Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's Tough to be a tadpole: or The Circle of Life our Family's Style

It's really tough to be a tad pole at our house. Reno and Saki have been marauding through the local rice fields and have taken captive a dozen or so poor little wanna be amphibians. Those that have now succeeded in sprouting legs are currently being rounding up in a Barbie house in the drive way. I just gracefully exited the scene saying, "When they stop moving, they're dead."

Not that I am a callous cold woman--I was trying to shock Saki and her friend into listening to me. I had just spent a good three minutes trying to explain that today is very hot and sunny and that these are just little bitty baby frogs with soft wet skin. I was cautioning that they really shouldn't be handled too much or forced to jump for say over a minute or so. But Saki and her little friend Yuki went right on screaming at the little green blobs that were desperately trying to escape Barbie's dream house.

So, my youngest, who is currently torturing frogs in the drive way, surprised me last week by locking herself in the bathroom to weep over the death of one of our goldfish. (All the gold fish have by now departed this planet--some kind of deadly fish fungus.) What surprised me was her completely sincere solemness about it. She cradled the dead fish in a piece of tissue, holding it gingerly to her chest. She moved in a slow stately march to the bathroom. She took a deep breath. "I am going to close the door now and I want to be alone."

Hmmmm. I stood outside wondering what exactly she was up to. When the door opened a good five minutes later I asked, "What were you doing? Did you flush the fish?" She nodded quickly and left to go play at a friend's house.

When she came home I found her standing in the genkan staring at the empty fish tank. She looked up at me. "I was crying in the toilet. For the fish. For the poor fish." And I could see her eyes glistening and threatening to fill with tears again.

Now, why was I surprised? Because I have gotten used to pets being unceremoniously chucked once they have given up the ghost. I remember gearing up and readying myself to break the news of the death of Reno's first pet to her. I was so worried and tense. It's such a blow to lose a beloved pet--so senseless, so raw so, well, emotional.

But Reno at the age of three, when told that her hamster Hannah chyan had died, blinked at me intently and responded with, "so can we get 'nother one?" No tears. No remorse. No singing songs in honor of the dear departed little fuzzy companion.

Me? I would have been gathering flowers and elaborating laying them on my pet's grave for MONTHS. In fact, that is what I did when I was three. I was in the fourth grade when I started bringing flattened snakes (road kill) home to bury in our backyard. I had a plot for all the poor departed creatures that I happened across. I wept for them. I prayed for them. I loved them beyond their life spans.

Now, when an actual REAL family pet died--I was inconsolable for LOOOOONG periods.

So when Reno greeted the demise of her first pet with a quick, "can we get 'nother one?" I was flabbergasted. Then I got disturbed.

Fish came and went and no matter how pleased she seemed with them at the time, still, death raised only one question in her mind, "Can we get another one?"

Her ojiichyan (Japanese grandfather) died and thankfully, she was content to just sit quietly through the funeral without posing the dreaded question. I expected her to be upset about losing a grandfather but she seemed a little more intrigued with gaining a portrait at the butsudan to light incense for, to put out little ceremonial cups of sake and leave tiny bowls of rice for. She was only five-year-old at the time, so perhaps I just expected too much. She was just still too young to wail and beat her chest yet like her dramatic mother.

Reassurance came on an attempted flight back home from the States later that same year. We had to de-board the flight home due to Saki suddenly spiking a fever just before take off. In the airport, clutching a screaming and feverish Saki to my chest I looked down to see Reno sobbing uncontrollably. "Oh honey, what's the matter?"

"Melon. Melon is waiting for us, but we aren't going to be coming home to her!"

Melon was a one-year-old American short hair cat, our current (and happy to say still currently alive and well) family pet.

Reno continued to sob--tears welling up in her eyes and pouring down her cheeks while her chest heaved. Saki wailed, although for a completely different reason--Otis media in both ears.

All the way to the local ER Reno continued her mournful monologue about Melon the abandoned cat. She had been missing her the whole three months in America but had always told herself to be strong, she would see Melon soon. She missed petting her; she missed watching her eat. Now she wasn't going to get to see Melon soon.

Normally a crying five-year-old and a shrieking one-year-old in the back of a taxi that was taking a good 45 minutes to get us to the ER that was supposed to be just 15 minutes from the airport would have pushed me over the edge. However, this time I was happy. My eldest daughter had a soft spot for her pet cat. The universe was back in alignment.

If there is one thing I want my daughters to learn from me it is a respect for life--for all life. I get upset when I see little boys pulling the leaves off of trees-stripping branch after branch nude. I want to take in each and every stray cat and kitten that I see, I want to save the whales, the harbor seals and rain forests and everything in them. I'm a bit of a bleeding heart really. But it is one weakness that I am not ashamed of. Seeing connections between all the living organisms in my life--from the towering dandelion weed in the front yard to the soft grey cat curled up at the foot of my futon, to my daughters, our neighbors, the world--makes me feel safe and whole. We are all in this together. Albeit my beloved daughters may spend half their time together locked in near mortal combat, and that weed at the front of the house really needs to be whacked down and ripped out by the roots--still, we are all on the same ride.

So I want my kids to learn to respect that and to learn that when someone gets off this ride it doesn't take anything away from you to pause and recognize and mark the loss. In fact, learning to mark the connections between the universal "you" in all it's varied forms strengths the individual you. You are part of something bigger than yourself.

Of course, those poor little tadpoles stewing in their portable interrogation box, I mean bug catching cage, are probably wishing that they could be disconnected from my family. But last year, I remember taking the fully developed frogs back to the rice fields with the girls and watching my girls' faces as they let each bright green frog hop off a finger tip into the tall rice--I celebrated that connection present on their faces. And don't worry, the seige on Barbie's Dream house ended before the little guys "stopped moving."