Saturday, November 3, 2012

Waiting For Butterflies

As most of you probably know by now, I am currently Writer-In-Residence at the Melbourne Zoo. Earlier this week, I was asked to turn up for a photo shoot with the meerkats for the Herald Sun, along with the three other writers involved. As it happened, my son's school was closed for a teacher's strike, so I decided to bring him along to meet the meerkats, then spend the rest of the day with me at the zoo.

'OK,' I said, once the photo shoot was over. 'I'll follow you. It's midday now and the zoo doesn't close until 5pm. Here's the map - we'll go wherever you want.'

I feel like I'm always rushing my youngest, so every now and then, if it's at all possible, I like to let him go at his own pace. We began by wandering through the elephant trail, then on to the butterfly enclosure. It was a very hot day, and the butterfly room was steamy, so once I saw my son wasn't in a hurry, I found a bench and sat down to watch him.

'How are you going?' I asked after a few minutes. 'Ready to move on?'

He was standing arms out, waiting for a butterfly to land on him. He shook his head gently. 'No,' he said in a quiet voice. 'I can only move when a butterfly lands on me.'

Really? I thought, already battling feelings of impatience. 'Hey look, there's one on your hat!'

My son rolled his eyes upwards. 'Nup,' he said, barely moving his lips, lest he scare off the butterfly. 'That doesn't count. It has to land on my arms.'

Now, there are many things I can learn from my son. The first of them would obviously be patience. I like to think I had it as a kid, too, but I sure could do with a top-up every now and then. I decided this would be a perfect zen practice for me. I wouldn't check my phone, I wouldn't rush my son, I would just sit and be at one with the butterflies - for as long as it took. After all, if a nine-year-old boy could do it, surely I could?

An hour and a half later, still ensconced in his butterfly game, my son had only rounded the first corner. There were three more corners to go. I am ashamed to admit that he had beaten me. I made some lame excuse about needing to go to the toilet or needing a drink or something like that, and tried not to lose my temper when he vehemently protested, 'But I'm not even halfway!'

I have no idea how long it would have taken us to get through that damn butterfly enclosure if I hadn't rushed my son. Maybe he might have given up in his own time? Maybe we'd still be there now? Me, dozing on the floor amongst all those broken butterfly wings. My son still waiting patiently, arms outstretched, like some blooming zen master showing up all my inadequacies.


  1. Ha! I once said that if extreme dawdling was a sport, my kids would excel! It's so hard not to be impatient. I fail every day. Several times.

    1. I know! I feel like I was much more patient with kid number one, but kid number three gets the older, crankier me, unfortunately!