My son Richie is a 7-year-old animal fanatic. It doesn’t matter if it’s a snail, a great white, or even a squirrel. He loves animals and has absorbed ridiculous amount of information about them to the point where if we step outside we can’t walk two feet without him pointing out a “Great Eastern Humming Bird that is indigenous to the Eastern United States because of its yellow beak and mating calls” with more confidence than Bill Clinton spewing “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.
When I took him to see Jungle Jack Hanna he actually stumped the man on a question about Hippos. Umm, that was a little uncomfortable, as Jack is the “expert” on animals, right? It’s like asking me about McDonald’s french fries — if I can’t tell you how many granules of salt is on each fry I should tearfully remove my “French Fry Expert” hat right before your eyes.
Nevertheless, the little bugger has been asking for a pet since he could walk. Every. Damn. Day. He’d ask my husband or I “Can I have a zebra?”, “Can we get a bird?”, “Can I have a dog?”, “Can I have a giraffe?”, “Can we get a turtle, fish, cat, frog, tiger, lion, parrot, parakeet, pelican, or maybe a koala bear?” Obviously our answer was “No, no, and NO!” Until this Christmas, as you may guess that his entire Christmas wish list consisted of animals, oh and Mario Kart for his DSI. There was no way Santa could not bring this boy a pet. And for some reason my son got in his head that he wanted a lizard, a bearded dragon named Scales. So, Santa listened and brought him Scales and made this 7-year-old a very happy little boy. Man, oh man was he happy!
He took care of Scales better than I take care of him and his brother – he actually paid attention to him! Gave him so much love, fed him, loved him, cared for him like I have never seen a 7-year-old care for an animal (well, he’s my first 7-year-old, but it was remarkable). And this little lizard loved him right back, any time Richie came to his terrarium, Scales would jump up to his basking spot, look at Richie and smile in a lizardy kind of way. It was really amazing to see a bond between a 3-month-old lizard and my son.
Scales consumed our lives. I’d rearrange plans cause “I gotta get the crickets to the house before they die in my car”. I’d make sure that our errands were strategically planned so that I got home at feeding time, and I tried every green vegetable out there: spinach, iceberg, collard greens, and a spring mix until we realized that Scales really liked romaine. I hand fed him romaine lettuce. Every. Damn. Day. Ya see, I fell in love with him but my son, well, he was infatuated. Every writing assignment or drawing project at school was about Scales, every sentence, thought, anything that came out of his mouth was about Scales: “Do you think Scales likes sitting on my head?”, “Wow, that was a big poop, glad Scales doesn’t poop like that”, “I hate broccoli, but I bet Scales likes it”, “Mom, do you love Scales?” My 3-year-old Matthew was jealous of Scales, and knew how to push Richie’s buttons with retorts like “Uh Oh Richie, Skillz is dead”. Horrible. Horrible. Evil little bugger. Then Scales got sick.
We did everything in our power to get him well; warm baths, visits to the pet store, new lamps, new food, new everything. I slipped right back into PPD faster than Cameron Diaz could change boyfriends. For over a week I obsessed, googled, called and was a complete wreck about Scales. I forced my husband to spend a lot of money, and take many visits to a specialized lizard pet shop to get Scales healthy. During this time we tried to prepare Richie that Scales may visit ‘Lizard Heaven’, that we were taking good care of him and that sometimes when lizards are really small it’s hard to keep them healthy in the winter. My husband and I took turns telling him what a great care-giver he was, that Scales loved him so much, and that we are so proud of him for all his hard work. The day Scales died my son didn’t realize, as usual Richie sprung out of bed, ran to the terrarium and said his good mornings; he was thrilled Scales was in his cave, little did he know was that Scales went to his resting place, to‘Lizard Heaven’.
Telling my son Scales died was one of the hardest things I had to do as a parent, the look of horror on his face is imprinted in my mind. He sulked around for a good two weeks, cried himself to sleep, had nightmares and was definitely going through the stages of death. In school Richie wrote about how much he missed him, drew pictures of him, and on one assignment he wrote that he would be getting a new lizard soon and that it would make him “happy & sad”. One day I found Richie at the computer, feet on the desk, pillow on his belly, crying as he was watching a video we had of Scales. Heartbreaking. He literally broke my heart, my husband’s heart and everyone’s heart, except maybe the 3-year-old who kept saying “Skillz is dead” for about two weeks — we don’t want to believe that he’s evil, so we’re chalking it up to “that’s how he deals with death” instead of being a sarcastic scootch at the tender age of three.
We let Richie grieve for about month and this week, we got another bearded dragon, when we asked Richie what he wanted to name the new lizard he said Scales of course. And once again, he is the happiest 7-year-old in the world, the three year sarcastic scootch is happy too, he did try the “Skillz is dead” act but as soon as he saw how upset Richie got, he went to the terrarium and said “Skillz, I’m sorry for saying mean things bout you”. Perhaps, he’s not evil after all — a scootch absolutely.