The end of the crustacean era

Yesterday we said goodbye to another member of our family.  The remaining hermit crab, Lumpy, went to his (her?) final resting place under the pine tree, alongside Bumpy, who was buried earlier this year.

Poor Lumpy.  Probably died of a broken heart, living a solitary life in the tank.  No one to climb the wall with.  No one to fight with over the crab house.  

Maybe not.  We noticed him looking poorly and grew concerned.  When he stopped moving and seemed limp, we knew something was up.  But our research led us to this conclusion:  the crab was molting.  Aha!  Experts say that it’s crucial to leave a molting crab alone, so that’s what we did.  We hydrated it, changed water, kept it warm.  The process was supposed to take up to 8 weeks.

And it went on and on.  Since there was no smell, we figured it was okay.  (I mean, dead animals smell, come on.)  But 8 weeks came and went, and eventually we decided that poor Lumpy didn’t survive the change.

So yesterday we had his funeral, poor little petrified Lumpy (I mean, stiff, fragile, like an egg shell molded to a crab form.  Every molecule of water completely gone.  Just a little crumbly skeleton.  No one wanted to touch it, because when you did, a leg or claw fell off.).  We buried him shell and all.  

Mitzi wasn’t upset to say good-bye to crab number three.

Next time, she says, she wants a better pet.

Another one bites the dust

Well, I’ve done it again.  Speaking too soon.  Setting in motion the wheels of Fate through casual remarks.

Yesterday a writer friend posted on Facebook that she had gotten her daughter a pair of hermit crabs.  Many comments followed with advice and experience, including mine:

“Ah, Mitzi asked for some for her last birthday. Bizarre pets! She does an okay job taking care of them — luckily, they don’t need too much attention! Ours are called Swirly, Jr. (after the first, which died) and Lumpy. Or is it Bumpy? I can’t remember.”  (For a refresher, read my blog post on that one in January)

Later on I remarked: “We’ve been lucky since, though. Seven months without incident!”

Soon after it was my bedtime.  I checked on the kids, one by one.  As usual, I also checked on the hermit crabs.

It happened again.  There was poor Bumpy (or was it Lumpy?).  Out of his shell, limp, like an icky rubber slug.  I poked him (or was it a her?).  Nothing.  I picked it up.  Nothing.  I washed my hands and went to tell Ray.  (It is my strong belief that fathers are responsible for taking care of dead pets.  Mothers handle the emotional aftereffects.  Call me a traditionalist.)

After the corpse was tagged and bagged, Ray told me that he suspected foul play.  Apparently, Swirly, the somewhat bigger and more aggressive of the two, had been harassing poor Lumpy (or was it Bumpy?) just the day before.   We are convinced it was a crabicide, though without evidence Swirly remains a free crustacean.

Luckily, Mitzi was not that upset.  

(An aside:  This morning there was another post in the Facebook discussion, from the original writer, who was responding to another friend’s comment on her own crab’s death:  “are you sure it was dead, or was it molting. A friend of mine kept throwing away one that were just molting.”  Uh.  Hmmm.  Well, if he hadn’t been last night, 7 hours in a zipped baggie surely did the trick.  But we won’t share that information with Mitzi.)

A mid-afternoon burial in the shade garden is planned. 


On the left is Bumpy (or was it Lumpy?) as we remember him best.  

Now with his friend Swirly, in crustacean heaven.


the night before the next day….

Tonight I’m thinking not of the birthday party planned  for tomorrow for Ellie and Joanna, the balloons and cupcakes, the games and goodie bags, but of Dori and Abby.   Tonight I’m thinking of my friend who tomorrow is going to say goodbye to her baby, that brown-eyed, yellow-furred pile of love.  Tonight I’m sorry I couldn’t go hang out and give-and-get kisses from my almost-favorite pet (I have to give top ranks to my childhood dog BJ).   Tonight I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to say goodbye.

Tomorrow is the last day.  What’s goes through the mind as one witnesses the end?

I don’t know.  I hope to never find out.

Tonight I’m thinking of my friend Dori.  Tomorrow is the day that after begins for her, and for those who love her, who want to help her into after, into next.

I hope tomorrow I know better what to do for my friend.  Tonight, I say, here are these arms, these ears, this heart.  Tomorrow I can say the same.

Tomorrow is the last day.  The first day.  The day that marks the shift from then to now, from used to be to can only be.

A party, tomorrow?


Alas, poor Yorick: when a child loses a pet

The moment of discovery as  I stared at the aquarium was a moment fraught with conflicting thoughts:.   Yikes, is it dead?  Dead hermit crabs are kind of gross.  So that’s what it looks like totally denuded of shell!  When will it start smelling?  If I put it on the back porch will it freeze or get eaten by a raccoon?  Where is the receipt from PetCo?  What should I do with it?

What do I tell Mitzi?

“Swirly”, the larger of the pair of hermit crabs Mitzi received for her birthday four days ago, has expired.  I don’t know why.  It seemed okay, as far as hermit crabs go (I mean, geez, these creatures don’t do a heck of a lot).  My only experience with this animal is with the ones I’ve seen on the beach.  I don’t know how to care for a hermit crab.  I get a box, follow directions.  I don’t know how old or healthy the critter  is when I buy it.  The don’t come with pedigrees and papers, like my old Golden Retriever did.img_1346

Child wants crustacean, Mom obliges.  (To the right is a picture of Swirly with BFF, Bumpy, on the left.)

So here we are, four days later, with poor Swirly, stiff and out of his shell (the dead giveaway, pardon the pun).

I noticed its condition this morning, when Mitzi was at school.  I emailed Ray.  What to do?  I have to take him out.   Where to put him?  I can get a refund, where is the receipt?  Meanwhile, Ellie screeches, where is Poops?  (The crab’s alter ego.)    Now, do I have to explain to the three year old about death and heaven and whatever it is we want to say?  Can I just lie and say Poops, like Ellie’s momentarily lost stuffed giraffe (or stuffed kitten or stuffed dragon or whatever stuffie Ellie has misplaced that day), is vacationing with friends in the house somewhere?  I am not good at explaining death and loss.  Sheesh, I’m still flinching every time one of them mentions my grandpa, their Poppa Tony, who died four years ago.  They are still fixated on this.  They talk about him, miss him, listen to his records.   Mitzi made Grandma Mitzi a special Christmas presesnt because “she might be sad at Christmastime since Poppa Tony died.”  The all have special pictures of Grandpa in their rooms and are saddened when discussing family memories they were certainly too young or not-born-enough to have had.

But regarding my grandpa I can talk about my ideas of heaven, spirit, loved ones, and life.  About Swirly, the barely-here crab?  It’s hard for me to conjure words.

For Mitzi, though, the loss is as real.    She came home today bubbling with excitement, following an after-school playdate.  She wanted her friend to see her new pets.  Julia’s mom and I kept saying no — little sister is still napping up there, you are both too wet and snowy, it’s not a good time, let’s reschedule.  Eventually, we moms caved.  Up Mitzi and friend went, up I followed, to somehow excuse the absence of one of her new pets.

Needless to say hysteria ensued.  Poor Julia is probably traumatized by the sight of her friend receiving the news of a cherished pet’s death.  I hope her mom doesn’t send me the therapy bill.

We remember Swirly.  In the past six hours, Mitzi has drawn a picture of it (him? her?  Our pet-parenting was so short-lived I have no idea what gender poor Swirly was), asked me to print out some photos to bring to school for tomorrow’s first-grade class Sharing, mourned the corpse, begged to keep the shell, planned a memorial sculpture, said a prayer.  In all, a seven year old’s processing of the cycle of life.

Part of me worries.  If this is what she’s like with a static, non-cuddly four-day-old pet, what will she be like when our someday puppy ages gracefully and dies after a long energetic life?  When an aloof but still cuddly cat vanishes into the traffic glare one night?  How much more extreme will memorials be then?

Then, of course, I worry how she — or any of the kids — will react when we lose a person we cherish?  What then?

This is her first real loss, as small as it seems to me.  I have hugged her, rubbed her back, encouraged her expressions of grief and loss and love.  I give advice based on my own experiences (let’s remember Swirly and the good times we had) and hope that she will take a little bit of that when the losses are much larger.  Because they will be larger, some day, no matter what I do.  Some day she will grieve for something or someone far more important than a new pet.  I know that.  I can’t stop it.  But maybe by helping her mourn these small losses — no matter how cute or silly that seems (I mean, sculpture, indeed), I can help her prepare, in a small way, for what will inevitably come (though I pray those big losses are so far in her future I won’t be able to remember my name let alone whether or not I prepared her for grief).

Dear Swirly, our here-and-gone new friend, I did not get to know you and your wave-like shell and crustacean heart.  But you have helped us start a process that no parent wants to begin yet cannot escape:  preparing a child for the inevitable pain of loss.  For this I am in your debt.  Alas, poor Swirly.  I knew you well.  Sort of.

But please forgive me for not springing for the headstone and a backyard burial.  My 15-day Petco warrantee was a good one, if I can find the receipt.  I mean, you were a valuable 8 dollar crab.  We will remember you in our heart, if not our wallets.

And for her part, in the true style of a child, Mitzi enthused a little: “I want to come with you to pick out a new crab.  Let’s get a littler one this time.”

Kids.  They sure know how to bounce back.  And aren’t we a little in awe — and  a lot jealous?