Last week, my daughter got one of those grow-your-own-butterflies kits. For those of you not familiar, you get a plastic container with 5 caterpillars in it and watch as they grow into butterflies that you eventually release into the wild. It’s a great gift and makes me feel good that my daughter is learning about science in between the endless hours of Disney Plus that fill our pandemic existence. After we got our caterpillars situated in their new home (where hopefully my children will not accidentally shake them to an early demise), I asked my daughter what she wanted to name them. “I’ll wait until they become butterflies to name them,” she answered. I thought about this for a minute. Do we only value the caterpillars once they become butterflies? What about the caterpillars now? Are they going to live out their 7-10 caterpillar days with us as nameless vehicles for butterfly transformation?
I approached my daughter with my case for naming the caterpillars now. The caterpillars are the same beings as the butterflies they will eventually become. Why do we deem one state as more desirable than the other? Aren’t the caterpillars worthy of names now, exactly as they are? She was unrelenting. “I want to wait until they are butterflies.”
The more that I thought about this, the more I realized the whole setup was designed to value the butterfly. After all, it’s called a grow a BUTTERFLY kit. The caterpillar has really been left out of the equation, a mere means to an end.
Then I thought about the before and after pictures that inundate my social media feeds. I thought about Oprah’s proclamation that “inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can become” (Read: thin woman). I thought about the $78 billion dollar a year weight loss industry that convinces us we are only valuable when we are smaller. I thought about all the messages my daughters will be exposed to over their lifetimes telling them that they are a “before,” that they are not good enough as they currently are, that their most important mission in life is to transform themselves into something our racist, patriarchal, capitalist society deems acceptable. Fuck the butterflies! (Okay before the internet comes after me, I’m not butterfly shaming here. Butterflies are cool too).
I have decided to name the caterpillars. I won’t tell my daughter because she told me not to and I’m not brave enough to disobey her. No judgement please, it’s a pandemic and we are all just trying to survive. But I’ll know they are named, valued, and loved just as they are, whether they be caterpillars or butterflies or anything in between (I guess that cocoon phase?). Now I just need to think of 5 names worthy of these phenomenal creatures. Any suggestions?