Thursday, June 26, 2008

Explaining death is hard enough...

It was a special moment - a memorable one - when my sons both got their first pets as birthday gifts from their Aunt. A first pet is just so magical - no matter what kind of pet it is. In this case, it was 2 hermit crabs - crab-like critters who live inside, and drag around, abandoned snail shells. For a couple of weeks, my sons were rather good with them - the younger for *not* using his crab as a stringless yoyo ;) and the older one for thoughtfully feeding and caring for both of them.

From the moment those creatures entered our house (the crabs, not my kids) I knew their longevity would be unpredictable, and I'd eventually need to have that dreaded, but important, "what is death" conversation with my kids - I just didn't think that day would come so soon.

So... the other night, after the kids went to sleep, while cleaning the "crabitat", I picked up my older son's crab, and the limp limbs and body of the crab just fell out of the snail shell. I practically jumped back, I was so shocked... and then I felt really sad that my kids would have to deal with this reality.

The next day, I called them both to the tank, kneeled in front of them, and said to my older son, "Your crab is no longer with us - he died yesterday". Well - he went through the classic stages of mourning... demanding a new crab "now", then jealous that his brother still had a crab, then anger (that I killed it, of course), then, finally, sadness, followed by the logical decision that he didn't want another crab at all.... Ok, maybe these aren't classic stages - but this was all new to me.

They actually both dealt with it well... so, after the boys were sleeping, I began preparations for putting the crab into his final resting place (NO! Not the toilet!) - a small paper bag, that we would bury together in the backyard.... I picked up the crab's snail shell again and turned it over... and saw.... AHH! The crab! Alive! I had this sudden nervous energy... I kept thinking "boy, that death conversation was hard enough - but the resurrection conversation is going to be even harder!"... so I grab their "Hermit Crabs for Dummies" book (you think I'm kidding?) and quickly realize that I made a classic, well documented mistake. Molting hermit crabs are often mistaken for dead. Whew... It's not resurrection, it's just the "daddy made a stupid assumption that when a creature's limbs all fall off that it is dead" discussion.

Anyway - the kids were pretty happy about the end result... young son may have been slightly confused that this previously dead crab was now alive, but older son said "I told you he was molting!"... and you know what? He did... a few days earlier - after he read that darn book for daddies - I mean dummies.

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