My daughter’s first pet was a caterpillar: a four-foot tall, talking and, as best as her father and I could tell, imaginary caterpillar. She named him “Caterpillar.”
He entered her world the same week her big brother started all-day kindergarten. When I, or the preschooler next door, wasn’t busy playing with her, Caterpillar would be. And when she had to leave for morning preschool twice a week, she’d complain that her big green pal wanted her to stay home.
A year after her critter’s arrival, we moved nearly 1,000 miles north. Caterpillar opted to remain in Alabama. Occasionally my daughter wonders how her former freakishly big pal is doing, but now she enjoys our “real” family pets—two dogs, a cat, two fish and three rather creepy hermit crabs.
Last weekend, she excitedly ran into the kitchen while I was making dinner to announce that she had a new pet: a baby snapping turtle that appeared in our yard following a huge rain storm.
She ran to get an old fish bowl and put leaves, bark, and some water in it.
“Dad said I can keep him. I’ve named him ‘Turtle.’”
Seriously? I need a word with her dad. “Use gloves to handle him, please. And you’re the one who’ll take care of him.”
A few minutes later she returned, brandishing her gardening gloves and a tiny snapping turtle she placed in the bowl.
“I hope he likes the grass!”
“Um, hon? Did your dad see this turtle?”
“Yes. He was the one who discovered him.”
“Did he look at it closely?”
“Well, the thing is, turtles typically retreat into their shells when they’re scared, and I’m thinking he really should be scared by now.”
“What’s your point?”
“I think that ‘Turtle’ might be dead.”
“Nah. I just saw him move.”
“Really?” I poked the critter’s back with the flat end of a BBQ skewer. Nothing. I waved the skewer it in front of his face. Still nothing. I touched it to his legs, his tail. Not a flinch.
“Mom. Come on. I know he’s alive. He’s obviously just not scared.”
I flipped him over onto his back. Still no body parts moved.
“Oh. Nuts. You’re right. Will you bury him?”
I was busy cooking dinner. And I wondered about the protocol: does it count as losing a pet if the pet was dead to begin with?
My daughter, still wearing her gardening gloves, took matters into her own hands and dug a one-inch grave in the mulch. Ten minutes after burying “Turtle” she unearthed him for one final check to make sure he was indeed dead. Convinced this time, she returned him to his final resting place—till the dogs dug him up an hour later.
I miss Caterpillar.