There comes a point in every parent's life when he or she has to make that the dreaded announcement about the death of a pet. It's one of those awful moments, like coming clean about Santa, where you feel obligated to tell the truth, but you also feel like you're stealing a little bit of your child's innocence at the same time. You can choose to go the route of, "Spot went to live at a farm in upstate New York," or you can biet the bullet and tell the truth. A few days ago, Mike and I were faced with this decision for the first time.
For two years we were a decidedly pet-free house, not because we don't love pets, but for a variety of reasons. One is that we really don't need any more mouths to feed, or doctor's visits to attend, another is that we are busy and don't need something else to take care of. But the biggest reason for me is that until Ella was three months old we had the most amazing dog on the planet named Niko, and when he passed away I knew there was no way we could replace him.
Then, in the fall, Mike's dad asked if he could buy Ella some fish. We agreed and a few days later "Ronin and Phoenix" showed up at our house much to Ella's delight. A few more days passed, and when Ella realized that she wasn't allowed to touch or snuggle or throw those fish around, she lost interest. A month or so ago my parents decided to buy her a hermit crab. We figured this would be a much better source of entertainment. She could actually take "Crabby" out of his cage. She could hold him in her hands and touch his shell. The only problem was she is 2 1/2 and the idea of being "gentle" is still a work in progress. She didn't understand why crabby curled into his shell every time she picked him up, or why he really didn't want to sit in a tiny baby carriage in her dollhouse, or sleep in a tiny plastic bed with a blanket over him. Crabby became a source of arguments because she always wanted to take him out, and she always promised to be gentle, and she always wasn't. Soon, we stopped taking Crabby out when Ella was awake because he seemed to be showing signs of PTSD- a few eyeball twitches, a loose temper, the excessive drinking. Okay, maybe he didn't have PTSD, but he did have CTTD or "Current Toddler Terrorism Disorder" and frankly, Crabby was starting to get depressed.
For the past few weeks he hasn't really seemed to eat much or ever come out of his shell and there were several times that Mike and I checked to make sure he was still alive. Then, a few days ago when Mike was doing one of these routine checks, he touched Crabby's leg to get him to move and his claw just fell straight off. We knew then that Crabby was finally at peace in crab heaven, a place free of tiny human fingers and fake plastic palm trees.
When we decided to tell Ella, we were both a little nervous about her reaction. Mike even suggested we get a new crab right away instead of telling her, but I knew she could handle it. We sat her down and explained that Crabby got sick and died. She asked the usual why and how questions. She asked if Crabby was at the doctor's, or if he would be coming back, and we did our best to explain the finality of the situation, and after a minute she went back to play with a final, "Now we can get a new pet?"
Mike looked at me and saw the unnecessary tears in my eyes and chuckled a little. It seems that out of all of us, I remain the most easily traumatized. Well, after Crabby of course.
RIP Crabby. I hope Heaven is filled with really wet sponges and lots of sand.