Just in time I snatched up Dane, my six-year-old son, from accidentally squashing a colorful, slow-moving caterpillar that was trudging along in the small flower garden. As I placed Dane down, I was hit with an idea that might help resolve a problem he was having.
For some time, my wife, Kathleen, and I had been attempting to get Dane to assume some responsibility for the care and upkeep of his room and himself. When we asked why he didn't place his dirty clothes in the hamper or put away his toys, however, Dane would say, "I forgot." So, as I gently scooped up the caterpillar and asked Dane to grab a handful of grass, I formulated my plan.
Once we were inside the house, we were a whirl of activity. Dane asked Mommy for a Mason jar, in which he placed the vegetation. I then added a little water to keep the contents fresh. Next, I placed the caterpillar in its new home. As I hoisted Dane, he carefully clutched the jar and set it by the kitchen window. Then I told him that together we would care for the caterpillar and see what happened.
Every day, Dane and I would replace the grass for our guest, making sure to keep its home clean. I explained that it was our responsibility to care for the caterpillar, because it was out of its natural environment and now helpless. Now that Dane was becoming a big boy, he too had a responsibility to pick up after himself and to brush his teeth without having to be constantly reminded .
He listened, and then I listened to him. He told me that Mommy and I have him so busy doing things that he forgets to clean up; since he wants to play more, he plays inside his head. I smiled when he said this, for I saw his point.
Kathleen was teaching him to paint, instructing him how to play the piano without banging the keys, and I was struggling to teach him to read. No wonder the boy was forgetful. He promised to try harder, and I promised to be more reasonable in my expectations.
This was really the first time I had spoken with Dane, not just to him. I immediately saw that it brought us closer together. This realization got me to thinking about my relationship with my father.
My father would always talk to me, not with me. Then while I was in high school, he tried to talk with me, but my schedule was busy and a conversation with him was the furthest thing from my mind.
I decided then that I wanted a better relationship with Dane.
Dane began calling the caterpillar Speedy. "Daddy, it's funny calling something so slow-moving by a fast name."
Within 10 days, Speedy stopped eating. I knew it was getting time for him to spin his cocoon. So I explained to Dane about metamorphosis. He listened intently, and before I could ask what he thought we should do, he said, "We gotta get a stick, so Speedy can spin his 'cokecoon' on it."
This we did. We removed the leaf from the jar and replaced it with a stick. Within a few days, Speedy was again active, wrapping himself in a cocoon that looked like a part of the stick. Dane gave daily inspections to what he now called Speedy's Hideaway.
While the chrysalis hibernated for two weeks, Dane continued with his own metamorphosis. From the time we had begun caring for Speedy, he remembered to pick up all his clothes and toys, as well as brush his teeth with my having to tell him only once. Apparently, my idea to teach Dane responsibility using the caterpillar had worked. In addition, Kathleen and I permitted more playtime for Dane.
Dane's pride in meeting his new responsibilities showed in other ways. He began to concentrate more during piano lessons. His reading skills improved to the point where he was able to read "The Little Engine That Could."
On the 14th day of Speedy's hibernation, he emerged from his small cocoon as a large black-and-orange butterfly. I fed sugar-water to our new arrival. Then Dane, my wife, and I, along with the butterfly, who hitched a ride on Dane's arm, went outside.
As the butterfly took flight, the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge echoed in my mind: "The happiness of life is made of minute fractions." This moment was one of those.