Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Part of our duty as parents is to sensitively deliver, news which we know is going to devastate our child and perhaps change the course of events in their day, in their life. Thus was the case yesterday after discovering (thankfully after she departed for school) that Princess Commando's beloved African dwarf frog, Chowder, had performed his last water ballet.
Chowder was Princess Commando's birthday gift from my mother two years ago. The idea of keeping frogs was so appealing as it required very little maintenance. He came in a lovely little cube aquarium with another amphibious mate, Swimmy. The kit included a water plant, special rocks and a snail which together helped to provide a balanced environment. We were instructed not to manually clean the aquarium more than once per year- and only if needed- as it would disrupt the balance. Our snails never survived. But the plant seemed to do the trick. We were told that the life span of the lot would not exceed 2 years- a point driven home by the fact that we were given only a two year supply of frog food- which we were to dispense sparingly.
Her frogs lived peacefully in their aquatic home on a chest of drawers until one morning we heard a crash and the mad scamper of a cat. Spry, young Mitsy, in her insatiable curiosity of all things which move- attacked the aquarium, sending its inhabitants and contents to the carpet. We managed to save Chowder, but we were too late for Swimmy. Chowder seemed unaffected by the disruption and instead grew and thrived throughout the years- beating the odds. At the age of two, he began to communicate at night- startling the girls out of their sleep with a sustained electrical buzzing sound. He developed a personality- eagerly swimming out from behind his rock to greet visitors- following our movements around the room.
Recently, his plant had started to degrade- which left the aquarium murky and smelling like sulfur. Despite my better judgment to let nature be as it is, I cleaned the aquarium two times in 4 weeks and discarded the plant. On Sunday evening, after the last cleaning, Chowder was not doing well when I transferred him back to his home. He kept floating to the top despite his best efforts to stay low near his rock. " Does he always float like that?" I asked Princess Commando. "Oh, yes. All the time," she answered. But, I was not convinced. When I went to retrieve The Baby from her crib Monday morning, I could tell by Chowder's stiff posture in nose dive position that our little friend had croaked. My instinct was to flush him- to get rid of him before Princess Commando came home and had the image of his demise engraved on her memory. But, The Mr. suggested that we let her choose how she felt fit to dispose of her tiny friend.
I stood at the door waiting as I do every afternoon for Princess Commando's bus to arrive- but this time with dread in my stomach. She departed the bus already looking defeated. She flung her arms tightly around me. "Boy, am I glad to be home!" she exclaimed. "I've felt awful all day. My allergies are killing me." Like a Band Aid, I told myself, just rip that sucker off. She has soccer tonight and homework and you'll forget to tell her and she'll find him on her own and it will be the end of the world. And she is already sick-what's a little more hurt? "Um, honey, I have some bad news," I paused holding her face in my hands. She had that look of annoyance which usually follows my announcement of bad news."Ugh. No. Don't tell me. It's Chowder. He's dead," she said slowly. I nodded. Instantly she dissolved into a pool on the floor. It was dramatic and awful. After 30 minutes of tears, I asked her if she wanted to see him and if she knew what she wanted to do with his body. I think part of her thought he could just stay there in the water forever. She decided to bury him. "I will dig a hole in the garden" The Mr. offered. I found a decorative box for earrings and gently placed him on the little rectangle of batting. As he had been solely a water frog, so she had never touched him before. With fascination and sorrow, she tenderly stroked his tiny body. A little smirk lit on her face,"He feels good. Not what I expected." The three of us and the little box went to the corner of our yard. Panic struck her face as she realized that once he was in the ground, that was The End. The permanence was too much for her to bear and I am certain her mourning cry was heard through out the neighborhood despite our quick attempts to shepherd her back into the house.
To her credit, she moved on through the evening despite her sadness. She did not take the offer to skip this one night of soccer. She did not complain when we reminded her that it would be late when she came home and no matter how she felt she still needed to face her Math homework and take a shower. She was ravaged by seasonal allergies- a persistent cough and runny nose- she was stricken with loss and yet though disheveled and dazed by soccer practice, she returned home and tended to the business of her bedtime routine. While she practiced her Math homework, she intermittently let loose a melodramatic sniffle and looked at me with puppy dog eyes. "Chowder," she whispered. "I know," I quietly and sympathetically answered back.
She is growing up. She will still feel so deeply- love so intensely all of her people as well as her material things that it will always be difficult for her to let go when the time comes to do so. I don't ever wish for her the loss of something so precious that it will profoundly, detrimentally change her life, her growth. But, I am grateful that the universe gives us these small offerings of illumination on the circle of life so that she may continue to gain perspective and appreciation for all the things that are truly precious and important. Unfair as it all seems in the moment, these are but mere growing pains adding to the strength of our character. Her character reminds me that she is still such a child stuck once again in the middle of the faith of youth and the pressure to mature at a rapid pace. My little tadpole is losing her tail. And, I just wish to always be a soft place for her to shed her tears, refresh her strength so that she can keep swimming.