“Do you like butterflies,” asks Bear as we drive to see Entangled at the matinee. I could wonder why she was thinking of butterflies on the coldest day of the year so far, but nothing she asks surprises me anymore. We’ve lived together eleven years, and she doesn’t talk as much as the others do, but when she does, it’s always interesting.
“What do you mean?” I ask, “Real butterflies, or . . . .” I start to say metaphorical, but unsure whether she’d know what I mean, I pause, and she interrupts my thoughts.
“Real,” she says, tilting her head, “What other kind are there?”
Suddenly, I envision a Victorian butterfly display, all pinned down beauty, and I give a shudder.
“You don’t like them?” She seems shocked, and of course, she would. I’m a gardener after all, and I write about butterflies and other creatures for a living.
“No, I mean, yes, I do, in the garden. You know, when they flit about here and there.” I start to tell her about how the Victorians used to catch them, and not having cameras, they . . . .
“I don’t,” she exclaims, “I don’t like their bodies, or their eyes. They creep me out.”
“What about their colorful wings? Don’t you like to watch them fly?”
She shakes her head. “Nope, but I like caterpillars.” A giggle. “Remember when our friends came over, and you took pictures of the girls touching the caterpillars?” She wiggles her fingers above her head. “The caterpillars kept pushing out their antennae, and you had to tell her to stop because you were afraid she’d wear out the caterpillar.”
“I remember. Those were Swallowtails. They were on the dill.”
“Dill?” she says, “Oh the plant . . . for a minute I thought you meant pickles.” Again, she laughs. “Caterpillars on pickles.”
“No, the plant, but you use it to make dill pickles.”
“Really?” Her eyes widen, and I realize she never connected the herb with her favorite pickles. For a moment, absorbed by this information, she is silent as though cataloging it.
I nod. “You know butterflies are different things to different people right?”
She looks perplexed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, some people use them as symbols for . . . .”
“Yes, and metamorphosis . . . .”
“Ah, because they change.”
“Yes, Al Anon uses them to symbolize a change within. Religions do too sometimes.”
“Resurrection,” she smiles, nodding, “Hmmm . . . , I still don’t like them, but I do like ladybugs,” she says.
“Well, who doesn’t like ladybugs? Even their little lions are super cute.”
“Yeah, when people know what they are and don’t squish them.”
And so it goes.
Just another day with my baby who’s almost twelve. One day, we won’t be having conversations like these. So, like silky pearls, I hold onto them, reveling in their beauty. Then, I place them in a mental pocket of my favorite things to later ponder. One day, when Bear is all grown up and has babies of her own, I’ll tell them about their mommy.
Who was once just a little girl who didn’t like butterflies, but did love caterpillars, and the conversation will go on.