The boys have reached the age where they’re learning about the circle of life.
It’s a wonderful period of discovery. At school they have a mini-beast hotel and a butterfly garden. An allotment and a pond. They’ve witnessed tadpoles become frogs, and fed lambs on a farm.
But it’s not so much a circle as an arc. A joyous and magical arc, but it still needs to complete its circumference, and for reasons of my own doing, that part has inadvertently fallen on me. While their teachers are sharing in the wonderment of life, I’m the one whom taketh it away. Like the grim reaper of entomology.
You see, I’m not very good at keeping things alive. Not the kids, obviously. My track record there is exemplary.
If OFSTED were to assess my parenting skills I’d be disappointed with anything short of competent in the ‘keeping them alive’ category. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but in six years I’ve yet to do a head count at bedtime and come up short of what I had that same morning. If anything I’m coasting.
But give me something that doesn’t vocalise its hunger and thirst and it’s more of a problem.
I’ve never been good with plants. I’ve only ever owned one and a friend took out a compulsory adoption order on that, citing wilful neglect. I can buy a basil plant on a Monday and by Thursday our tomato and basil pasta will inevitably be missing a key ingredient.
So when Luca brought home a beanstalk from school that he’d nurtured from a seed I was determined to buck the trend. Not only would I keep it alive but by summer we’d be climbing it in search of a golden egg.
For a while all was well. Luca and I measured it every morning and watched it grow from a few inches to many feet. From the windowsill right up to the ceiling. But as it grew, so did the pressure. It needed a bigger pot. It needed taking outside. By the end it needed mouth to mouth from Monty Don.
Sadly it wasn’t to be. I’d watered it, cared for it, and even forgone the kids bedtime stories to be at the beanstalks bedside talking to it, but alas, just one week short of its one month anniversary, it passed away. Luca still thinks it can be revived. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
But worry not, I could redeem myself with the butterfly garden their Auntie Fee and Uncle Al had bought the boys as an Easter present.
These caterpillars were made of sterner stuff. Brought up in a school of hard knocks, namely a trip from Cornwall to Manchester in the hands of Royal Mail.
This was an altogether better experience. It was brilliant watching the caterpillars grow to ten times their original size. Fascinating to see how they shed their skins and became chrysalides. And the boys excitement was palpable as they waited with anticipation for them to re-emerge. And they did, in spectacular fashion, as beautiful Painted Lady butterflies.
Now I’m going to say the first one emerged prematurely, if only to justify my lack of preparation, because it immediately dawned on me that I had no idea what the dietary requirements of a butterfly were. I assumed it was similar to that of a caterpillar, but I didn’t have a piece of chocolate cake, ice-cream cone, pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake or watermelon in the house. Nor as it transpired did I have any knowledge beyond what I’d read in The Hungry Caterpillar.
Google suggested fruit, so we dropped a cut up orange into the net and the butterfly nose-dived in, never to be seen again. And here endeth the boys first lesson on the perils of gluttony.
Shortly afterwards the second butterfly emerged, less a wing. Now I admit, I wasn’t prepared for discussing euthanasia with a four year-old, and the Dignitas website offers not a single word on insects. I checked!
By this point I was feeling the pressure as much as I was cursing my sister and brother-in-law for dropping this responsibility onto me. It also didn’t help that the boys constantly referred to them as Gods creatures.
But it turns out there is in fact a care home for disabled insects, if the kids ask. I know this because I took it there while they were at school.
Thankfully, and by the miracle of metamorphosis, the last two emerged fully formed and without eating disorders.
It was genuinely a joy to share the whole experience with the kids, made all the more magical when we released them into the garden and they flew away, only to return and sit on Sonny’s arm as if to say thank-you. It then fluttered onto the wall, paused briefly for one final goodbye, and was gone. Swiped by the neighbours cat. The circle of life complete, and that nights nightmares induced.
But my role as caregiver to Gods creatures had one final chapter.
We have an ongoing dispute over pooing rights in our yard. The cats rights, obviously. I’m mostly toilet trained now.
It might have taken out our butterfly but it definitely wasn’t getting its paws on the blackbird. Not on my watch! And watch is what I did. For the entire day.
Because according to the RSPB website, the correct thing to do is not hold it aloft like in Lion King, as much as I wanted to, but to leave it alone and its mother will keep feeding it until it has the strength to fly.
So for six hours I peaked through the curtains, and every time the cat so much as looked in our direction I raced out flapping my arms like a crazy fool. And it worked, because with the school run fast approaching and having decided bird watching would be seen as a poor excuse not to collect my own children, it broadened its wings and took flight.
Redemption was mine.
And I’m not ashamed to admit that in my head The Circle of Life was sung. At least I hope it was in my head. Judging by the twitching of curtains in the house opposite, possibly not.