By Erica Leibrandt
I walk on the prairie.
The milkweed leaves are ripe and green, their blossoms dusky purple, hanging heavily from their stems. I rejoice, not just at their lush beauty, but at their promise to usher in lives other than their own. Within just a few months, they will be in a state of grim decay, home to silky caterpillar cocoons, colored like hard candy in pink, blue and green.
From these cocoons, all manner of butterflies will emerge and dance in unpaved ellipses among the tall grass. I will chase them, laughing, as I do every year, followed by whichever canine companion happens to be with me on that day. I have done this since my older sister explained the purpose of milkweeds to me down by the railroad tracks when I was six years old (now 40 years ago).
This is early summer, and in addition to the annual shiftings of the earth, another metamorphosis seems to be taking place.
My son is 12.
My son—who I once balanced so easily on my hip, who now can nearly gaze at me eye to eye while standing in his (boat sized) stocking feet. This boy, for whom my body was built as the milkweed is built for the butterfly, and for whom my body has cried every day since his birth in the abject fear that he might somehow slip away, is finally doing just that.
It is natural, of course, this evolution: His need to be apart from me, and my need to let him go. It makes me think of the Robert Frost poem:
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
When I first learned I was pregnant, the letting go was about different things.
I released my youth, my selfishness, my independence. I released the idea that I was in control of my physical self, a horrifying prospect as my flesh expanded, my bones realigned and secret codes unraveled in my DNA driving me to develop such unprecedented habits as organize my Tupperware and wear my seatbelt.
None of this mattered (much) once the babe was in my arms. I settled into the idea that my purpose was the creation and care of this child, and so we moved onward together in what seemed to be a relentless tangle of stray Legos, dirty laundry and Sponge Bob Square Pants episodes. The boy grew, and the ways in which he needed me changed, but as long as the need was there, I felt ripe and lush and womanly.
Now, all at once, he is pushing his way out of the cocoon. No longer am I allowed to nuzzle the sweet smelling skin on the back of his neck or ruffle his hair. He has friends unknown to me, private languages and jokes—behind locked doors I hear raucous laughter, the sort which abruptly grinds to a halt when an adult is suspected to be close by. In his clear young eyes I often perceive an expression of contempt (maybe even hatred), a look I remember well from my own 12 year old face, when everything and everyone senselessly enraged me.
I knew it was coming, just as I know summer follows spring.
I knew it was coming.
Is it the suddenness which has undone me? As on the prairie, where one day the grass is just stubble, a few inches high and overnight (it seems), after a hard rain, it extends almost to my shoulders and is filled to bursting with rabbits, birds and snakes.
Has my body served its purpose like the milkweed? Have I? For what remains is but my husk, a thing once beautiful, now discarded and tired. What is my purpose now?
I walk in the prairie thinking of these things. A storm system is gathering in the south, making the sky the same gray as the enormous electrical towers, which buzz with barely contained energy overhead.
I imagine these fields as they will be in a few months, alive with a multitude of brightly colored insect wings, the milkweed blossoms long gone, their pods gone to seed, their insides bursting with the white silk which reminds me of a newborn’s hair. As their stems become stiff and their pods rigid, still they will stand here. They will stand and witness, and be essential to, the poems the earth will write.
They know, I think, that if they stand there long enough, the butterflies will come back and rest upon them.
Erica Leibrandt is a 200 hour RYT, level 2 Reiki practitioner and a master’s student in clinical counseling at Northwestern University. Mother to six, Erica is partial to vegan food, good scotch and is frequently able to win staring contests with dogs. Her writing credits include The Sun Magazine, Yoga Journal and Elephant Journal, where she was a featured writer with over 500 articles. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Editor: Dana Gornall