Since the boys have been old enough to argue about what we would name a dog if we had one, they've begged us to get them one to settle the dispute once and for all. I've been somewhat resistant to the idea, which I've tried to delicately express to the boys by shouting "over my dead body" the very second I hear one of their persistent requests to visit the local pet store.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against dogs. It's just that since Katie and I traded 3 labs in for 2 boys I've felt like we got the really good end of that deal. No more dog hair on my clothes and furniture and kitchen table. No more waking up in the middle of the night to three dogs barking at a threatening raccoon rifling through our trash cans. No more last minute dogs-sitter hunting before escaping for a long weekend away from home. No more vet bills. No more dead, previously threatening raccoons dropped beside my truck in the morning with a very live canine posted beside them, clearly looking for a loving stroke of appreciation.
Ok, so maybe I do have something against dogs.
Lately, the boys' longing for a dog has taken a break. It started with a recent visit to grandma and grandpa's house. Grandpa sent them home with a salamander he found for them to raise as a pet. The salamander, who Ian promptly named Skylander, fit nicely into the cage/aquarium type structure Ian received for Christmas. Katie and the boys began feeding him mealworms purchased from the pet store. In my celebrating mind, anything fed with food purchased from a pet store is officially a pet and instantly qualifies as a legitimate substitute for a dog. I discovered just how legitimate when I threw the strange looking container of mealworms away while cleaning the refrigerator. Katie insisted that if I didn't run to the pet store and get more of them Skylander would die. She did not present Skylander's death as an option.
What kind of dad drops everything he's doing and runs frantically to the pet store to buy food to preserve the life of their sons' salamander? I'll tell you what kind. The kind of dad that doesn't want those same sons to remember they once wanted a dog. So on that day, the Skylander was saved.
Aunt Wendy agreed to watch Skylander while we were on vacation last week. So before we left we moved his cage to her house, gave her all the feeding instructions (not everyone knows exactly how many mealworms to feed a salamander each day), and made sure she had our contact numbers in case Skylander decided to do anything crazy. We never dreamed she'd have to use those numbers, but she did. She texted Katie late last week to let her know Skylander had died.
You can come up with a lot of ideas when brainstorming how to break it to your sons that their salamander died while they were on vacation. In the end, we went with our first idea: don't say anything and see if they ever notice that they returned from vacation and their salamander didn't.
That plan actually worked well for 5 days. No Salamander. No little boys wondering where he was. In fact, I think I wondered where he was more than they did and I knew where he was. Or at least what he was, which was dead. But that changed Friday when Ian asked quite out of the blue where Skylander was. So Katie had to break the sad news to them that Skylander became ill. She told him Aunt Wendy did the compassionate thing and released him over the fence in our backyard so he could crawl off to the pond and get better.
Ian clearly understood the reality of death that Katie, in all of her motherly instinct ways, tried to present as a kinda, sorta, maybe still out there alive kind of death. Ian broke into his patented sad cry, the one that would make one those out of control laughing boxes break into tears if it were at all near Ian at this point, and Elliott did what he does when Ian cries about anything; he cried right along with him. I wasn't around for this - thank God - but Katie describes a fairly traumatic scene. It's probably just as well I wasn't there. I can hear, "boys, it was just a salamander for heaven's sake" coming out of my mouth.
Katie nursed their broken hearts back to life like she always does. The recovery was likely sped up by a trip to the swimming pool.
On the way home from the pool Katie and the boys came across a gathering of people in a local neighborhood. An unexpected place for a crowd that time of the day. Ian asked what the crowd was doing there. Katie told him it looked like a possible estate sale. Ian, of course, wanted to know what an estate sale was.
Katie knew this was going to skirt perilously close to the hopefully forgotten death subject. But she moved bravely forward.
An estate sale is when someone dies, she explained to him. And the dead person has stuff that their family doesn't want or need so the family has a sale to sell it all. The family members then get the money. It would be like if daddy and I die someday and you and Elliott decide to sell our stuff.
Again, I'm glad I wasn't a part of this conversation. The best example Katie could come up with at such a fragile time in the boy's life - he just lost his most beloved salamander after all - was the death of his parents?!?!
Ian didn't hesitate a bit after Katie shared this depressing tale of his parents gone dead. He broke into a big smile and announced "and then I could take the money and go buy all the toys I want." Katie tried to make him sound a little less eager about our departure by reminding him he would be older then and probably uninterested in playing with toys.
"I will always want to play with toys," Ian assured her.
Katie and I both found it interesting, if not somewhat sad, Ian's very different responses to the death of his salamander and the potential death of his parents. For me, though, I took away a lesson from the tale. Never again will my response be "over my dead body" when the boys suggest we should get a dog.