I was not drinking at the time I promised my nine year old a pet scorpion.
My fourth grader, after much thought, decided to write about scorpions for his independent study. From the second he made that selection, we were all about scorpions: researching and ordering books from the library, talking about these arachnids, and discussing how to structure his report. In our search, I found a book titled “How to Take Care of Your Pet Scorpion.” As I have perennial guilt for not giving him a sibling, I started thinking maybe we can get him a pet scorpion! We would be the cool family on the block. “Come over and see Frank our pet emperor scorpion.” Without doing any further investigation or consultation with my husband (whoops!), I asked my child if he would like a pet scorpion.
In a millisecond after I enunciated the “en” in scorpion, his eyes enlarged to owl size and his mouth opened to snake aperture before it eats its prey.
“Can we go now to get one?”
It was eight in the morning on a Sunday. So, I had three grueling hours of “what time is it?” until the local pet store opened. More important, I now had the time to do some research.
This is what I found. According to the Health Code of New York City, it is illegal to own “all bears (including polar, grizzly, brown and black [not teddy]…venomous spiders… and scorpions” Uh oh. I am in big trouble. I rushed back to the source, flipped to the very very very back of the book and found in a small grey box “scorpions are dangerous, check state regulations to assure that you can own one.” Now you tell me. Clearly, this should have been in the prologue or in the title, something like, “How to Take Care of Your Pet Scorpion: If Your State Allows It.” I guess the book would not sell with such a title.
Lucky for me, my kid took it pretty well when I pinched his dreams of being a scorpion owner. I think he knew that New York City would never allow one of its residents to have a pet that could sting causing pain and/or death. (I guess the first rule in getting a pet is: don’t get one that can kill you). I, however, now had double the guilt, and I was desperate to atone for my sin and make my offspring happy. A mantra was playing in my head “I must get my child a pet” and it was on repeat, getting louder by the minute.
On the way to the pet store, we discussed the types of pets to be considered to join our family, and my kid’s first idea was snake. I really hate snakes. My ophiophobia can be traced to my fourth grade year when one of my male classmates brought in his pet snake for show and tell. But, it was not just the snake in the tank; it was temporarily sharing his home with an unsuspecting cute white mouse, aka dinner. As part of the learning experience, we watched the snake and mouse hang in the tank together for a while until the snake got hungry. How terrifying to not only watch the mouse being swallowed whole but also to bear witness to it being digested. When I found out I was having a boy, my first fear, among many, was that he would want a snake. I was now starring in my own horror movie.
I resigned myself to the fact that I just may have to get him a snake to make-up for my broken promise. I now had a new song sounding in my head, on calm whisper, snakes are okay, snakes are okay, snakes are okay. I prayed for a vegetarian one.
We made a beeline to the reptile and “non dog and cat” section (my kid has allergies). Along with the snakes, there was a tank with one gecko. I did not know much about this creature but at first glance I was in love.
“What do you think?” My little guy was slightly intrigued, inspecting the gecko in the tank. Meanwhile, my husband, who was surprisingly and eerily quiet, was checking out the gerbil and hamster selection. I did my frantic mommy wave to come over, mouthing I think I found something good.
Like spidergeckoman, our future family pet was walking all over the sides of the tank taking pauses to look at us, confirming the feeling was mutual. He had great qualities for a pet: loving, playful, and on sale!
“What does he eat?” I asked the salesperson.
“Live crickets. And, worms, mostly”
“Worms are like candy to them.”
I never thought I would say worms are the least of my problems. Getting back to the crickets, we found out that geckos eat these buggers about three times a week. As you have to buy them live, you need to get about ten on a weekly basis.
“When are you going to get them?” asked my husband trying very hard to suppress his doubts and laughter.
“I’m off on Fridays.” I really wanted this to work.
“You can also store many in a cricket pen,” the salesperson chimed in. So, for the eight inch gecko, I would need a gecko habitat, tank for its live food, and shelf for the worms.
“Is there such a thing as dried crickets?”
“We do carry dried crickets” yay! “but” crap “geckos like to hunt for their food, and they get kind of sad if they don’t.”
Nobody wants a depressed gecko. Then, what would be the next step? Prozac? How do you feed a pill to a reptile? I took a deep breath, meditated for a second, convincing my conscience that I could deal with crickets and worms residing in my apartment that I worked very hard to decorate. There was, however, another issue looming in the gecko feeding process.
“How do you get the crickets in the tank without the gecko jumping out?”
“Easy, some of my customers spray water on the gecko while dropping the crickets in the tank.”
I have caused numerous long lines and hmmphs and eye rolls at several grocery stores with my inability to put away my dollar bills and change at the same time. During feeding time, I envisioned spritzes of water all over the tank and me, crickets hopping, and a gecko geckoing all over my apartment and parts of Brooklyn. Worse yet, signs on our building door, asking has anyone seen Gordon our gecko (with a cute picture) and apologizing for the cricket infestation. We certainly would not be the cool family; we would be that family.
I turned to my kid. “How do you feel about the gecko?”
“I have a problem feeding my pet something live.”
When we got home gecko-less, my husband ordered our little non pet owner several scorpion keychains and doodads and a scorpion necklace for me. And, through a not for profit, I adopted a scorpion in my kid’s name.
Done. Now time for that drink.