Parenting 101 (Amended):
One of the Things They Lied About is that children acquire a sense of companionship and personal responsibility from having a pet. The only things my children learned from having a dog were not to let the hand holding the hot dog drop below table-level and to turn around three times before going to sleep.
The rodent was a lot harder to explain. But at least it was somewhat fluffy and cuddly, and it did teach my daughter an important life lesson: even if you feed and clean up after and kiss a rodent, it still might bite you. This was useful information for when she started to date.
But what about the lizard? Not only is it non-cuddly, but you can’t go to the store and buy Purina Lizard Chow. It requires live bugs.
“No problem,” I said. “We’ll just harvest some of the Taub basement ecosystem.”
My daughter was horrified. “The manual from the pet store says there’s no telling what germs our bugs might have. We should only feed the lizard specially raised lizard-bugs, which the pet store just happens to sell.”
Putting four kids into the car, driving to the pet store, visiting the other fish/rodents/lizards/adorable baby birds, then buying the lizard-bugs while refusing to buy any of the other fish/rodents/lizards/adorable baby birds, and finally getting the bag of lizard-bugs home intact is the easy part.
Feeding the lizard before the kds find out that the lizard-bugs are actually baby crickets (“Not cricket BABIES!”) and before they name the baby bugs (“That’s Fred. NO! You can’t feed Fred to the lizard!”) is the hard part.
A friend of mine had a similar problem, How do you explain to your children the difference between the pet rodent at preschool, the cute rodent in every animated Disney movie, and the volunteer rodent in your basement?
Gerry* had just moved his family into a house which had been empty for several months. *[Because he has a job which requires him to maintain a professional image and remain clothed in public, I have agreed not to use his real name, which is Bill. HOwever, if you call 1-900-GETBILL and give me your credit card number and expiration date, I’ll be happy to tell you his name, address, bank balance, and what really happened that night in 1981.]
While awaiting the rest of their furniture, they spent the first night in their new home on a futon on the floor. Suddenly
Bill’s Gerry’s wife announced, “I hear a mouse.” Since she mentioned this while standing in the middle of the futon yelling “Eeek, eeeeeek!”, their five-year-old was enchanted. They spent the next several hours with Mom in the middle and the five-year-old making owl and cat noises as rodent-repellent.
Finally, Gerry—as the man of the house—knew what he had to do. Armed with a green Tupperware™ bowl containing some peanut butter, he went to sleep in another room, where (due to the heat of the Midwest summer) he also shed his clothes. At 0:dark-thirty AM, his wife and daughter heard, SMACK! followed by Gerry’s call, “I’ve got it!”
They turned on the lights and treated their new neighborhood to the sight of a triumphant Gerry dancing naked with a green Tupperware bowl in front of the picture window. For the family gathered around the Tupperware bowl with its (burped) lid, reality soon set in.“If you take it outside, it will just come back in,” observed his wife.
Gerry, an experienced husband, didn’t even bother trying to point out that it was the middle of the night. He pulled on a pair of shorts, gathered up his green Tupperware™ rodent bowl, and left. When he finally returned, Gerry explained that he’d driven the rodent across town to the park, released it, and rinsed out the green Tupperware™ bowl in the fountain. His only problem was explaining to the police who stopped him (in response to reports of a semi-naked man dancing around the fountain by moonlight) just what a minimally attired man with an empty green Tupperware™ bowl was doing in the park at 3:00AM.
What can we learn from this experience? His wife and daughter learned new respect for Gerry’s prowess. Gerry’s new neighbors learned more about Gerry than they ever wanted to know. And I learned not to borrow their green Tupperware™ bowl.