Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Save the Monarchs, Save the World

Here's my feel-good story of the week (we need these a lot more these days, I think). Every once in a while I need to share something that isn’t television-oriented, and may be considered a little more personal than a lot of the stuff I write about on here. But this is something I wanted to talk about because of how much it inspired me. My inspiration? My daughter, Sydney, who turned five years old a week ago.

I’ve mentioned on here before that Syd is obsessed with Monarch caterpillars and butterflies. A little over a year ago, a wonderful caregiver of hers taught her about raising the caterpillars into butterflies, and we spent the summer finding these creatures on milkweed leaves, feeding them and keeping them safe throughout the next few weeks, watching over the chrysalises as they formed into butterflies, and releasing them a day or two after they opened. Some of them had crazy names, and one of them died (it didn’t come out of the chrysalis properly, and I ended up on the phone to a butterfly conservatory talking to a scientist and attempting surgery with a pin and a pair of tweezers on this poor little thing, whose antennae had mysteriously become attached to the inside of the chrysalis and it couldn’t get out). I was told by a lepidopterist that in the wild, caterpillars have a 10% chance of surviving into butterflies. Captured and raised properly, they have an 80% chance. So we knew we were doing a good thing.

When the last butterfly was released in October, we began reading books about them. We learned that there are two main cycles in summer: in June, Monarch butterflies appear and lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. These eggs hatch and become caterpillars, and by July they’re butterflies. They then mate and lay their eggs on milkweed again, creating the second summer cycle of butterflies. Then they die. These June caterpillars have a life cycle of about 6 weeks – their children, on the other hand, will live up to NINE MONTHS. No one knows why this is, but this second, hardier group, will hatch in late summer and will migrate all the way to Mexico, where they cover trees in the most beautiful way as they wait out the winter and then make the long journey back to North America to lay their eggs the following May/June, and the cycle begins again. It’s truly amazing.

In late fall last year, my daughter and I watched a documentary about Monarchs (there’s the TV connection!), and it said they’re becoming endangered. Now, if you live in North America I’m sure you’ve seen them fluttering everywhere in the past few weeks, and may find that hard to believe. But to migrate to Mexico, they follow certain airstreams, and in recent years large skyscrapers have been built that hinder their travel; roadways have gone up where Monarchs are hit by cars; landscapes have utterly changed, and the Monarchs aren’t making it to Mexico, which means they can’t make it back, and their numbers are becoming fewer and fewer. Those who ARE getting to Mexico are finding it difficult to find their way to the safe trees that maintain their body temperatures, because the very forests housing the Monarchs are being cut down (this picture shows you how they completely cover a tree and make it look like it’s made out of Monarchs). My daughter was devastated to hear this (as was I) and she said we had to do something, because she wanted to keep raising them every summer for the rest of her life.

Back in March, I was driving her to gymnastics and we heard a story on the radio of a 12-year-old girl who’d eschewed presents at her party and instead asked for donations to a charity. Syd immediately piped up that she wanted to do that for her birthday. I encouraged it, even though I thought she might change her mind when the day came (anyone out there with a five-year-old will know what I mean). Closer to her birthday she told me she still wanted to do it, and that when we sent out the invitations we had to let parents know that she wanted donations to save the monarchs and not presents. I explained to her that that meant when they all left, she wouldn’t have any gifts, and was she OK with that? She thought about it for a second and said yes, adding that she knows her grandparents and aunts and uncles would get her things still. (haha!)

So now I had to find a charitable organization devoted to the conservation of Monarchs. I found one in Mexico, and a few in the southern U.S., but they didn’t seem very big and were a little shady, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I suggested to Sydney that maybe there wasn’t a place that just did that, and maybe she’d have to get presents after all! In response, her bottom lip started to quiver and she said, eyes welling with tears, “But if I can’t help save the butterflies, then what will happen if I want to collect Monarchs with MY daughter and they don’t exist anymore?”

Seriously. She said that.

I now knew she was serious, and I was going to do whatever it took to make this happen for her. I kept hunting and found that the World Wildlife Fund has a section of their research devoted to conserving the Monarch butterfly by preserving the forests in Mexico and working with the local government to keep deforestation at a minimum, and far away from where the Monarchs nest. I called up their Toronto office and talked to a woman who was at first surprised at her age, “How old is she?!” she said, and then said we could collect the money, and if I wanted to bring my daughter down to the office she’d arrange for their community fundraising coordinator to present her with something for her efforts.

At the party, the first child arrived with money and a card, and my daughter thanked her, handed the money to me and said, “This is our first money for the butterflies!” and then grabbed the girl’s hand to take her outside. She was like that for the entire party and then at the end of the party I gave her a small gift along with the ones I’d gotten for her guests, and she was thrilled with it. She was so happy when I counted up the donations for her, and I was incredibly proud of her. We had a separate party for family members, and we collected more money there.

In the end, she had raised $220 for the Monarchs!

Last week we headed down to the WWF-Canada head offices, and I said to her as we were walking up to the building that she might not realize that this is a very rare and special thing for a five-year-old to do, and I was so proud that she would rather do this than have toys. She just said matter-of-factly, “But I still got LOTS of toys for my birthday, Mommy.” She really didn’t see this as anything out of the ordinary. We went up the elevator to the offices, and a woman came out of the office to see us. She presented Sydney with a certificate saying that she had symbolically adopted a Monarch, and then gave her a little silk stuffed Monarch. My daughter was over the moon, and when she got the certificate ran toward me saying, “Look, Mommy, it has my NAME on it!!” and she was beaming from ear to ear.

I’d love to say, “Am I not an awesome parent for raising such a socially aware and giving child?” but I can’t. My kids are spoiled rotten by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and me. They have tons of toys. I have 12 bookshelves in our house covered in books. I have two huge cabinets of DVDs (mostly TV box sets). We’re not a family who doesn’t acquire things, who lives sparsely. I give money to charity, but I’ve never given up gifts to do so.

What I have taught her is to sympathize with other creatures. She handles her butterflies so delicately, never touching their wings, and cries like it’s the end of the world if anything happens to one (and often when she has to let them go). And that immense sensitivity that she possesses has now extended to this. Here's a photo of her showing her two-year-old brother how to hold a butterfly properly:

I am so, so proud of her. I’ve been inspired to follow her lead and do the same in years to come, and here’s hoping her story will inspire some other people. And that you’ve learned a little bit about the Monarch butterflies, who are as dear to my heart as they are to my daughter’s.

It’s pretty amazing when you realize you suddenly have a five-year-old, and she’s even more extraordinary now than she was the day you first met her. :)

If you would like to symbolically adopt a Monarch from the WWF, you can go here if you're in Canada, and here in the U.S.


Michele said...

Awwwwwww......you made me tear up! She actually told me all about her plan for her birthday when I saw her this summer. She seemed so grown up when she was telling Hayley and me all about the butterflies and how she wanted to help save them. You have every right to be proud...she's a very special little girl. Hayley sends kisses!

margosita said...

Oh, this post made me cry. Monarch are special and close to my heart, after learning about them as a young teenager and visiting their overwintering sites in Mexico. I hope someday Sydney gets to visit, as well.

I even have a monarch tattoo.

Check out the monarch lab at the University of Minnesota, http://www.monarchlab.umn.edu/ Karen Oberhauser has spent much of her life studying (and saving!) the monarch. There are lots more monarch links at that page, too!

Joan Crawford said...

Thank you for sharing this, I love to hear about this stuff! What a little Lovey she is, eh? Isn't it amazing to watch this little creature who you have loved and nurtured go on to do the same with other creatures?

::joins hands and begins singing Wind Beneath My Wings::

Gillian Whitfield said...

This post made me well up. It proves that even the smallest person can make a difference in the world. I have always enjoyed the presence of butterflies. Especially Monarchs.

allison-lee said...

What a caring and thoughtful daughter you have! And how lucky she is to have a mother who nurtures that in her.

I am a kindergarten teacher and this year am developing a new unit of inquiry on insects. Hopefully I am able to inspire my students to take action in the same way your daughter was so inspired.

Cedar said...

Beautiful story! Have you been to the Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge? I was there in July, and I recall that they will be having "Monarch Days" in September.

carina menaker said...

Thanks for that. Is not always easy to tell your own life stories.I appreciate that you;d share that--and it was definitely encouraging.

yourblindspot said...

That's so awesome! She sounds like a brilliant kid, and you're obviously doing a great job fostering that brilliance. Well played, Mommy... well played.

That being said -- my 5-year-old is also a bit of an amateur entomologist, so we periodically share our indoor living space with an assortment of crawly critters. And I have to ask... is caterpillar poop not the weirdest-looking stuff on the planet? Seriously, it's like some kind of strange green Japanese snack food.

JennM said...

Oh Nikki! That story made my eyes water! What a wonderful thing, to be able to show so much compassion at such a young age.
I plant butterfly bushes (2) in my yard. Do you have any of these? They attract monarchs, as well as those plain white butterflies. (I'm not sure what they're called—I bet your daughter could tell me!) The plants are beautiful, and have deep purple flowers near the end of season. I enjoy looking at the butterflies, and I swear, my cat has only caught one or two white ones the whole time we've had it! LOL. He's more into dragonflies and birds—yuck!

Anonymous said...

How wonderful!!!!

Forest City Fashionista said...

and you should be proud of her--what a lovely story! And kudos to you, for encouraging your daughter (and son) to be aware of the world around them and all the glorious things in it, including Monarch butterflies.

JennM said...

Haha...I just clicked on this site instead of the re-watch by accident, and I just got it! Save the monarchs, Save the world. Hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story; I'm wiping tears! Hey, you know what would be an awesome family vacation for you guys? Come to Florida, do the usual Florida "stuff" (Disney, Sea World, etc) and on the way to Orlando, stop in Gainesville, FL to see the butterfly museum. There are thousands of live butterflies in a beautiful indoor rainforest environment, complete with waterfall and pond, that you can walk among for as long as you like.

Anonymous said...

Wow.. that IS indeed awesomely terrific :)
You are a very special mom to share so much with Syd, and your influence shows in her caring actions.
Thank you for sharing this experience.

Michael Holland said...

Once again Miss Stafford, so VERY well done indeed ...

Anonymous said...

Your story made me teary, but in a good way. Amazing kidlet you've got there.

Beth said...

Superheroes come in all sizes.

Paithan1 said...

This made me cry. I have a 3 1/2 year old and we're always working on showing love and respect for all around us. I hope my child is as wonderful as yours.

Katy Boose said...

I read your post while at work and stumbled upon this article:
The Butterfly Conservatory is selling Monarch rear kits.