It wasn't too long of a drive but Michelle was getting crankier by the minute. She had a good morning nap but hadn't had her afternoon nap yet. I started to worry that she was either going to fall asleep just as we got there or be fussy the whole time and not even enjoy it. Luckily she perked up and was thrilled when I took her out of her car-seat. I just carried her in my arms. I figured the stroller would take up too much room and I might run over a butterfly. I'd just hold her and then let her down to walk a little if she insisted (and yes, she did insist.)
As expected, Michelle was over the moon with excitement. We entered this tropical paradise (and it was HOT. I was so glad I had dressed light because I remembered how balmy they keep those places -- at Cambridge and Niagara -- even though it was relatively cool outside I wore a little halter top. Carrying Michelle most of the time made it feel even hotter. I did let her down to explore and it was hard to keep her from running.) and it was magical. Butterflies were flying by our heads, landing on leaves and I was frantically trying to capture it all. I kept changing from sport mode to macro to portrait mode and nothing seemed to work. I ended up with many blurry shots. I wanted a perfect shot of Michelle AND the butterflies but it seemed like I had to choose one or the other and even that was difficult.
I'm not sure what is a bigger challenge -- to capture a fluttering butterfly or a running baby! I think it's a tie. It was hard to get a good shot of either alone never mind both. My fantasy was to get a shot of a big beautiful Blue Morpho on her shoulder as she stood there posing, still and smiling, perfectly. Yeah, that didn't quite happen. At one point a Blue Morpho actually landed on me but when I asked a stranger to please get a picture for me they didn't grasp the concept. They were focusing in on the butterfly and my leg. WTF. What's the point in that? It could be anyone's leg. That's no souvenir! "No," I tried to explain, "if you could please get a picture of my daughter and I WITH the butterfly." He looked at me like I had three heads (perhaps I did at that point.) He didn't even have a camera. He probably thought I was nuts to be taking pictures anyway. He was just there because his wife dragged him. I should have known better. There was nowhere to set a self-timer and in ten seconds the moment would be lost. His wife who was sitting on a bench looking weary herself (I guess the kids had dragged her there as well) tried to take one for me but she wasn't much help either and the butterfly moved on to other legs and shoulders. The opportunity was lost.
I managed to set up the self-timer and got a couple of shots of us together. I tried to get pictures of Michelle on her own walking (make that running!) around but it was too stressful trying to hold the camera and run after her to keep her out of trouble. I got a couple of raised eyebrows from people. They probably questioned my judgment letting my baby run around on a stone floor that God knows how many people, insects, birds and turtles had trafficked but she can't walk in shoes (I've tried with her and it isn't pretty. Last time she ended up banging her head pretty hard on the wall. She walks around like an animal with boxes on its feet. If you have ever tried dressing a cat or dog in shoes or socks you have some idea how awkward and silly it is) and she was so excited she would not stay in my arms the whole time. Besides, even being the control freak that I am I have to let loose a little. I have to give her some freedom to explore. And I can always clean her feet afterward (which I did.)
Michelle was thrilled to see the turtles. The whole experience seemed to blow her mind. All the people, the creatures flying and walking around, the scenery (including beautiful tropical plants and a waterfall) were miraculous to her. She was pointing at everything, shaking her fists the way she does when she's overcome with excitement. She was even trying to say "butterfly." It came out "bubba!" and "buh-fly" which I thought was pretty good. I was so glad I had taken her. I want to try to do more things with her. I used to worry how she would be on car rides and going places (if you follow my blog you know that it used to be a nightmare trying to take her anywhere. She screamed in the car and out in public. I finally even resorted to ordering groceries online in the winter.) Since she's been walking she's becoming more adventurous and wanting to see and explore new things. Now she gets excited to go new places. She especially loves the freedom to walk and run around rather than being strapped in a seat or stroller. It's funny because before I had kids I would have thought "Isn't that awful? Some crazy woman letting her kid run around barefoot? Disgusting!" Now I realize that if it makes your child happy and it isn't going to kill them, it's easier to just let them do it. I really don't care what anyone thinks.
After numerous failed attempts, I finally decided that I was never going to be able to capture Michelle and the butterflies the way I wanted in a photo so I took some video clips instead. Even these were mostly just me running after her telling her to slow down but there were a couple of moments that you see the butterflies fluttering around her and she was like a little fairy in the forest. Here's the video on Youtube:
When my camera card ran out of memory I took it as a sign to leave. We went in the gift shop and I was hoping to get her a cute little stuffed butterfly. Unfortunately all they had was a bin full of stuffed ants, bees, wasps, anything but butterflies. Was I in the Twilight Zone? How do you not sell butterflies in the gift shop at a BUTTERFLY CONSERVATORY?! I asked the cashier just in case I was missing something. "Sorry. We must have sold out." Sold out? Why wouldn't you order a million of them? Why wouldn't you have a limitless supply?! They had butterfly balloons but I was ballooned out after her birthday and still have them in her room (my sister said the mylar ones last an eternity. They may never go down!)
I wish I could afford to give Michelle the world, literally. I wish I were wealthy and could fly her all around the world to experience different sights and sounds and cultures but the truth is there is a lot to discover even right near home. Everything is new and exciting to her. There is beauty to be found everywhere in nature. Even in your own backyard. She loves spending time at the park.
I want to take her to a petting zoo and a real zoo sometime soon as well. She still does a roaring sound whenever you say "tiger." She gets excited just seeing geese and ducks at the park or seagulls on the beach.
Her 12 month checkup and needles went well. The doctor was amazed how well Michelle is walking (make that running) now and by how many words she can say (I want to make a list but I think it's close to 50 now.) She says at least one new word every day. It always catches me off-guard. She was playing with a whale and I asked her if she can speak whale (think Dory from finding Nemo) and out of the blue she said "whale" well it was more like "way" but a pretty good effort I think! She's also healthy at 19 lbs 4 ounces (no wonder my arm is breaking!) The way she was walking around and chattering at the office my doctor said she's very advanced for her age. "You must be doing something right," she said. I try to do everything right. I thought she was going to lecture me about sleep training when I told her I'm still co-sleeping with Michelle. I told her I don't have the heart to let Michelle scream for hours. The doctor shook her head and said "It's OK. You don't have to. Do what feels right for you. When she's older she'll have her own room but right now it's OK to be with Mom." It felt good to have her permission. Most people tell me I'm crazy and I have to "sleep train" Michelle. I love her more than anything and I refuse to torture her just because it's what people think I should do. There is no "should" as a mother. When it comes to most things there are no black and white answers. It's all grey area. You do what you feel is right as a Mom and you can't let anyone tell you differently. As the doctor said, Michelle is doing very well, happy and healthy and bright. So I can't have messed up too badly.
Life is quite a rollercoaster. Sometimes you plummet. Sometimes you soar. I had some really rough days recently. Not just with Michelle (though she can be VERY high maintenance!) but other stresses in my life. Sometimes I don't know how I'll make it through but then I find strength I didn't know I had. Somehow things turn out OK. I just have to not worry so much. The important thing is to focus on what matters. And sometimes you have to get out and enjoy the beauty that is out there. Take time to smell the roses, follow the butterflies and talk to the geese. Michelle reminds me that life is fun and not to take it so seriously all the time.