Operation Caffeination

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“Mom,” little blue eyes full of concern gaze trustingly into mine as I wipe sticky hands and cheeks with a warm washcloth. “My butterfly is asleep and it’s not moving anymore. I think it needs more flower juice to wake it up.”

“Let’s look at him together,” I reply calmly, but my mind is racing. I intended to let the butterfly loose before this happened; I dearly wanted to avoid having this conversation with my three year old. What do I do, what do I say? What if I get it wrong?

My own introduction to death came at the same age, but at my grandfather’s passing. I was told that he was resting, that we wouldn’t see him again for a long time but that he would be resurrected into his heavenly body on judgment day and then we’d all be together forever, as if he’d been cryogenically frozen rather than the victim of a deadly stroke.

These are not messages I want to share with my son. I no longer feel any confidence in my knowledge of the future and I am okay with that. I want him to experience that humility in me, to understand that the unknown is not necessarily terrifying.

But…how?

We approach the butterfly’s cheery, flower-filled cage together. The butterfly is crumpled on the floor, its wings wrapped downward around its body. I brush it gently with my finger, but it remains motionless and brittle.

“Is my butterfly okay, Mom?” my son asks uncertainly, his voice quavering with worry.

“Yes,” I reply automatically. Wait, no…um…

“He is okay,” I continue slowly, feeling out each word as I go along. “He is just done being a butterfly now.”

“Oh!” my little son’s face lit up with excitement and relief. “Is he going to go back into his chrysalis again now?”

“Not this time,” I reply, gaining confidence as I go. “This butterfly has been an egg, and a caterpillar, and a chrysalis and a butterfly, and it has already done its flying and drank its flower juice and laid its eggs. This butterfly is all done being a butterfly. It has died now so that it can recycle its parts to make something new.”

“Like…another butterfly?” D follows uncertainly.

“Well, we need to have a little funeral for his butterfly so that we can send it back into the planet. The Earth has lots of special bugs who help take old pieces apart and recycle them into great new things like plant food.”

“So the bugs will feed my butterfly to a flower?”

“Something like that,” I have to chuckle at his bewildered expression. I’m not sure how we’re doing here at all, but I keep talking. “The butterfly parts will get recycled into flower parts and they will be part of the flower. And if a hungry baby caterpillar is crawling on that flower-”

“Then the flower parts will be baby caterpillar parts!”

“Right! And if a chicken eats the caterpillar-”

“Then the caterpillar will recycle into chicken parts!”

“Yes! And if a boy eats the chicken-”

“The chicken parts will turn into little pieces of kids!”

“You’ve got it, kiddo!” I’m grinning now. “What do you think about all of that?”

He pauses to think for a moment, and then- “Do any things eat kid parts?” he asks.

“Not really,” I reply. “Sometimes way out in the wild a creature wants to eat a person. But mostly we are the luckiest creatures of all. We live very, very long lives and use our parts all up, and when we are done with our parts the people we love give us back to the planet.”

“And then out parts turn into flower food?”

“Yep.”

“I see,” he murmurs, squinting his eyes a bit as he contemplates this new information.

“But mom,” he continues at last, “Where do all the parts come from?”

“Well,” I answer slowly, “We don’t know the whole story. But a very long time ago, a star died. And when it recycled its parts, it turned into Earth parts.”

“Was it a supernova when that star died, Mom?”

“Well, it was big. It was a big explosion. I’m not sure if it was exactly a supernova or not but it was enormous.”

“And all of our parts are recycled star parts?”

“Yes. We are all made out of tiny pieces of stars. We are star creatures.”

“So what happens when the Earth dies, Mom?” D forges ahead of me, intrigued. “Will the Earth pieces recycle into a new star?”

“You know what, buddy? I really don’t know. The universe is too big for me to know all about it. I think that is a what we call a mystery. No person on the whole planet knows the answer to that question. We can only make guesses.”

D returns his gaze to the dead butterfly and seems lost in thought for awhile.

“What are you thinking about, dude?” I ask at last.

“I was just thinking,” he sighs, shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts. “I’m going to figure out the Earth mystery, Mom, but later. We need to recycle this little butterfly right now.”

“What do you think about recycling your butterfly?” I ask. I’m still not quite sure how D is taking this.

But D smiles.

“I think it’s the coolest of all.”

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Written by GRSeim

May 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

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