Gina worries that little Jake’s size is impacting his self-esteem – but what can she do to help him?
MOM?” Jake’s brow was furrowed as he gazed up at her.
Gina smiled. “Yes, sweetheart?”
“Mrs Petersen says we have to do a two-minute talk for our nature project. At the end of term, she says.”
Gina bent to ruffle his dark hair. “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad.”
Jake’s lower lip wobbled. “I’ll have to stand up in front of the whole class, Mom. In front of Adam and Sam.”
“It’ll be fine,” Gina reassured him. “I’ll speak to Mrs Petersen – Adam and Sam won’t say a word, I promise.”
The Wilson twins had been making jokes about Jake’s height all term. He was a December baby; the youngest in his class and small for his age. Gina had spoken to the teacher and the teasing stopped but Jake still lacked confidence. Standing up in front of the whole class was his idea of a nightmare.
“The twins are boisterous but they aren’t unkind children,” Mrs Petersen had said at the time. “I don’t think they meant any harm but Jake does get upset easily. We need to work on his self-confidence.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart.” Gina cuddled the rigid little body now, wishing she could wave a magic wand and make everything alright. Jake had changed so much in the year since his dad left.
“We’ll find something really interesting to talk about – the two minutes will be over before you know it.”
“Nature project, eh?” Gina’s father, Eddie, said the following day. “How much time do we have?”
“Dad!” protested Gina, half laughing. “It’s a two-minute talk, not a major advertising campaign. But it’s not until the end of term.”
“These things take time,” said Eddie, tapping the side of his nose. “I saw just the thing on the internet the other day. Leave it to me.”
EDDIE was as good as his word. The following week he arrived bearing a mysterious cardboard box. Gina watched as two heads, one dark, one silver, bent to investigate the contents.
“Cool!” Jake lifted out a clear pot containing five wriggling caterpillars.
“The pot has enough food to feed them until each one turns into a chrysalis,” explained Eddie. “Then we transfer them into this net cage.”
“And then what happens, Grandad?” Jake’s eyes were round.
“They turn into painted lady butterflies with a bit of luck. You feed them on flowers and sugar water and after a few days we can release them into the garden.”
“Oh, Grandad! They’re awesome!” said Jake, clearly taken with the little creatures. “Wait till I tell the kids at school.”
“Put them somewhere warm but not too sunny,” advised Eddie. “They’ll probably like that windowsill, if that’s all right with your mom.”
As Jake carried the precious cargo
across the room, Gina turned to her father. “What a great present. I hope they all hatch.”
“The website guarantees at least three of the five will turn into butterflies,” Eddie confided. “I thought it was just the thing for his project.”
Gina nodded. “Mrs Petersen says he doesn’t have to do the talk but she thinks it would be good for him to try.”
Eddie agreed. “Even at the grand old age of seven, you can’t put things off forever.”
Over the next few days, Jake’s caterpillars ate their way through the yellow food in the bottom of the tub. Four of them grew fatter, almost tripling in size, and Jake gave them superhero names. But his favourite was the littlest caterpillar he’d christened Tom Thumb.
“Look, Mom,” he shouted one day. “Thor and Hulk are sticking to the lid of the tub.”
“So they are.” Gina scanned the instruction leaflet. “Good news, Jake! They only do that when they’re ready to turn into a chrysalis.”
Over the next 24 hours they were joined by two more caterpillars but Tom Thumb remained stubbornly at the bottom, eating his way through the last remnants of food.
Jake sat for hours gazing into the container. “Hurry up, Tom! You’ve got to catch up with your friends.”
The next morning Gina was relieved to see all five caterpillars curled upside down on the lid of the box, unfamiliar-looking in their new darkbrown cocoons.
“Time to move them into the cage,” said Eddie that evening. “I’ll give you a hand with that, Jake.” “Thanks, Grandad.” Carefully, they relocated the little creatures into the net cage. Even at this stage, Tom Thumb could be identified as a smaller bundle than the others. His chrysalis was the one Jake watched most eagerly over the next few days for any sign of movement.
Jake was at school when the first butterfly appeared, its damp wings opening to reveal a riot of black and orange. Gina couldn’t wait to tell him.
An excited Jake scouted the garden for the brightest blossoms and Gina mixed sugar water in an old saucer to place inside the mesh cage.
Jake watched entranced as two more butterflies hatched out that evening.
“Only two left,” he said as he reluctantly went to bed. “I hope Tom Thumb’s all right in there.”
So do I, thought Gina, remembering Eddie had said only three of the five were guaranteed to survive. What if the others didn’t hatch?
And worse still, what if the smallest caterpillar was the only one who didn’t make it?
The next morning the fourth butterfly emerged. Jake gazed entranced into the net cage as he ate his cereal.
“Only Tom Thumb left now.” He swung his book bag over his shoulder. “I hope he waits until I get back from school.”
WHEN he arrived home, Jake went straight to the kitchen. “Phew! Thanks for waiting for me, Tom!” he said, but his pleasure turned to disappointment as the evening wore on with no movement from the last chrysalis.
It was half an hour past his usual bedtime when Gina eventually chased him up the stairs.
“Maybe it will happen tomorrow.” She gave him a special hug as she closed his bedtime book.
“Maybe,” said Jake, his trembling lips set in a line as he pulled the duvet up to his chin. But the next day came and went without any change.
“Maybe that’s it.” Eddie shook his head as he and Jake watched the four full-grown butterflies flit around the net cage. “Sometimes that’s just the way nature is, Jake.”
“But why did it have to be Tom Thumb?”
“I don’t know, son.” Eddie gripped Jake’s shoulder. “Anyway, let’s think about letting these other fellows go over the weekend. Doesn’t seem fair to keep them cooped up when it’s so lovely outside.”
That evening, Jake didn’t beg for an extra half hour and went to bed looking resigned.
“I wish I hadn’t done it now,” Eddie said gloomily as he took one last glance at the static brown pod.
“No, it was a good idea, Dad. It’s just a shame he got so attached to the one that didn’t make it.” Gina gave Eddie a wave as she closed the door.
She was washing up the dinner things when a movement from the net cage caught her eye. The last chrysalis was twitching and as Gina watched, it started to split.
The smallest butterfly emerged, antennae twitching and damp wings stuck together as it struggled for release.
Gina threw down the dishcloth and raced up the stairs.
“Jake!” she whispered urgently as she negotiated a Lego-strewn floor to reach his bed. The small figure stirred as he surfaced from inside his rolled-up superhero duvet. “Mom?” “Tom Thumb is hatching!” She lifted the sleepy figure and carried him down to the kitchen. Jake blinked as his eyes grew accustomed to the fluorescent light.
“Oh wow, Mom,” he murmured as the last butterfly dropped from the open chrysalis onto the fabric floor of the cage. They watched together as Tom Thumb stretched open his black-and-orange wings for the first time.
“He’s beautiful, isn’t he? And just as big as the others.”
Gina drew Jake close. “He caught up, darling. Just like you will, before long.” She kissed the top of his dark head, already able to see the potential in Jake’s skinny arms and colt-like legs. “Now back to bed. You’ve got school in the morning.”
“Can I keep the chrysalis?” Jake said, as she tucked him in. “I want to show Mrs Petersen. And maybe I could use it for my two-minute talk.”
“What a good idea.” Gina smiled in the dark.
“Everyone at school will be pleased Tom Thumb’s hatched out. Adam and Sam think it’s cool. They want to see the butterflies before we let them go.”
“Maybe you could invite them over this weekend? We’ll let the butterflies loose into the garden and then they could stay for supper.”
“Can we have pizza?” Jake’s long eyelashes fluttered as he succumbed to sleep.
Gina watched as he rolled back into his duvet cocoon. There was no need to worry any more.
Her own little butterfly had begun to emerge at last.
‘Even at the grand old age of seven, you can’t put things off forever’