Elaine Mansfield’s Evil Plan to Control My Life & Inner Monologue by Melody Smith

Kaden’s reward

I’m excited about the spark in this week’s writing class! A food spark gives me delicious ideas. But first, I have to take out these ten monarch caterpillar babies from the large box Elaine gave me. I’ll look at them while my grandson Kaden is sleeping. OMG, they are so tiny!

Thursday: Kaden went to day camp. Now I can get started on this writing. Maybe Thanksgiving dinner is the right topic—my mom used to bake the perfect turkey, mashed potatoes and those dreadful orange vegetables— but, wait! The milkweed is almost gone. Can those little fellas BREATHE in sealed plastic containers? I open the tops and leave them ajar, while I go out for fresh milkweed leaves next to our blackberry bushes. Ow! Ow! Thorns! But this is some nice milkweed. The guys really like it as I put a leaf in each container. There, now I can back to–darn! I have to drive to the other side of the lake to pick up Kaden. Then I can get back to writ—oh, no, it’s baseball night.

Seeking succulent milkweed

Kaden and his YaYa Melody Smith

Friday:  I need fresh milkweed. Does Cornell use chemical pesticides?Lots of “No Trespassing” signs. Hmmm…the line of sight is hidden by a steep garden at that house. No one will see me steal a little.

I’d better pick up Kaden after I drop this milkweed off at home….What?  One caterpillar got out!  I thought these guys were deaf and slow. Wait! There he is, edging towards the dog dish. Whew! That could’ve been bad. So, let me get back to the spark. I could add my mom’s funny comments after Thanksgiving dinner. Instead I fall asleep on a chair next to the caterpillars.

Saturday: Wow. Those boys are bigger. Wait! Two are in a blackish gooey mushy state. I google monarch caterpillar viruses online.  EWWWW. Now I have to disinfect everything. OMG—SPIDERS! Tiny baby spiders jump out of a third plastic container. No caterpillar. I will not scream. I carry it outside. Did spiders eat this one? Elaine will be so disappointed in me.

I go shopping at Mimi’s Closet. Oh, hi Sarah! Coffee? Oh, sorry Sarah, I can’t!  Why?  Milkweed leaves. I’ll explain later. I stop to buy more nectar-rich flowers.

Sunday: I skip church to go out and find milkweed. These guys are getting huge. My husband has a surprise. Rick! Thank you for cleaning up that old aquarium. I’m pretty sure they’re too big to eat each other now. Kaden and I create a paradise of milkweed and add branches for enrichment activities.

Kaden says we should name them. Hercules is the hungriest, biggest caterpillar. Persephone is long and thin, shy about eating in public. Barbie and Gidget like to dress in the latest leaves. Tubby is, well… Tubby.  Marco Polo eats leaves like he’s marching across Central Asia. Ken is standoffish. But if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that like Barbie’s Ken, he doesn’t have the interest or equipment. Kaden’s friends come over. I have to monitor the pool. STOP SHOOTING EACH OTHER WITH WATER GUNS. They aim and fire at me. I just KNOW I can put the assignment together once he goes to camp tomorrow.

Kaden finds the missing Ben-Ten Ken

Monday: I’ve got a draft done, but I have to pick some milkweed. NO!! Ken is out of the aquarium! I look everywhere. I cannot find Ken. Kaden just renamed him Ben-Ten Ken. The phone rings. Let me call back. Something is happening. Hercules is very still on the highest branch. NO sign of Ben-Ten Ken. Even after I sweep the floor and dump out the garbage. I remember to pick up Kaden.

Tuesday: Several gravitated to the top branches and near the aquarium roof. They aren’t eating. Rick, honey? Can you come home early? Oh, crap. The weather looks awful. Baseball is cancelled. Kaden points to a super-cellish group of clouds. Is that a tornado?  Emergency Broadcast Alert for Storm Warning: Hail, wind, heavy rain. Stuck inside, Kaden shouts Here’s BEN-TEN KEN!!  His sharp eyes found him UNDER the dining table, motionless, glued to the underside. It could be worse. Kaden, let’s see what happens.

And then….

Here’s what happened next!

Wednesday: This morning I wake up and groan. I have nothing for writing class. I walk over to the table where Ben-Ten Ken was hanging. Underneath is one perfect, defiant, light green chrysalis. On the plastic aquarium roof, having ignored the branches, four beautiful green chrysalides dangle. Barbie and Gidget are still making up their minds to change their outfits forever. They are all beautiful.

Damn you, Elaine Mansfield!

Bless you, Elaine Mansfield!


With joyful thanks to Kaden and his YaYa Melody Smith for sharing their adventure. All’s well that end’s well. Photos of Kaden and the Monarch were taken by Melody. Thanks for being willing, Kaden. Along with sharing monarch miracles with Kaden, I had fun releasing butterflies with another friend’s granddaughter. What playful experiences do you share with kids? For my first post about raising Monarchs in 2017, see Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul. For a post about mythology and butterflies, see Bees, Butterflies, and Blessings: Cycles of Nature and Grief.

  1. Wow! Just WOW!

  2. Elaine, I enjoyed the joy in this piece. Thanks to the Yaya, Kaden and the monarchs for making me smile.

  3. A delightful change of pace! I love the chrysalis under the dining room table. Thank you again for the thrill of releasing butterflies with our granddaughter!

    • Please bring Zia again if she’d like to come, Harriet. I’m releasing butterflies most days with lots on the way until mid September. This is made for kids and the kid in me.

  4. Ah, that was lovely to read about Melody and her grandson Kaden’s wonderful butterfly adventures with your transformative box of magic! What an amazing gift I was thinking! As always Elaine, you’ve posted this week’s story with some great photos too. I loved the first photo of Kaden, I’m calling it, “Eyes On The Prize!” What an amazing adventure they had together and how wonderful that Melody was inspired to write about it.

    I loved your end question and could write lots about the years I spent working with children but my own inner child shouted out louder … “tell them about me, tell them about me!” And so it’s the woods that my inner child delights in most. Actually just the thought of entering woodland sends little Deborah into a happy place! Why? Because getting up close with nature is what she loves to do best. Love and light, (big) Deborah.

    • Deborah, Melody took the photos of Kaden with butterflies, so you remind me to edit and make that clear in my post. Since Melody couldn’t write about what she planned to write for her class, she wrote about life as it presented itself–something that must ring a bell for you. Melody has a comedic touch I envy.

      My inner child is captivated by nature from bluebirds to butterflies (in the field or on my back porch), from coyotes to to wildflowers to trees. This morning, out my kitchen window, peering over the hot colors of the butterfly garden, a spotted fawn and I made eye contact. There was a snort–Mama calling–and I saw the doe just up the hill nearly hidden in high weeds watching her little one getting a little too close to those untrustworthy humans. Such good fortune to live close to the natural world. My little one wants to take your little one’s hand and walk her to the forest to see what we can find. Maybe someday…

      • I forgot to mention Melody’s title, it had me laughing out loud! Ha-ha! I love her humour! Re: Walking, hand-in-hand (oh how you threw my soul up high with that line!) if not in person let us help our inner children visit the poetic landscape of our souls and find each other within our dreams … deep in the middle of the Great Mother’s ancient woodland.In soul, Deborah.

        • The title made me laugh, too. I was not expecting any story about what happened to the caterpillars after I shared them with YaYa and Kaden, but when Melody brought this to our class, I flipped out over the title and fell in love with the piece before reading it. Deborah, I’m grateful to walk with you through the realms of nature, dreams, mythology, and soulwork of all kinds.

  5. I have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher who has been raising monarchs, too. I love to watch both of your posts. She makes videos and photo presentations and different things for her class when school restarts in September.
    I’m going to forward this to her. What a wonderful story.

    • Thank you, Mary. The woman who inspired me a few years ago taught in an elementary school and had many teachers raising Monarchs and releasing them with students. The teacher heard from a mutual friend that I have fields of milkweed, so she emailed and asked if she could release Monarchs on my land. Wow! Yes. Yes. Yes! By the time she got here a few days later, I was reading online about protecting Monarchs and out inspecting milkweed plants for caterpillars. The following year, at the same teacher’s urging, I began collecting eggs which makes for the most disease-free butterflies. This year I collected many, many eggs because of her added instruction. This teacher and I report in to each other during Monarch season. I’ve released 55 as of today and at least that many are still in chrysalis or caterpillars of various sizes. The ones I’m raising now will migrate.

      Finally, Melody who wrote this piece is not only a devoted grandma, she’s a devoted teacher.

  6. I love your mission to save the monarchs and share the wonder of them with children and other friends! You’re truly passing it forward. I bet Kaden will be doing this one day with his son or grandson too! Blessings,

    • I love sharing this experience, too, Jeanie. I am silly enthusiastic about this project and visit the Monarchs in my pajamas first thing every morning. Easy enough since they’re on the back porch. It’s one small act to support nature and heal myself.

  7. Thank you for a glimpse of nature through someone else’s lens. What a happy surprise here this week!.

    You asked: What playful experiences do you share with kids? I’m delegating playfulness to Grandpa this month. Just weeks now before launch, he serves as supervisor of fishing in our lake (Ian) and roller of bowling pins (the teens). I take my refreshment from walks in the woods with my Fitbit.

    What a breath of fresh air, this post. Thank you, Elaine, Kaden, and Ya Ya MelodY!

    • Melody has a sense of humor. I loved ending the summer with laughter and Kaden and Monarchs and fun. Laughter and lightness heals in this tense world. I’m glad you’re walking every day. I just returned from a hike where I paused here and there to watch bees packing their pollen sacs. I’m glad Cliff is taking over playful duties while you work, work, and work. More deep breaths and you’ll get there.

  8. I am glad you all get the humor of my piece. It has been a great time with Kaden to follow the monarchs with Elaine’s help. It meant so much to Kaden. I wish we could make all of August a Nationwide Monarch Event for children, not just the counting of them.

    Many people in America raise their grandchildren these days, and Kaden has given me a second chance at child rearing. Doing it with more wonder.

    Today, while I was weeding my rock garden, Kaden looked for caterpillars and butterflies. We marvelled at the bumblebees. He found an orange peeper frog. Next year we will create more habitat for bees and butterflies.

    And maybe, sometime, I will have time to write again.

    Love to Elaine.

    • Hi Melody. Probably most people who read my blog need some comic relief. I do! I’m glad Kaden enjoyed the butterflies and I love your idea. With all the distractions, we need to help kids see the miracles of nature. I like that he’s looking at bees, noticing pollen sacs (as you said on FB), and finding frogs. An entomologist in the making. You’ll write because that’s what you do so well. Thanks for taking on some of my caterpillars and being willing to share your adventure of raising caterpillars, a grandson, and trying to write.

  9. well, that was your writing piece and charming it is indeed Melody. Kaden clearly had a blast as you did too! Thanks Elaine for this!

    • It was so much fun I wanted to share it, Susan. Melody says Kaden shows increased enthusiasm for finding frogs, butterflies, and various kinds of critters. Melody hopes to do more to support wildlife in her plantings next year, something anyone can do. I love walking in town and seeing small clumps of milkweed planted for Monarchs in tiny gardens, in areas between driveways, and in town plantings. If we can’t deal with the big picture of climate change, we can still do something small.

  10. What a JOY this was to read, Elaine. I appreciated the humor and delight, as well as the great suspense of what was going to happen to Ben-Ten Ken! As for your question at the end of your post, I am stunned by the playfulness that I share with my three-year-old granddaughter who visits most weekends. It’s as though my inner child has finally found a playmate after having been largely ignored for many years. Even with chronic illness, I can sit on the porch swing with her, pretending it’s a ship, tucking colored napkins in the chains as flags to alert others when there are sightings of sharks or whales or flying monsters. Sending blessings and gratitude your way.

    • I also loved Melody’s story, Anne. I first fell in love with the title. It makes me happy to know you’re spending time with your granddaughter. What a gift that must be to you the adult and to the child who is alive and well within. And what a gift to her. You’re proving that the most important ingredient for play is the imagination. Thank you for the sweet, sweet story of your porch-swing ship.

  11. Yow, I remember listening to the broadcasted birthdays to learn if my favorite guy-friends or boy cousins would be called to serve or would be able to look forward to attending the colleges they’d worked hard to get into. I was still in high school so marches were out of the question in my strict household, until I got to college. Then I followed friends in protest rallies, while music played and people chanted.
    Sometimes I wonder where all that passion went to over the years. I felt like I was changing the world. There was so much hope.
    Wish I could feel that again now. Maybe I so avidly watch the presidential candidate town halls and debates because hearing so much fresh new enthusiasm brings back that feeling of hope. And change.

    • There was so much hope and belief that we could change things for the better in the sixties. There were mixed results but mostly good in my opinion. And of course the civil rights movement which was already going strong. I felt a similar spirit at the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. It was thrilling and exhilarating to be surrounded by all those determined, hopeful faces, women and men, nuns and monks, little kids and elderly people in wheelchairs, people of all colors and persuasions, burly black policemen wearing pink hats. Some of the climate change marches in Washington and in Albany were wonderful, too, but that 2017 experience was unforgettable at a profoundly depressing post-election time. I’m hopeful and know it’s important to rouse voters to show up at the polls in huge numbers. We’re not far from the Pennsylvania border, so maybe I’ll be back in Pennsylvania going door to door like I was in 2008–the fall after Vic died. My politically active friend doesn’t let anything stop her, so I rode in her car and on her enthusiastic coattails. I’m glad I did.

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