It seemed simple enough. Plant the swan plant, water the swan plant, and watch the swan plant caterpillars turn into beautiful monarch butterflies. How hard could it be?
Growing stuff is just like cooking stuff but way easier I figured as there’s no chance of burning or adding too much salt. You can pretty much ignore plants and they still grow. That’s what I’ve learned from the weeds in our garden anyway.
The swan plant grew just like the packet said. We watered it. We watched it.
Then, miraculously, little caterpillars appeared all over the plant and some of them were not so little.
As they munched on those juicy leaves, Mother Nature looked down on me and smiled because I was growing butterflies. I even bragged about the size of my caterpillars on Facebook.
Then we awoke one Sunday and all the caterpillars had disappeared except for a couple of hefties swaying on a stalk.
The swan plant was now a swan stalk!
“Where are all the others?” my daughter asked, and we both looked suspiciously at the bellies of the two left standing.
They ignored us.
Then we watched as one of the fat caterpillars left the leaf-less stalk in search of eggs bene.
“He’s hungry!” my daughter wailed.
Like all good mothers I decided I would get right on that. I would drive into a garden shop (sigh, 30 minutes away) and get another plant just after I had my coffee. But then I went to the beach for a swim with the family and forgot all about the caterpillars.
What kind of mother does that? They were starving and I was swimming. And then I found myself at a BBQ drinking wine and yet still I forgot about the caterpillars. By evening there was no sign of either of them. They’d both buggered off in disgust.
Fuck! I had killed the caterpillars.
Which means, as my daughter pointed out, I had killed the butterflies which is infinitely worse for some reason. Especially as I was drinking wine while they were eating their own legs off somewhere. Crikey, nobody warns you about the swan plant and how the ratio of caterpillars to leaves is all out of whack and you go from Earthmother to Butterfly Murderer in a few short weeks. Somebody needs to put that on the packaging.
Feeling guilty, I promised I would get another swan plant incase they came back, and dutifully did.
And then, miracle of miracles, one of them turned up a couple of planters over. Oh joy. I got that new swam plant and planted that sucker right next to the caterpillar’s head, or tail. It’s hard to tell. But he didn’t seem interested. Was he sulking?
“He’s sulking!” Mum.
By the next morning he’d gone and my hastily planted swan plant was drooping and as pitiful as my daughter’s mood. “It’s your fault he’s gone.”
My god, having a relationship with caterpillars is more complicated than a bad boy. They eat everything in your house, don’t communicate, come and go as they please and then after you’ve cooked (or in my case bought) a nice meal they ignore you. Not even a ‘thanks love’.
But that caterpillar had never relied on me in the first place (smart lad). We discovered later that day, he’d found himself a nice stalk to hang from somewhere else on the deck and he was doing the most phenomenal ab curls.
Then he built his own green sleeping bag, got in it, and remained there, still dangling by what looked like one feeler while he transformed.
With no help from me thank you very much.
Then our stripy fat caterpillar emerged as somebody new. He’d had the best kind of makeover and had turned into something beautiful with wings. ‘He’ also became ‘she’ according to my daughter and I was rolling with that. Transgender monarchs are far more interesting.
We never saw her again.
Nature at its best. And a good reminder to sometimes just leave everything the fuck alone.
PS. I had stopped swearing on my blog because I was worried somebody, a potential employer, The Queen, my mother, some literary agent, might read it and frown on me. But this week I went to a funeral of an amazing man who died in a freak fire. His greatest line was “don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness later.”