So, I’ve had the training, have the degree, have thousands of hours of grief counseling under my belt. I have sat in rooms hearing horrific details and watching people sob, keeping my compassion and composure in check at all times. Why, why in the world would I lie to my own child about a little pet death?
Because my parenting style has been directly and immensely impacted by the fact that I am a mom to a child that died before he was born. Therefore, everything I do as a parent is intentional and driven by disproportionate amounts of guilt and second guessing at all times. I can triple guess myself on toothpaste for my children on any given day of the week, how does one not overdose their child on fluoride if it’s in the water AND the toothpaste?!
I digress. So, when my first living son turned 5, and asked for an Emperor Scorpion (google it, they’re terrifying) I said “sure!”. We found one off of Craigslist and immediately went to the pet store to get the tank, the sand, the heater, the thermometer, the water dish, (also the water sponge because they need options apparently), food dish, crickets, cricket calcium dust, the myriad of different light bulbs for the diva scorpion, and finally the Diva Himself. He was named Strike by the Birthday Boy and loved immediately. By him. Only.
Somehow Strike survived even though we had no idea how to care for such an…….interesting creature.
We never touched it, collectively panicked, almost packed and moved from our home the day we stumbled upon him molting his exoskeleton (do NOT google that, you can’t unsee it), and avoided him other than feeding day (we enjoyed cheering the crickets on as they would hide on his back as he hunted them, or burrow in the sand to get away).
We were not prepared, however, for the day he died and we became cold-hearted liars. He was in first grade, just a poor innocent child. How could I break his heart? I should have, because it would have taught him resiliency, he would have learned that to hear bad news from a human that loves him can make all the difference in how he heals, I would have a clear conscious instead of this heavy burden.
We didn’t tell him. He was on a trip with his father for four days, we had four days. We called every mainstream pet store, nothing. We called every exotic pet store, nothing. We looked on Craigslist, nothing. Finally, we found a listing on another community type sales site that was months old but tried anyhow. We got a response on the day before The Boy returned home. Good news, the seller had two Emperor Scorpions. Bad news, we had to buy both. Sure, that’s fine. Fine, we can do two. So he gets a bonus pet, no biggie. He’s a good kid, why not? Send the husband after the new horrible pets and get the tank cleaned out.. All set, problem solved. Husband arrives, open the rubbermaid bin and see two, MUCH LARGER, scorpions. Uh oh. One’s not that much larger, we can say he was gone for four days, that’s a long time for a scorpion. He ate a lot, had one of those weekends where he just munched on extra crickets and didn’t do much. We placed them in their new home (can scorpions cohabitate? Tarantulas shouldn’t, but that’s for another blog entry).
My sweet, angelic son arrives back and we say nothing. I can’t, couldn’t possibly, tell him. I had already had a private funeral with a secret marker for Strike. How do I now tell his sweet face?
I didn’t. Later that day he was so excited to tell us he had another scorpion. And that his other one got big. Few questions, we left out any and all major details, something about stumbling across a scorpion and getting him a friend. He accepted it, they continued to provide fear for 2-3 years more. He eventually had his own funerals for each of them.
He learned a lot from them as pets, and when they died. We learned a lot from The Secret Death, and the burden it carries to not share the truth with him. We stressed ourselves unnecessarily, even though it’s painful, he’s stronger than I think or know. Because when his scorpions did die, and two not just one, he handled it with grace. He was sad, he asked a lot of the same questions multiple times, he dug their little graves and buried them. He decorated their graves and said Nice Words for them and moved forward with the next pet.
Kids are strong, they are resilient, they can handle more than we allow them at times. It is hard to watch, it is hard to see them suffer, but they are learning lessons and experiencing what is going to happen at some point, even if we’re not ready for it. I supported him during sad moments, he learned that I’m there and will help him grieve and go through death rituals no matter how small the creature. I could have saved myself the burden and extra stress had I just known that our strength and resiliency was there the whole time.