My four-year-old daughter, Zoe, came home from preschool the other day with a great idea. One of her little friends had brought an actual, live animal into the classroom for “show and share” time, and Zoe was inspired. “Can I bring my hermit crab to school, Mommy? Pleeeeeze?”
“Of course!” I agreed. “What a fun idea! We can take the crab out and let him walk around on the carpet. Your friends can even take turns picking him up.”
Unfortunately, when we got home to tell Sponge Bob Square Crab the good news, it was too late.
I recognized the signs of Sponge Bob Square Crab’s expiration right away. The poor thing, usually tucked tightly into his shell (hence the moniker “hermit”), was limply hanging out, exposing his entire face, neck and both claws to the elements. He was not just resting. He was resting eternally.
Zoe and my seven-year-old son, Andrew, were not as certain about Sponge Bob Square Crab’s demise, having never experienced death up close. “Oh, look, Zoe,” Andrew began, “I think your crab is getting ready to move into a bigger shell!”
That big shell in the sky, I thought, holding my tongue.
Shame on me. All I said was, “Uh, yeah, maybe that’s what it’s doing. Let’s wait for Daddy.”
I have some classic moves as a parent. One example that springs to mind is the “Why don’t you wait until Nana comes to visit” move. This strategy allows me to get out of buying my kids expensive things like tap dance shoes or video games, but then they get them anyway. I also have been known to use the “Your teacher won’t let you” excuse when I don’t want my kids to bring something particular to school. I have no idea whether or not the teacher really won’t let this item into the classroom, but it seems reasonable enough to my kids, and so they stop fighting me and put the toy away.
But my best, by far, is the “Let’s wait for Daddy” move. “Let’s wait for Daddy,” is code for “Mommy doesn’t want to handle this. Mommy is going to put you to bed, have a glass of wine, and make Daddy play medical examiner on the corpse of a deceased crustacean when he gets home after a long day in the city.” It also means, “Then Mommy is going to make Daddy break the sad news to you at breakfast tomorrow and bury the thing in the backyard before he takes you to the bus.”
It takes a village. Truly.
Anyway, before there was Sponge Bob Square Crab, there was Superchick.
Superchick was born last spring in an incubator in Andrew’s first grade classroom. Although a lot of the eggs did not hatch, Superchick and one other (aptly named Fluffy) made it into this world.
The first weekend after the chicks hatched, one of Andrew’s friends took the pair home to care for over the weekend. Andrew was there for a play date, and when I picked him up, he begged to be able to take the chicks home the following weekend, if the teacher selected him.
So, sure enough, the following Friday, I got the call from Andrew’s teacher, Mrs. B. Mrs. B is awesome. She’s really into teaching and really into the kids. She’s calm and organized and a lovely person. She’s the kind of teacher you always want for your children and sometimes are lucky enough to get. So when Mrs. B asked me if I’d like to take Superchick home for the weekend (Fluffy having already been taken to the farm earlier in the week), naturally I said yes.
The first day with Superchick was, hands down, the most fun I’ve ever had with a chicken. We took her out into the sunny backyard and watched her climb all over the rocks and peck at the grass. I have video of her stepping over Andrew, lying in the grass, and resting in the crook of his arm. Superchick was so lively and strong and silly. She had this wobbly little chicken walk and she chased Zoe up the hill, following as she called “Here, Superchick! Here!”
On Saturday morning, Superchick seemed lethargic. She couldn’t find her footing on the feeder, and kept slipping off it and landing on her soft little butt. I took her out of her cage to see how she managed on my kitchen floor, but her balance was no better. Up, down. Up, down. Every time I would right her, she would slip back onto her tush.
I kept a close eye on Superchick while lying outright to my kids about her condition. “She’s just so worn out from playing yesterday with you guys!” And “Let’s let her rest. She’ll be much better tomorrow.” I shooed them out of the house to attend birthday parties and to go to the park.
Late that Saturday night, I found Superchick lying flat on her furry back, feet up in the air. She looked over at me and sighed through the glass. Superchick wasn’t dead (yet), but she sure was pretending to be dead and it was freaking me out.
“I’m on the verge of killing the beloved class pet! I damaged the circle of life! I am a failure as a mother!” I confided to Brett. “This is a disaster!”
I hardly slept that night, picturing Superchick lying prone in her cage, never able to lay eggs for the world.
I emailed Mrs. B the first thing Sunday morning. She wrote back immediately, asking me to call her at home. An intervention was quickly arranged. “Let’s meet at the elementary school. I don’t want the chick to die in your house,” Mrs. B explained.
“Neither do I!” I agreed. “Good plan.”
I woke the kids to tell them the “exciting” news. “Guess what? Mrs. B called to tell me that Superchick is going to the farm TODAY! We have to get her ready. Right now.”
So the kids and I propped her up in her cage only to watch her topple over again. We put her in the car and headed over to our rendezvous spot with Mrs. B.
“Hi!” She smiled as we stepped out of the car. I rolled my eyes at her, but kept up the charade.
“Hi, Mrs. B! We are soooo excited for Superchick’s big day!” I fake-enthused.
“Yes!” Mrs. B began. Then I opened the car door, revealing Superchick’s glass box. “Holy…I mean, how do you do, Superchick…? Wow, you look…just great…?” she trailed off, momentarily losing the ability to stay enthusiastic.
Superchick, lying on her back with her feet straight up in the air, just turned her head toward Mrs. B and sighed.
“Andrew,” Mrs. B said, regaining her composure and looking my son in the eyes, “Thank you so much for watching Superchick this weekend. You did a great job.” Her sincerity brought tears to my eyes.
Because he really did do a good job.
And I probably did, too. But sometimes these delicate little creatures just don’t make it, even under the best of circumstances.
At least that’s what I tell myself when I think of fate of that poor little fuzzball, Superchick, and of Sponge Bob Square Crab as well.
You know what will make me feel better?