My 3-year-old wanted one thing from Santa this year: butterflies. Not butterfly-print dresses or rubber butterfly toys. Not even the creepy pinned-down dead butterflies in display cases. Real, living butterflies. And by George, the big man in red brought her some come Christmas morning.
Well, sort of.
I’m somewhat of a celebrity at the North Pole. It comes with being one of the few idiots to nearly lose their lives by falling into a moulin in northern Alaska. News of such tomfoolery so close to home is bound to reach the ears of that jelly-bellied charitable cherub, and ever since that fateful day, I’ve had St. Nick on speed dial. But when my daughter requested butterflies, I was told that I would receive just a netted butterfly enclosure. Accompanying the net would be a voucher to get six caterpillars sent to us in the summer months, when the butterflies could survive. The hope was that come summer, my daughter would not remember her sole Christmas wish and move on to loving Butterfingers instead.
It’s not that I don’t like butterflies; I love them. That’s why I don’t want to be responsible for their survival. Small animals and plants of any size tend to die in my care. When I’m attentive, I’m overly attentive. When I’m negligent, I’m overly negligent. And when I’m toggling between the two, I’m attentive on the days I should be negligent, and vice versa. Nothing makes it out alive. And I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of the death of my daughter’s one gift from Santa.
Luckily, there was going to be a lovely butterfly home for her to ooh and aah over, a caterpillar voucher and then a handful of months for her to forget all about it.
But the voucher didn’t come. Instead, on Christmas morning, my daughter unwrapped six tiny caterpillars.
What the holy glacier, Santa?!
The caterpillars looked, well, dead. Already. I wasn’t sure whether I should be bummed or relieved. After all, at least this way it wasn’t Mom who killed them. It was that murderous cookie thief Santa Claus!
Luckily (or unluckily), there was a note included in the box with the netted butterfly home. It said that if the caterpillars look dead, don’t toss them in the trash; they are probably just in shock from their tumultuous journey. Great driving there, Rudolph. You put my caterpillars in shock.
Lo and behold, the piece of paper that came with the netted home (you know, the one that should have been a voucher but wasn’t) turned out to be right. In a few days’ time, the caterpillars had grown fat and active and were cocooning themselves into chrysalides on the roof of the little cup they came in.
My daughter was elated. Her butterflies would be here soon. But the worst was yet to come.
The piece of paper that was not a voucher but should have been instructed me to carefully remove the lid with the six newly hardened hanging chrysalides and place it vertically inside the netted home so we might watch the wonder of the butterflies hatching. But be careful, because the slightest breeze could make a chrysalis fall, causing the butterfly to die inside and possibly ooze out something referred to as “black death” on butterfly websites. That would make the whole house smell, and your toddler would hate you forever.
Naturally, the lid was nearly impossible to remove, so those babies were rocking, rolling and clinging for dear life as I pried the lid off, teeth gritted, cursing Jolly Old St. Nicholas for going back on our voucher plan.
Once the lid was free, I was to place it inside the netted butterfly home, careful not to rattle them in any way. All well and good, except the lid only unzips halfway. Despite my having lanky giraffe arms, the impossible angle at which the incubated butterflies had to be lowered and propped up meant their sojourn was certainly less than graceful.
After I zipped them inside their home, I saw that I was instructed to leave them untouched, at a perfect 70 degrees, with no draft or movement for the next two weeks. Daily, my 3-year-old asks to see them, touch them, play with them. One chrysalis has already fallen.
If not one of these butterflies makes it out alive, Santa’s getting a letter next year that will surely get me placed on the naughty list.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids.”