Lying is bad. I teach my kids, at great lengths, not to lie. My husband and I are honest to a point that I believe borders on reckless. But this week I found myself in an out and out lie. I lied to my kid. He’s 10. And I think he bought it. Someday when my son reads this, I hope he’ll forgive me, though I pray he won’t become privy to my blog postings until he’s well over 18 and I’m drooling onto my oversized bib while flirting with the plastic potted tree next to me.
As it goes with all lies, I had no intention of spinning this tale. It started with a practically unheard of desire from the kids to clean out their rooms. And it wasn’t just a ‘dust the baseboards and sort through the books’ kind of clean. This was a clean where he removed every item from his bookshelves, worked with my husband to convert his bunk bed to a loft bed, ditched large pieces of furniture, and sent boxes and boxes of ‘treasures’ to the basement for safe-keeping (or until the Goodwill Fairy made her clandestine visit).
There’s nothing like cleaning out a kid’s room to offer insight into just how well the house is being maintained. Careful housekeeping is not a particularly well-honed skill of mine, but I feel like I can keep order and an acceptable level of cleanliness in a relatively respectable manner for the few rooms that are visible from the front door. As far as the basement and second floor goes, all bets are off. That being said, I was surprised at the amount of dust and crud that were unveiled as my son disassembled his bedroom into the living room.
The pile of Lego pieces, random coins from around the world, dust bunnies, lonely puzzle pieces and empty Pop-Its shells offered a sad review of my lack of attention to details in the recesses of his room. Though most of these items were easily dumped in the bin or reassigned to their respective places, there was one item my son uncovered that was tough to identify. It had obviously once been a living creature. It seemed to belong to the amphibian/reptile/creepy crawly class of creatures. And it was completely desiccated.
In a way that only a mother can, I brought to mind my son’s past 10 years and all applicable forays into small creatures, regardless of how brief. Goldfish, aquatic frogs, beta fish, hermit crabs, Russian Dwarf Hamsters, Fancy White (stinky) Mice, various earthworms and caterpillars, mealworms from science class, and a Spotted African Frog. All of these creatures had experienced proper burials in a kind of mass grave in the corner of the back yard with a lovingly handmade cement octagon for a headstone, complete with glass marble gems and the first pet’s name ‘Quinky’ etched in the concrete. All but two. It was unnecessary to empty out matchboxes or save mini-cereal boxes for the Spotted African Frog or the Russian Dwarf Hamster, as no bodies were ever recovered. They were both deemed MIA, and a memorial service was conducted in corpus absentia.
We never solved the mystery of the escape of those two residents of the ten gallon glass aquarium which served as home to many of Pet Smart’s best. At one point, Dylan was convinced that it was a cursed aquarium that off-gassed in a conspiracy to kill all his pets or, in the case of the Russian hamster and Spotted African Frog, caused them to run for their lives.
The hamster disappearance was likely related to a rodent problem we once had. Little house mice. About the size of a Russian hamster. It was the same winter that Fuzzy escaped. Did Fuzzy join ranks with the others and start her own family of Ham-Mice and eventually succumb to the trap? Or is she living out her days in our shed, nibbling on the bags of fertilizer and the lawn furniture cushions. I’ll never know as I desperately pleaded “it’s a man’s job” to mouse trap duty and disposal for months following the escape of Fuzzy.
But it’s the Spotted African Frog that my mind quickly reeled to that evening as I was examining the pile of miscellanea from behind my son’s bookshelf and under the radiator. I could see vague spots, a long leg extended and a distinctive little webbed arm sticking out as if to say, “Yes! Freedom! I’ve made it.” Yet how true in life that when we get something we’ve been dreaming about, we are often left rather dried out and alone.
I started to tell my son that it was definitely his frog. But then I remembered the moment he came to me when he was about seven, eyes welling over with tears. He said that his frog was gone, and he didn’t think he could ever keep anything alive. Every pet that he had cared for had died (rather quickly I might add.).
I remembered trying to comfort my frog-mourning son. I had exaggerated the significance of this sad announcement, mentally multiplying it by a quadrillion, as again only a mother can do. I began to worry about his emerging self-image, self-confidence, ego, sense of well-being, ability to develop lasting long-term relationships, placement on the autism spectrum, indicators for future drug and alcohol abuse, emergence of OCD behaviors, and the chance of developing a psychopathic personality disorder. And I quietly held him till he stopped crying.
That moment was etched in my mind. And it all came flooding back as I squatted on his bedroom floor, examining the pile of crud.
And that’s when I lied. He made it easy by suggesting the remains looked like a lizard. A ‘lizard’ had never made our pet list. But there were lizards where we went to the beach in North Carolina. And ostensibly one little critter could have sneaked into the beach house, run up the carpeted steps, crept into my son’s bin of Legos, and hitched a ride north. .
It’s all possible, if not probable. Especially when the dehydrated creature looked like a frog. An African Spotted Frog. From Pet Smart.
I know that caring for pets is a significant part of growing up. Learning responsibility. Learning gentleness. And learning that when you lose something you love, it will hurt. You’ll cry and you’ll talk about it. But you’ll move on. The pain will slowly be replaced with softer memories, and there will be other joys that will trickle in, eventually leaving more happy yesterdays than sad todays.
It’s just that Dylan had learned this lesson. Numerous times.
I didn’t feel the need to rehash it all as we were crouching on his floor surrounded by the chaos of a disassembled bedroom. So I lied.
I agreed and confirmed that it did, in fact, look like a lizard. The little lizards that scampered around the pool and up under the planks of the second floor decks at the beach.
Sweeping it up amidst the other dust and debris of a 10-year-old boy’s life, I thought about how much my son had changed from that tearful little boy who was heartbroken about a lost frog. He was now closer to launching. Closer to leaving. Closer to acne and girlfriends and college and heartbreak and all-nighters and all that is and ever will be about becoming a man, a husband, and a father himself. And something tells me that no matter how upright and honorable a man he becomes, he’ll know when it’s appropriate to turn a frog into a lizard and give some of the debris of life a little sweep under the rug.