Chlorine hangs heavy in the humid evening air. Bare footed children yell “red light! green light!” in an age-old game of you can’t get to the other side before someone yells “red light!” again at the other person. Moms chase children with towels trying to herd them towards cars. Grandmas helpfully shout out, “I’ll order the pizza!” It is another closing day at the city pool and the families are being sent out into the parking lot.
The life guards can be glimpsed through the doors as they sweep, mop, empty garbage cans, and tidy up for the next day. One guard is outside the gate, a tall blond pony tailed girl carrying a garbage bag and wearing blue plastic gloves. Another girl, also a blond, appears in the doorway. She is even taller than the garbage picker upper. This one isn’t in a blue guard suit though. She has on a leopard suit and skin tight black jeans. Her head turns to look out into the parking lot and catches the eye of the person in the car. Her face lights up in a smile and her arm bends into a quick wave before she ducks back inside.
Gia had spotted her mom in the parking lot. Well, it was now or never. Her mom has an eagle eye and a mother’s intuition like no other. She probably already knows something is up. Gia wonders if she looked natural when she waved or did she look guilty already? Did the new piercing glint in the sunlight? Crap! Which way did she have her head turned anyway?
Chloe walks out with some of the other guards, laughing and joking. “Have a good night!” She calls over her shoulder before she pulls open the door of her mom’s car. “Hi, mom! Rocko jumped into the pool today! He went off the diving board all by himself! I taught him that! I am so proud of him and myself!”
“That’s awesome!” the mother says, “You’ve taught so many kids how to swim this summer!”
“Gia probably won’t say hi because she’s tired and just wants to go home,” Chloe says.
“Well, we’ll sit here for a minute just in case…” the mom trails off hopefully. “Tell me more about Fun Friday. Who else did you have to catch today?”
Gia’s car zips up beside the mom’s and she rolls down her window. She turns her head just enough so that the mom can’t fully see her face. But the mom can see quite clearly what it is that she isn’t supposed to be seeing. Her heart sinks to her feet and she fights the urge to either vomit or burst into tears. Her baby girl has marred her beautiful body again.
Gia has a new haircut to show her mom. She takes down her ponytail and shakes out her hair to showcase the new layers. She asks, “What do you think? You like?”
Of course Gia doesn’t see the piercings and tattoos as distractions or detractions. She doesn’t get that her mother made her perfectly perfect. She doesn’t get that each mark tears a piece of her mom’s heart. It is like taking a piece of her mom’s artwork and making it into someone else’s sculpture. It’s like she failed at making her daughter and now her daughter is trying to repaint the canvas. How can Gia not know that she is already perfect? How many more inkings and holes will it take before this insanity stops?
“Mom?” Gia says.
“What? Sorry, I got distracted.”
“What do you think of my hair cut?” But Gia’s eyes already look sad, like mom has already failed her. Mom has already disappointed her again.
“Oh! I like it!” The mom’s eyes are still drawn to the ring in her daughter’s nose. She is scanning the rest of her neck and face to see if there are more tattoos or piercings also. The panic and confusion and concern is rising like the bile in her throat.
“Mom? I love you, I said, I love you…” Gia is starting to drive away now.
“I love you too. I’m sorry. I was just distracted.” But she is talking to the air. Georgia’s car has zipped away and out of the parking lot. The moment is gone.
The mom turns to Chloe, “You are beautiful, don’t change, and I mean that.”
When a baby is born a mother will spend hours rocking and holding her child. She will stare at her child, memorize the curl of the eyelashes, the bump of the nose, the curve of the ears. She will hold on to those little fingers and little toes and kiss each one a million times. She will rub the tummy and rub the back. She will know her baby’s scent from any other baby’s scent. A mother will just know her baby.
But sometimes you can look and look but not really see…
Gia stops in the next morning to drop off a forgotten towel that Chloe left in her car. The mom stares into the sparkly blue eyes that she made. She sees the teeth that the orthodontist told them needed braces, so they paid for braces that pulled teeth here and pushed teeth there, but her smile was already beautiful. She sees the pink cheeks that look healthy and happy; she has gained a little weight, so this is good. She sees the beautiful new haircut that her daughter has. She sees that her daughter is happy. And that is really all that a mom wants...to have made a child who is happy.
The mother smiles and hugs her daughter and says, “I love you.”
It’s August and the monarch butterflies are starting their dance. Chloe asks, “Is it too early to find caterpillars?”
“We can start looking,” the mom says. Chloe and the mom are kayaking together on a quiet river.
“If caterpillars never changed, then we wouldn’t have butterflies, right mom?” Chloe says.
Chloe knows this is something that the mom has often said. And, that she wants her children to have the wings to fly. The mom is an avid butterfly lover. Every fall they collect caterpillars and watch them transform into butterflies. It’s a tradition and a wonderful analogy for change and growth and growing wings to fly away.
The caterpillars start out so tiny. Some are barely bigger than a pencil point. With milkweed and patience, they will grow into the size of a pinky finger within two weeks. They keep the caterpillars in a large net cage. Once the caterpillars are the size of their pinkies, they can stop feeding them as they will crawl to the top of the cage to make a J shape. Once in a J shape, they turn into bright green chrysalises. They will stay inside for up to two weeks. Once this green chrysalis turns black, you can start to see the wings through the chrysalis. The butterfly will slowly unfold itself from the chrysalis and TA-DA! There is a somewhat wet, but beautiful monarch butterfly. Some are much larger than others. Boys have a small black spot on their back wing. Boys also have slightly thinner wing veins and girls tend to be slightly darker than boys. One year they had ten butterflies at one time. Most years they have only three or four.
The butterflies will fly around the house for a day or two. They feed them slices of oranges. It's fun to watch them suck the juice through their long straws (it's called a proboscis) that curl out of their mouths and into the fruit. Eventually the mom tells the girls that it is time to let the butterflies go. The children are sad, but they enjoy the ceremony of taking the butterflies into the backyard and releasing them one at a time. Each one is set free to fly away up and over the trees.
Suddenly the mom sees it. It has taken hundreds of butterflies released in the backyard to realize that this was all in preparation for releasing her own beautiful children someday. She sees the butterfly that is her daughter, happy and full of life, with a full set of wings and flying away. She will soon have to let Chloe out of the cage too. Her wings are drying. And she is about ready to fly away soon.
Without change, there wouldn’t be any butterflies.