How I miss those caterpillars

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
Buckminster Fuller said that. What a great name. Buckminster.
He, if you don’t know or remember, was an American architect who created the geodesic dome design. He was a prolific writer, designer, inventor. In a nutshell, he did it all.
But he also had some serious ups and downs, losing a child to complications from polio and spinal meningitis, so the sentence that opens this column makes perfect sense if you imagine Mr. Fuller saying it.
It also got me thinking about things in my own life—children, for example.
A little girl came to visit the other day for a few hours. She had brand new front teeth that seemed too large for her little mouth, she had freckles that appeared to dance on her cheeks and over her nose, and she had thick red hair, like my Thea.
This little girl was a bit precocious, being raised an only child in an affluent home. She told me she was born on a stormy November night and her mother “was going to call me Storm, but reconsidered.”
When I told her she didn’t need to bother with her shoes to run in to say good-bye to “Stinky” the cat, she declined my offer, saying “good manners is always the best option.” Who could argue with that reasoning?
She was gangly, more legs than body, and she ran a bit like a windmill. I sat on my back deck holding my dog so the kids could go and hide, then I’d release “Gracie” to find them. I watched her run toward me and I thought about Buckminster Fuller.
Children, puppies, kittens, foals go through a transition period in their growth to adulthood, where things get a bit discombobulated. Legs are too long, teeth don’t fit, feet too big.
But you just know when you look at this wonderful creation, this perfect project under construction, that they have all the ingredients tucked inside them to become a butterfly.
I remember going through the “ugly” stage in life. I’d listen to Rosemary Clooney recite the story of the “Ugly Duckling” on a children’s record I had and I was comforted by the promise that I, too, would emerge on the other side a beautiful swan.
Though I wasn’t entirely convinced, burdened with awkwardness.
I watch little girls glamming it up these days with make-up worn too early and clothes much too old for them, and mothers who encourage this princess-embracing fanaticism, and I feel a deep sorrow that they are missing the point.
The little girl who came to visit certainly wore expensive clothes, but they were kids’ clothes—meant to get dirty, to roll in the spring mud with the dog, to have fun in.
Buckminster Fuller’s assertion about caterpillars and butterflies is true when we consider just about any dilemma, any problem we encounter. We can’t know that the solution may not only lead us away from something awkward and uncomfortable, nor can we be certain that something beautiful, wondrous even, will emerge.
Some days when I sit down to write, I feel I barely have a weak hold on the English language. The words won’t come; the idea I have something of value to say seems ludicrous.
But if I’m patient, if I trust my pen and paper, something wonderful usually will erupt.
My children came with crooked teeth and legs to their armpits and freckles and unco-operative hair. Those very qualities made them perfect beautiful creations.
Though they sometimes despaired (not often), they embraced being kids and enjoyed being caterpillars. They went days without combing their hair, galloped on ponies getting covered in mud and sweat.
They swung from ropes in the barn, they collected disgusting things to fill their pockets, they waded in ponds to catch frogs, and then they emerged: my beautiful butterflies.
But oh, how I miss those caterpillars.