Saturday, March 7, 2020

When A Loved Pet Passes On


This is a post that I never published.  I'm not sure exactly why.  I wrote it about a year ago, and it was ready to go, but apparently, I never found the right art for it, or was afraid to publish it due to the Reptile Rights Bureau, or perhaps I just plumb forgot about it.  I was cleaning out my draft posts when I discovered it.

Mischelle Eggbert the Turtle
The turtle is recently on my mind, as my son was forced to clean the turtle aquarium yesterday (on threat of no internet), and that meant that my wife and I were pressed into service to "help", and after a lot of hesitation, he announced (with crying and reluctance) that he has come to the decision that he wants to give up the turtle.

Which gave me a sadness, not because I have a great love for this turtle, but I was hoping that my son would choose occasional inconvenience and a little bit of work in exchange for the things that you want in your life over giving up when the road has a slight bump or contains something you don't love doing. 

So now I'm in the curious position of not wanting the turtle, but wanting him to want the turtle, and by being right about the turtle in the first place, I now feel like a failure as a parent.  By winning the turtle argument, I feel I have lost a parenting argument, as  I have not led him to make the proper decision (ie, the one I wanted him to make.)  And who is to say this isn't truly the right decision?  It's expedient, it's logical, and it agrees with my point in the first place.

Alas, I will not dance on the turtle's grave, even if it is not yet dead.  (And PS, one year later, the goldfish liveth!)

So here's the post, originally written in mid-February 2019.

And if you know anybody who wants a turtle for the next 20 years, we are looking for a good home (unless my son changes his mind!)

February 2019

The death of the turtle, it seems, was greatly exaggerated.


Our turtle/aquarium setup.
A week or so ago my son woke up as he normally does.  He was sound asleep, and I slowly sat him up, hugged him and whispered it's time to wake up.  After him pretending to be asleep for a bit, I stand him up and point him in the direction of the bathroom. He grumbles out of bed, lurches to the toilet, does his thing, washes his hands, and then slowly walks back to pick out his clothes for the day.

I have to stand with him during this period to make sure he doesn't relapse onto the bed.  Once his clothes are picked out,  and I am reasonably assured he is awake, I go to the kitchen to start making breakfast and lunch for him.  He lolls about a bit, slowly getting dressed, and before he comes to eat breakfast, he turns on the lights (heat and light lamp) for his turtle, Mischelle Eggbert, and feeds the turtle her typical turtle grub.

I was in the kitchen when I heard the shriek.    This is not typical behavior.

a mosaic portrait of the turtle.  Thanks Mr. Mondrian.
There's a moment while I wait to see if this is a false alarm.  He starts crying.  My wife (still in bed) runs in "What's the matter?" she asks.  I am still in the kitchen, making breakfast.  She's got this, I think. I assume that he has dropped something slightly heavy on himself, or stubbed his toe, or perhaps he has seen a spider.  I hear him crying.  "The turtle is dead." "Oh no!" my wife says. I drop what I am doing and come to his room.

I am not surprised.  I have been dreading this moment for a while.

Let me start by saying I never wanted this turtle.  In August my wife texted me from a trip to Chinatown with his cousins.  "AA really wants a turtle for his birthday, they are $10."  I text back immediately, "No way.  If he gets a turtle our life and marriage will come to an end." 

At least that's what I thought I wrote.

Here's what I actually wrote.

Which seemed pretty anti-turtle and super clear cut to me, but has some kind of implied acceptance of the turtle from the get-go. At least that's what my therapist says.  And to make a long story short, we ended up with a turtle, which started out about the size of a silver dollar, and has since grown to be the size of a bowl of cereal.  Did I mention that this turtle has a longer life expectancy than I do?  If I haven't, don't worry, I will.


As I mention in the text:  we have a fish that he is supposed to take care of, and you can guess who has been keeping this fish alive.  The fish was won by my evil in-laws at a carnival about three years ago, and they gave us one even though I said No.  AA swore he'd take care of it, and we were guilted into accepting it.  (I wanted to leave it at the carnival, but was voted down as being cruel).

 Every one of my wife's siblings got a goldfish.  Want to bet how many of those goldfish are still alive?   If you guessed just ours, you would be right.  All of their goldfish died within 2 weeks.  Meanwhile, I have singlehandedly kept this fish alive for 3+ years.  This goldfish is surviving to spite me.  AA and my wife don't even look at it.


Portrait of the artist as a young turtle
I knew that its care would devolve to me, and I didn't want that responsibility.  Cleaning the tank, feeding it, etc.  Not my cup of tea. And as I say in the text, he hasn't shown himself capable of caring for a fish.

I had a turtle when I was a kid, and it died an ignoble death of neglect when my mom said that I had to take care of it or else.  Which I did not.  (Alas poor Frodo, we knew you.)

Anyway, the turtle is now a fact of life in our house, much to my regret and disappointment.  It's still a sore point with me 6 months later, and I have brought it up during at least two arguments with my wife. 

 I am trying my best not to acknowledge it's existence, but it's difficult.  I estimate we've spent 100+ dollars getting the automatic feeder and the tank bubbler and the special food, and we recently got some fish that are supposed to clean the algae that appear in the tank because my son doesn't clean the tank often enough. (EDITOR'S NOTE:  Those fish all have died.  And perhaps we have an explanation of how the turtle grew so much!)

a 1970's influenced artistic rendering of the Turtle.
And guess who is the only person strong enough in our household to pump the water out of the tank, and then dump the tank when it is low enough?  Yeah, you guessed right.

So my son isn't cleaning the tank enough, and the auto-feeder is overloading the tank with food, and the water level keeps getting mysteriously low, and the filter of the aerator is getting dirtier and dirtier, and nothing gets done.  So I am sad and not surprised when he wakes up and finds it dead.

My wife is consoling him, and I am feeling bad about the turtle, and thinking oh my god, we have to get another turtle.  My wife goes in the other room, and I am in the room, sitting on his bed, talking about whether we should have a funeral for the turtle, and maybe bury it in the backyard, when AA sits bolt upright and says, "It's alive!"

Mischelle Eggbert under the water.
The Apparently, it was sleeping underwater, or just not moving, and he assumed it was dead.  Which it was decidedly not.  The news of the turtle's death was greatly exaggerated.

We tried to make this a learning opportunity, a moment of reform, a chance to reflect on his responsibilities, and I have to say there were 2-3 days when he was really good at caring for the turtle.  But that interest has since waned, and  I am waiting for the turtle to die.  (By the way, this turtle has a natural life expectancy that is currently longer than mine)

Also, he has started agitating for a dog.  He promises that he will care for it.  

My wife seems to be wavering, but I am holding strong. 

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