Painted Ladies and the Celebration of Life
I told my roommate I had to cover a butterfly release for Green Lifestyles because of our May theme – Children and Food. “Come on, who are you kidding?” he said. “You just want to see a butterfly release.” He was pretty much right. Who wouldn’t want to see a butterfly release? Every year, Kidspace Children’s Museum releases over 1,000 butterflies.
After navigating through a maze of cars and soccer games, drifting behind slow moving women carrying lawn chairs on their backs, I found a parking spot and walked through the nearby park to the museum. Upon entrance, the first thing I heard was a small, 3-year-old girl screaming, “I want face paint!! I WANT FACE PAINT!!” Her pretty, little face burned red as tears sprung out with a scowl. My stomach tingled and goose bumps tickled the back of my neck. I always say I don’t want children, until I see children, even one protesting – kicking and screaming – for face paint. As aggravating as it may be on a hot afternoon, I appreciate the fervor and uninhibited expression. She was not polite or embarrassed or submissive about face paint, she wanted to fight for it, such a rare quality in the adult world. Butterflies are a little like children, when one crosses your path everything stops to acknowledge it, not just because they are rare or beautiful, but because they are an entity of wonder.
The Kidspace Children’s Museum, hidden near the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, is a wonderland of learning and activity. The Galvin Physics Forest provides several hands-on exhibits for children to play with and learn from, including the Bottle Rocket (which uses a plastic bottle, water, and air pressure to create a safe blast into the sky), the Cool Fan (where you can use your own physical energy to create wind power), and the Roller Coaster (a construction ground for your own miniature roller coaster). Inside the museum, there is a Raindrop Climber and an Ant Hole allowing visitors (adults and children) to climb through a structure, scaled to size, which replicates the world through an insect’s eyes. The Bug Inn & Dark Room, The Water Vortex, and the Flutterby Art Center all somehow snugly fit into this fantastic children’s museum. There is also a Nature Exchange where children can earn points and exchange found natural specimens to earn a rare museum item. They are also equipped with volunteers who will help students with their research papers in which points can additionally be earned.
I met with Tim Scheidler, Marketing Manager of the Kidspace Children’s Museum, who described to me the Adopt-a-Caterpillar program. The caterpillars are adopted by children in mid-March, approximately 3-4 weeks before the annual butterfly release. He recommends they be kept in “a warm and humid environment. Bedrooms are good, or a shady corner of the kitchen. They come in a dixie cup with all the food they need.” When the butterfly is ready to emerge it should be placed in a butterfly pavilion, which the care guide instructs on how to construct out of easy to find items, such as a shoebox.
Tim exhibited a few pavilions, in which the butterflies were waiting to be released, in the hallway.
“You see that red dripping there?” he asked. I nodded. “That is blood from caterpillars that were killed.”
“Are you serious?” I said, snapping photos.
“No, just kidding. That is pigment from their wings as they emerge,” he said. These butterflies are a species known as The Painted Ladies. “[They] are a very robust species. Found on every continent but Australia and Antarctica. Their coloring is close to the Monarch, but the marking is slightly different,” he said.
“I see, they are like tie-dyed,” I noted.
“That’s right. They are very hippie. It is a hippie insect,” he replied.
“Monarchs, you know, are kind of stuffy,” he said. “A butterfly’s life is rich with educational opportunity. They are fragile. Sometimes I look at them and think, ‘How can you make it in nature?’ But they do … nature finds a way. “
I thought about the children outside. As I speed walk through my thirties, I often wonder about becoming a mother. The idea, quite honestly, terrifies me. Anyone who reads the news should be terrified. I am not sure if it is our 24 hour news culture helping us learn how horrifying our world is, or if it is becoming more horrifying with every school shooting and terrorist attack. There are a number of fears, concerns, and philosophical arguments that splash around in my head.
There were a few events around the grounds just for the butterfly release: The “Eat like a Butterfly” Activity, Antenna and Wing Making Workshop, Story Time and Butterfly Art. Where does one start? I sat down at the Wing Making Workshop. “Look! I can fly,” said 4-year-old Zahra. Children, mostly little girls, were madly drawing patterns on paper wings with crayons and markers.
“Why are they made of paper?” 5-year-old Ashima asked me.
“They have to be light so you can fly,” I said.
Single dad, Errol Roussel, an entrepreneur and lover of life, patiently watched his daughter assemble double wings with the help of volunteers and some string.
“Having kids seems … intense,” I stated, almost absent-minded.
“Having kids? Oh yeah! It’s a sacrifice. Your whole world changes; it becomes about them. You can’t be selfish anymore,” Errol said content and relaxed. “What would the world become without people?”
“It might recover,” I said.
“But there would be no humans,” Errol said.
“It is about your relationship to life. People find fulfillment in different ways. In your eighties you can’t go out to clubs and drink anymore. What fulfills you changes as you get older. Since I’ve had a child, I can’t think of my life in any other way,” he said.
“It just seems so… stressful.”
“Parenting has nothing to do with kids. It has to do with the mood and the mindset. It is about reward and consequence. If you are worried or stressed or frustrated you won’t have the time or capacity to provide the right reward. It takes time and a couple of deep breaths,” he said.
“Of course, think about it, if you are broke you are stressed,” he said.
It made sense. Just as a butterfly requires patience and time to emerge with her wings, so do little people. In exchange for your sacrifices, your time, and your money, you are granted the rare opportunity to witness and participate in the miracle of life.
I waited for the butterfly release in the Stone Hollow Amphitheater. Behind me, a father held his little boy. “Think of how hard it is to pin dresses on all those tiny butterflies,” he said.
Directly in front of me, three little girls sat next to each other, the two on the ends both with paper wings. The little girl in the middle was wingless and crying.
“What’s wrong?” asked the father.
“My wings!!!” the little girl cried.
“Where are your wings?” he asked. The grandfather held them up so the little girl could see. “They are wet so the sun is drying them. See, they are right here. Its allllll good,” he said.
Fragile? Indeed. The human soul needs just the right amount of sunshine, captivity, and care to blossom just as the butterflies. The crowd of families and volunteers counted down to the release of 600 butterflies. When the lids were lifted, flying colors hung heavy over us, occasionally falling to the ground or in our hair. A woman nearby held a butterfly on her finger like it was a diamond ring. She looked beautifully astonished. “You would think they would fly straight up,” she said.
“No, they hover. I guess because they are used to being kept and protected,” I said.
Everyone took caution with where they stepped for several minutes, until the butterflies were strong enough to lift themselves off the ground and fly. We all slowly walked away, hoping for one more glimpse of color or the tickle of wings on our skin before going back to our cars and driving away. Children went back to their tricycles, fathers went back to their daughters, volunteers went back to their stations, and I went home feeling lucky to have celebrated my relationship to life with those lucky enough to be parents, and the butterflies.
Kidspace Children’s Museum
480 North Arroyo Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91103
Telephone: (626) 449-9144
Fax: (626) 449-9985
Admission for Children and Adults: $10
Children under the age of 12 months: Free
Membership packages are available.
Free Family Night is the first Tuesday of every month from 4p.m. – 8p.mSHARE THIS