies…beautiful scenery…and some laughs. How can you ask for anything more?
Well, you can if you’re five. You ask and whine to stop in the Gift Shop on the way out. Luckily it was closed for renovations, and we were able to breeze right on out, enjoying the Chihuly Sculptures on last time on the walk back to the car.
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