My daughter climbs the stairs of the playground equipment. The wind wraps curls into her eyes and she turns to me and smiles. “Look at me, Mommy, look at me!” It is then I see a butterfly lying in the sand. His leg moves and I wonder if he is alive or if it is the wind. I search for a stick. I am seeking an object that is natural to him, seeking to help.
I place the stick next to his legs. Immediately he senses the stick, wraps his legs around it and clings to it. I lift the stick in front of me so that he can fly. He tries, but here at the lake shore the wind is too strong, and it knocks him to the pavement.
Again I offer him the stick. Again he clings to it. This time I hide him from the wind and place him under the park bench. I notice one of his wings is missing. I cannot fix this wing for him. But, I can help him. I can give him this quiet corner, a branch to grasp and a buffer from the wind.
I sit and watch my daughter play as the butterfly sits on the branch beneath the bench. Maybe, I think, even with his missing wing perhaps he can still fly. If I bring him home, can I help him?
Soon the other children come, four more. We have been at the beach for hours. My kids are tired, and I know it is time to go. But the day is warm, the colors a gift for my memory, the children are playing and I am so content to sit on the bench and breathe this day.
Then the fighting starts. I yell at the boy not to hit or push, telling him to get control of himself. I comfort the victim, and the boy runs away.
He runs away from me to a large tree and sits under it with his bare back turned toward me, hunched over, his face in his hands. I leave the other four children unattended, and I worry about all of them. The four children I have left on the playground, the boy under the tree and the butterfly.
I reach the boy and touch him on the shoulder. I ask him if he is mad at me for correcting him. He says no and shrugs off my hand. Then he gets up and runs. Runs away from me as I call him.
The beach is wide, the waves and the undertow are strong, so I must follow him. But first I beg the 8-year-old to mind the 2-year-old, and pray the 4-year-old boys stay out of the street. I leave them all, and I chase the boy.
He runs to feel the wind I can already feel. His senses making him run faster and faster, away from me. I am scared. I am not his mother, but I love this boy. He runs to know that he is alive, and he runs to feel the wind, and he runs away from me and he finds his mother.
I rush back to the other children and thank God for their safety. It is time to leave. We pack up and get into the car. I ask the boy’s mother to turn the car around and I go back for the butterfly. She knows what I know.
I cannot save him, but I can bring the butterfly back to the house. I find a place in the sand beside the dune grass and place him there. A quiet, shaded spot on the dune. Sheltered by the house, where the wind is not strong, the butterfly tries to fly and falls to the ground.
Five curious faces surround him. I can do nothing. They bring him melon slices and blueberries because they fear he is thirsty or maybe hungry. I think maybe I should find some milkweed, but it’s time for lunch and I need to feed the children.
Late in the afternoon, I remember the butterfly. I see him then, lying in the spot where he fell. A blueberry and a slice of melon are beside him. The butterfly is dead. The wind blows. And the boy runs.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.