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’

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