Let them go, let them go: Setting our flying friends free with a butterfly release party

From the time we met our five tiny caterpillars, we knew we would have to let them go eventually. You could do that in many ways, but I thought we should mark the occasion with a butterfly release party.

The guest list? Four humans and five butterflies.

The menu? Steamed (not butterfly) shrimp, butterfly-shaped crackers, and a butterfly cake.

The time? Early evening when there would be enough light for us to see them off.

Because we wanted our sons to feel somewhat in control of the situation, we let them decide that we would eat first and then have cake after the release.

What I didn’t realize was that the release would take time. I imagined us opening the netted butterfly habitat—OK, so it’s a cage—and watching all five butterflies fly off into the sunset.

I thought it would be like butterfly releases at weddings, with them sailing up into the sky.

Instead, we opened the cage and waited for them to figure out that the roof had a huge gap. One found its way out fairly quickly. Then a while later, another discovered the gap. Then another. And finally another.

There was no mad dash for the exit.

It might have taken a half-hour for the first four butterflies to leave. It was exciting to watch them go, but it also demonstrated to me—yet again—that I am not a patient person.

We waited and waited for the fifth butterfly to go, but it showed no interest in leaving.

Finally we cut the cake and ate it near the butterfly, talking to it, telling it that it could fly away.

Then the boys decided maybe the butterfly would stay with us forever.

“Can we keep it, Mama?”

Ah, those magic words.

No, no, I said. The butterfly needs to go free. The butterfly wants to go free. Think of how far it will fly and all it will do. What fun it will have!

The boys—and the butterfly—seemed unconvinced.

All evening, even after the boys had gone to bed, I checked and checked and checked the cage and the butterfly was still there.

The next morning it was still inside the open cage. I had promised the boys we would give it some food if it hadn’t flown away by morning—that had seemed like an easy promise to make—so we did. And it stayed all morning. We left the house at mid-day, and when we came home a few hours later, it was finally gone.

I was a little sad to see it go, but mostly I was relieved. I was starting to worry that the butterfly wasn’t able to leave us or that it was planning to lay hundreds of eggs that would become hundreds of caterpillars we would need to raise.

Raising five butterflies has been an absolute joy, but the reason we were successful—if you could call us successful—is that the instructions were so specific. This process really was fool-proof.

Here’s the kit we used. My only advice is to make sure you do it at a time of year when it is warm enough to release the butterflies; make sure you will be home for a few weeks before you order the caterpillars, and prepare your children for their departure at the end.

Our butterflies have gone off into the world to spread pollen and explore and maybe even create more butterflies. Their time with us is complete. They are off to do what butterflies do best.

That orange to the right is a butterfly blur.

On the evening of the party we sat at the dining room table and each of the boys spoke sweetly and seriously about how they would be sad to see the butterflies go.

They were sad, but there were no tears. It really was exciting to watch the butterflies—our butterflies—take this next step and head out into the wide world.

I haven’t learned much about patience through this process. But maybe, just maybe, I can hold onto that idea next week as I watch our little guy graduate from preschool.

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It’s a…butterfly!

Hellos and goodbyes and other thoughts inspired by butterflies

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.