Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yet Somehow We've Been Trusted With The Care and Survival of Two Humans

Bit of a Situation here at the M. household. I think I neglected to mention this on the blog earlier, but we gained a new family pet about a month and a half ago. It's a frog - well, a tadpole, really. One of those "Grow-a-Frog" kits that lets you watch a tadpole transform into an adult frog. It was a gift from my mom to Finn for Christmas (the kit - we had to send away for the tadpole), and was given in the spirit of reminiscing about my childhood in a sense, because when I was a girl I had a Grow-a-Frog. It lived in my bedroom until it metamorphosed into a frog and began singing it's little froggy heart out every night, keeping me awake. It's tank (it? I can't remember if it was a girl or a boy, but I think I called it Freddie) was moved to an upstairs hallway, and there it lived far longer than probably anyone ever wanted it to. My mom claimed that one day it hopped out of its tank and, since she was too grossed out to pick it up, it hopped away and was living out its remaining (likely short, since it was amphibious) time on this earth somewhere in the cracks and crevices of our house. Though now that I think back on it, this seems like a suspect story, like one of those "we brought the dog to a farm where he has more space to run" white lies. May have to pursue that further with my mother.

Anyway, my point is, the frog was easy to care for and it lived a decently long time. We decided that even we would have trouble messing this up, so we sent away for the tadpole and promptly forgot about it. The company understandably does not ship these creatures out willy-nilly in the winter - they carefully check weather reports and wait for a long stretch of above-freezing weather before each shipment goes out. Thus it wasn't until early February or so that M. got a knock on the door from the mail carrier (in a happy coincidence, he was working from home that day) with a surprise tadpole package for us.

The tadpole was installed in the tank and named Winnie (because he/she is see-through, like a window). Caring for it is simple - feed it once a day with the food it came with, and every week or so, remove about a quarter of the tank water and replace it with fresh bottled water. We keep the tank up on a high shelf in the living room built-ins, to keep it out of reach of our destructive cat. This makes it a little more difficult to remember to feed it, but we've been pretty good about bringing it down to the dinner table most nights so that Winnie could entertain us during our dinner conversation. Finn is the one in charge of feeding it for the most part, and he is very proud of "doing his chores."

Very quickly, the tadpole sprouted teeny-tiny back legs, so everything seemed to be going well. However, development seemed to go verrrrrrrrry slooooooooooooowly after that, to the point where we were seeing zero progress. The back legs remained tiny, and there were no front legs to speak of. According to our instructions, the optimal conditions in the tank included slightly cloudy water, but things soon became VERY cloudy. It almost seemed as though Winnie wasn't really eating his/her food. Admittedly, there were a couple of lengthy-ish stretches (3 or 4 days) where we completely dropped the ball on feeding him/her, but really, it seemed like less of a priority since Winnie wasn't eating what we gave her/him in the first place.

I'm sure, by now, you can see where this is going. Last night, I noticed Winnie was slow to respond to my shakes and jiggles of the tank while I put in some fresh water and food. She/he was still swimming around a bit, but was also spending a fair amount of time drifting listlessly on a half-cocked angle. I'm no expert, but I could tell that this was not looking good. Tonight, M. went to grab Winnie to bring him/her to the dinner table, and discovered the poor thing belly up on the bottom of the tank. There is no mistaking it. Winnie is quite dead.

We quickly covered with the kids by pretending that M. had been up from the table for other reasons, and when they asked about Winnie, we told them that Winnie had already been fed. Lies, lies!

Now we are torn. The kids have not really dealt with death yet, and Lucy is of course still far too young to understand it anyway. But at four and a half, Finn is probably not going to just forget to ask about Winnie if we quietly clean out the tank and put it away. He's also not likely to believe that Winnie somehow escaped and went for a swim down the bathtub drain (right? or maybe...?). I think we're going to have to fess up that Winnie died. The plan is to bring out the tank tomorrow night, gently break it to the table that Winnie got sick and died, and then hold a little "funeral" in the bathroom where we say a few kind words and flush the corpse down the toilet.

Is this a bad idea? Is Finn too young for this? Will seeing the body travel down the toilet traumatize him? Also, I'm not too sure what to do with Lucy while all this is going on. I definitely don't want her to see the flushing, because she will lose her shit. If I give her water in the "wrong" cup, she loses her shit, so I'm pretty sure that seeing her beloved Winnie get flushed is going to create a tantrum the likes of which we haven't yet seen.

Please, share with me your advice! Also, we are considering getting a replacement froglet (they will apparently send us one for free) or perhaps another pet, like a goldfish. Is this pure folly?

RIP Winnie. We loved you, though we hardly knew you...

(Photo from Because ours is bloated and belly up, and not exactly picture-worthy. Note the clean tank, a likely clue that this one is healthy.)


  1. I found it very important to be truthful to my boys about death. I think it is critical that they understand it is okay to cry about it, etc. When Snaps died, right before I told my boys he was dying and they should say goodbye. The boys did and then he died. My boys cried, but it was natural and I think, good for them to understand. I did not explain to them what happened to his body. Maybe you could slip by that part?

  2. Life is pain, the sooner people understand that, the earlier they grow up.

    The loss of innocence is not a lesson a child can avoid an one which presents itself at a time you consider unprepared as a parent.

    Explain death, make them believe that some dude walked on water, healed the dead, and made wine out of water. They'll get it.


  3. Please send us (very soon) the next installment. . .love to you all! Mimi

  4. The damn frog did get out of "its" tank because your brother put some sticks in it and it climbed out and hopped down the hallway into the dining room where it promptly scared me and caused me to lose several precious years of my life!

  5. I love your family...!!!! Hope all went well with the Winnie funeral!!!

  6. I am laughing at your family's comments right now. But am crying on the inside for Winnie. I am worried about this too, as our dog Otter is older in years, but not too old (she is 9) which will be lending for a difficult conversation some day with both boys before I want to have it with them. (I know, I worry about a lot of things needlessly since it is hopefully at least 3 years away). I thought by starting with a fish or something that might help, less attachment? I actually like your funeral idea. It is kind of like when Rudy lost her fish on the Cosby show - did you see that episode? Bill throws a funeral in the bathroom. It was actually very funny. Anyway, it is a good lesson for Finn to learn. Did he see Finding Nemo? All drains lead to the ocean. You know your daughter best, but I would be inclined to make it a "family" moment. Though we are sad Winnie has left us, we still have eachother... Then say, after some time we should all go to the store and pick out a fish. Onto the next!

  7. One of Sebastian's lizards (named Birdie) actually died this week. Tim and I were unsure what to do, but I knew Sebastian would ask, so I told Sebastian the truth (after we disposed of the body because it was too odiferous to keep around). He had a lot of questions, "How did Birdie die?" "Where did Birdie die?" "Is Pumpking going to die too?" But I told him the truth (we weren't sure, but we thought Birdie was stressed out about his new home and didn't eat enough crickets, someday Pumpkin would die, everyone does eventually, but he looks fat and healthy right now) And that this weekend he could pick a new lizard friend for Pumpkin. He was rather accepting of it, although he has the shortest attention span there is...