Each morning, before their own breakfast, they would rush to check on their charges. All accounted for. Present and correct, and look how they've grown!
Pen and pencils would come out directly after breakfast to chart the meteoric growth of a creature no bigger than an eyelash to finger thick monsters.
Soon the monsters are hanging from a chrysalis and the excitement mounts. Morning checks turn into twenty four hour peeks. Just in case.
The morning the first butterfly emerges there is a chorus of shouts and tally hoes! from the boys. We all troop in to marvel at her transformation. But wait, there - peeking from the bottom of another cocoon - a butterfly emerges before us. It catches us all by surprise and there is much cooing. One by one the cocoons give up their secrets and we are rewarded with five butterflies waiting patiently for their moment to shine. We watch how they eat, we study their enormous eyes, we comment at how her drinking straw reminds us of liquorice and gently sit and watch as one day rolls into two. Then three.
But then there comes the day the little one hadn't really bargained for - the day he must let them go.
This a hard lesson for him. He loves them and wants to keep them forever. I remind him that they need to find a place to start their own families now. And that such beautiful wings were meant to be stretched. And how that if you love a thing you must put their needs before your own. And that to hold on too tight to a handful of water will mean it squeezes out through your fingers ever more quickly; that all we can do with the beautiful and joyful things that life gives us is to hold them gently and drink them quickly before they fall to the earth.
And then I realise I am actually talking to myself.
I hug my children in one of those tight mama-bear hugs they don't really understand the meaning of and prepare myself for the day that my beautiful butterflies will fly too. The best thing we can give our children is roots and wings.
We all walk into the garden. The boys gently lift our guests from their cage one by one and watch as they realise how big the world is, and how they must now make their way into it, bravely, trusting those wings that took so long to grow.
The little one is sad. I ask him if he'll come and visit me when he's a big man with his own family. He rolls his eyes and says 'no'. Then grins, grabs my leg and says, 'YES' and asks if he can play outside the gate.
These days may be long, but these years? They are so very short.