I did a wonderful thing this weekend. I went over to a friend’s house, picked up their 2 year old daughter, and together the two of us alone visited the Butterfly Pavillion.
We were out for about two hours. It was a blast! It was not the unmitigated disaster I was bracing myself for, and this is true for so many reasons. Mostly because this child, this miracle child, is a dream of a toddler. She’s patient, she’s well behaved and quiet and respectful of inside v. outside voices AND she is a pretty sharp communicator… all things considered. We talked in the car about stuff I really have no idea what we were talking about and we asked nonsense questions and answered in toddler-ese answers which over time seemed to solve all the world's problems. We chatted lightly in this way for the whole trip with nary a scream or whine to interfere. Also, the trip was made immeasurably more pleasant by the fact that she took a huge power-poo right before we left and her disarmingly sweet Poppa got to deal with it instead of me. Way to go, Pops. You kick ass.
At the facility, we immediately took to perching on my knee and investigating the various glass cases full of bugs and beetles. BEEDUHL she’d proclaim at the tank of roaches. BADDAFLAH she told the bustling case of honeybees. SHEESHEE she whispered to the tank of starfish and kelp. She never once banged on the counters or glass and waited quietly on my lap while we sat for a moment to watch a giant tarantula crawl over the hands of a VERY talented handler. We weren’t old enough to touch the spider, but we looked at it and decided it was a PIDDY SPIDAH. I agreed, grateful for the opportunity to take a pass on holding the thing myself.
She was so gentle when touching the star fish in the touch-it tank, too. She used the back of her fingers like a pro without even having to be told. When prompted, she said a luscious DANKYOO to the handler there as well.
Finally we made it to the butterfly sanctuary. Her little head pretty much exploded when she noticed the butterflies… which took a little while, actually, because they don’t hang out at the door and because it takes a while to get adjusted to the sudden heat and humidity of the room. BADDAFLAH! She proclaimed, gripping my finger tightly and leading us up the winding path. We stopped to see the flowers, to touch a few soggy leaves, to slap the big stone benches and to muse at the pond of hypnotic goldfish. Bahflah, she’d whisper when we got really close to one. Now, bear in mind, she had been here only a week ago, so she was already a seasoned regular and knew all kinds of things about the facility that I, myself, was only just re-discovering.
At 12:30, they had a release of “fresh” butterflies into the sanctuary. They were just hatched that morning and pumped up and dried off and ready to live out their lives with their fluttery brethren. A crowd of onlookers gathered at the site and the spokesperson took her place, cage in hand. The spokesperson had the spiel down pretty good, and even managed to delicately lace herself between the over-eager children at her knees… my charge among them. Let me tell you, this child was HILLARIOUS! As soon as the spokesperson started listing the rules, my little charge stood there at her knees and addressed the crowd in a towering voice and gave her own toddler-ese interpretation of the rules. “The first thing we need to remember is don’t touch the butterflies!” chirped the super perky spokesperson, to wit “DOHN-TOUCH-ABADDAFLAH” my charge would then echo, arms waving in the air as if it were the most obvious rule in the world. The most amazing moment came when my poor little charge’s fingers found themselves inconveniently smashed under the foot of the spokesperson. Now I know what you’re thinking: Screams and sadness and the end of the world… but I tell you right now, this little child just looked offended, banged on the spokesperson’s shin with her free hand and shouted “HEYHEY HAY!"
A genuine apology and a free’d hand was all it took to avert disaster.
Insane. We were both getting pretty tired now and my little partner had grown weary of all this walking independently, so we took our leave and had some crackers and milk at the shady picnic tables outside. One more stroll around the grounds to look at the sunflowers and it was time to go home.
Strapped in, windows down and a seductive breeze blowing over us, I said “Hey, wanna’ go home?”
“naw” came the response.
“Wanna go see Momma and Poppa?”
“yeah” came the response, with mild enthusiasm.
“Okay, let’s go home!”
“yeah” came a resigned little voice from behind me… as we pulled out and made the silent drive back home to a grateful Momma and Poppa.
It was so much fun.
And today: I am so exhausted. My legs may never be the same. Every muscle in my body hurts from the lifting and the toddler-walking and the squatting and the stooping. I’m spent. Like, seriously SPENT.
I realize that this kind of thing is supposed to make me want children of my own someday. These experiences are supposed to make the hormones surge, nesting instincts blossom, and great motherly sighs are supposed to start emanating from someplace dew-y and filled with Disney movies. I gotta tell you, though, for as much fun as I had… I REALLY appreciated the chance to drive home and sack the hell out for a few hours.
I am going to love this Auntie business. I really do like spending time with these tiny, incomplete people. They’re impossibly more entertaining than I had anticipated and they’re roughly 400 times more tiring than I could have imagined. And I only spent a few hours with her! I know it’s different when they’re “yours”… and I totally get how the good parts make the hard parts worth while and I’m well familiar with all the gorgeous little PBS platitudes out there.
I also know that it’s hard, really hard, and that sometimes it’s really important to know enough about yourself to acknowledge that even though it’d be a different kind of good… the kind of good I have now is a way better fit for me than anything else right now. I know it’d be okay if we did end up having kids. I know it’d work out.
I also know that I’d rather be an Auntie.
And I am an Auntie!
So look at that, so far, everybody wins!