Flying Free in the 25th Hour
We watched as the butterflies ascended into the sunlit sky above the playground at the elementary school. My two-year-old daughter nestled in her stroller, and I held my four-year-old son’s hand as we gazed at the brightly colored winged creatures fluttering in the soft wind. As a freelance columnist for a local paper, I was working on assignment but was able to bring my two youngest children with me since the science project finale was open to families.
As part of their science class, second graders had each been given a caterpillar and had watched the metamorphosis of their butterflies in their classroom habitats, from worm-like creature to chrysalis to the emergence of the winged beauty. Now at the butterfly release that culminated the project, some of the children were sad and reluctant to let their little friends – many of whom had been given names – fly to freedom.
“Look, Mommy, look,” said my little boy as almost 100 butterflies–monarchs, viceroys, painted ladies—fluttered in the light breeze. Tomorrow I would write about this amazing butterfly release. Today, I was simply observing with my children. I would create the column during the precious 25th hour when I emerged from my own chrysalis of caretaking for a brief time to become a focused writer with a deadline.
The life cycle of the butterfly is much like the writing cycle of the mother-writer who dreams of publishing her writing. Like the caterpillar, the aspiring mother-writer plods toward her dreams, consuming the leaves of books, spinning her words into a chrysalis of career dreams, hoping to emerge as a published author.
The mother-writer who dreams of seeing her work in print needs a place to read and a place to dream; a place to incubate her ideas and to spin her words. Like the caterpillar, the mother-writer must create this safe haven where growth and change can occur. And the observant mother realizes she has already spun the perfect cocoon for her family and for herself. From the time she nested in preparation for her first child, she has been spinning warmth, laughter, joy and security into a chrysalis of love. Within this sacred place, she prepares her little ones for their metamorphosis and works toward her own metamorphosis from aspiring mother-writer to published author.
The classic children’s book Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulis tells the story of Yellow, a caterpillar who must find the courage to spin her cocoon. She learns from a gray-haired worm-like creature that the cocoon is an “in-between house where the changes take place.” Her new caterpillar friend encourages her by explaining that, “During the change, it will seem to you or to anyone who might peek that nothing is happening – but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time.”
In a similar way, the process of metamorphosis is where the greatest changes occur in the life cycle of the mother-writer. The in-between house forms the perfect cocoon where the mother can change from aspiring writer to eventually published author. The metamorphosis takes place in the chrysalis of caretaking she has carefully and lovingly created for her children and for herself. Outwardly, it doesn’t appear that anything is happening, but the mother-writer is becoming. It just takes time.
As creative ideas incubate in the mind of the mother-writer, they grow and enlarge and eventually push to be set free. Like the butterfly, the mother-writer instinctively knows when it is time for the metamorphosis to be complete. As she embraces the 25th hour, the mother-writer temporarily sheds her duties, her responsibilities, and her obligations. She mentally and sometimes physically leaves her cocoon and emerges from the in-between house as a writer.
As a mother-writer years ago, I worked as a full-time mother and part-time freelance columnist. I left my house every other Friday to write my bi-weekly column. The plan of the day was always the same. I dropped my kids off at Mothers Morning Out (MMO), the perfect name of a wonderful daycare program for a mother-writer venturing out of her routine.
After dropping my kids off at 9:30 a.m. and getting them settled into the classrooms, I stopped at a little place for coffee halfway between the school and home. With my 2:00 p.m. deadline rapidly approaching, I scribbled a boring 5W lead, knowing I would change it later. There was no time for writer’s block and no time to wait for inspiration to strike or for the perfect lead to emerge. I would always find the lead buried in the first draft of the column. I would extract it and put it at the top and write the second draft.
When the second draft was done and the coffee long gone, I would drive home to type it, this being long before the days of laptop computers. Before leaving my in-between house, I would revise, edit and proofread the piece, drive to MMO to pick up my kids, and then drive straight to the newspaper office, column in hand to meet the deadline, this being long before the days of E-mail.
On those Friday mornings, it was always the force of the deadline that lifted me from my routine and propelled me toward my dream of being a published writer. According to scientific descriptions of the beautiful winged creatures, a butterfly’s wings act as both lifters and propellers. Likewise, once the mother-writer leaves her duties behind for a while, her writer’s wings propel her upward and onward toward her dreams.
My son let go of my hand and shouted as he pointed to the sky, “Look Mommy! Look at that pretty orange and brown butterfly with the white spots! “Look at her go,” he said as the winged beauty flew close beside us on the soft wind.”
“Yes, I see it,” I told him. “I think it was a painted lady. She is flying free now.” And as we gazed into the sky, watching the butterflies, I think I must have felt, deep down, like the caterpillar named Yellow who courageously said, “If I have inside me the stuff to make cocoons, maybe the stuff of butterflies is there too.”
Columnist Lori Drake is the mother of six grown children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, Daily Nebraskan, Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, and the Daily Reflector and the Farmville Enterprise in North Carolina. The recipient of three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition, Lori is currently writing a book about her innovative school.