On caterpillars and loss.

A few weeks ago, while on a walk around the neighborhood, Fiona found a caterpillar. She decided to take it with her, and give it a home, give it a name, and wait for it to become a butterfly. You probably see where this is going, but stay with me.

We found an old nutella jar in the recycle bin, drilled some holes in the top. Fiona decided the caterpillar was a girl (of course) and named her “Enna”. We gave Enna some dirt, and a couple sticks, and a lovely variety of tasty leaves. We read the very hungry caterpillar, talked about their life cycles.

A few days later, I looked into Enna’s jar and noticed that she didn’t seem to be moving. I poked her with a stick and she responded (I later learned from the internet that I probably shouldn’t have poked her.) so I knew she wasn’t dead. We continued to give Enna fresh leaves and she continued to wriggle around. She seemed to be getting fatter. One day she went all still again, and we thought maybe she was getting ready to shed her skin. We learned that caterpillars actually eat their skin after they shed it, which the girls found fascinating. But we never saw her shed.


Last night, we looked in on Enna. She was still. Like, really still. Even though the internet told me not to, I poked her a little bit with the stick. She did not respond this time. And then this morning I looked in again, and she is definitely a shriveled little husk of a caterpillar.

Which puts me in a bit of a quandary. How do I explain to Fiona that the caterpillar died? I mean, I know I can just say look- the caterpillar is dead. She’s seen spiders die, and ladybugs die, and worms die, and the other day my neighbor violently swatted at a dragonfly that landed on her neck and that didn’t quite die but it sort of got squashed just enough to prevent it from taking flight, so I’m sure it died too.

But she wasn’t emotionally attached to them.

She didn’t name them, or care for them, or sing lullabyes to them. She wasn’t anxiously waiting for them to become butterflies.

Sorry, it’s kind of a long video. I mean, it’s totally adorable, but my feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t make it all the way through.

I guess we’ll just sort of wait until she asks, and then give it to her straight. As Nate said, we don’t need to make a “very special episode” out of it. It’s likely she’ll be upset for a little bit and then just go out and look for another caterpillar to keep as a pet. And next time I won’t poke it so much.

UPDATE: She asked about Enna at dinner. We told that we were sorry, but Enna had died and so she wasn’t going to get to make a chrysalis after all. Fiona’s face crumpled for a second, but then she lit up and said, “I know! Her mouth is open a little bit! We can give her caterpillar medicine to help her!” and when I said no, Enna is all dried up, she said “Mum. I know this will work. The medicine will be warm and it will wet her up.” It was heartbreakingly adorable. And then we tried to steer the conversation toward maybe trying to find a new caterpillar. Sigh.


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