Hello, PetCo? I’d Like to Cancel My Line of Credit


When I met him, my husband was a naturalist.

Raise your hand if your first thought, after reading that sentence, went a little something like “Jocelyn’s husband was a nudist????”

Now put your hand down, Tinkerbell. You’re all alone in front of your computer, after all, which means it’s kind of queer to keep sitting there with your handing waving around, as though Mrs. Hwiggens will call on you eventually and let you shout out–wrongly–that “12 x 12 is 142!!!”

Indeed, put down your hand now. Straighten your shoulder pads, and wet down your forelock. Stop trying to learn your times tables (as if you can learn anything new at your age). Come back to the story.

When I met him, my husband was a naturalist. This meant he taught outdoorsy stuff at an environmental education center: white-tailed deer; beaver; water ecology; rock climbing; snowshoeing; the ropes course. Before working at the center an hour and a half north of Duluth, he had worked at a center in the Adirondacks in New York, at Florissant Fossil Beds and Mesa Verde in Colorado, and on a barrier island off of North Carolina. To this day, he has strong memories of each place, of communities of friends; of helping to slaughter a pig; of appearing in National Geographic in his full park ranger gear; of grits.

Interestingly, he is a naturalist who doesn’t care for animals (“I like the flora, not the fauna,” he explains). Most people greet that bit of information with a gasp, as though it signals a moral failing. In fact, we were at a dinner party some years back when it came out that two of the guests weren’t “animal people,” and the discussion that ensued over this was only resolved when one of them–the not-my-husband one of them–stated categorically, “It’s actually okay for me not to like animals. It’s within my rights not to want animals around me everyday. I’m still a good person.” She was so clear, so strident, so much the hostess of the party that the hubbub fell silent; thusly chastened, the animal lovers returned to cutting off large bites of their pork loin.

Because Groomeo doesn’t care particularly for animals, and because I have felt in the last decade that I already have enough small creatures, in the shape of Girl and Paco, to take care of, we haven’t had a pet.

Girl, who would be more aptly tagged “Groomie’s Girl,” is just like her father. Occasionally, she has made a limp gesture at pretending to want a dog, but mostly she’s too busy avoiding all animals in the vicinity to finish the thought. Paco has followed her lead, until recently, when he finally expressed a desire to get a pet. His only caveats are that he doesn’t want to touch it, clean up after it, or feed it. He would very much like to name it, though.

Paco has learned much at his mama’s knee.

At any rate, we tried to feed the boy’s need last winter, when we got him a beta fish. You know, Anikin. That fish, with only two balled-up fins and a baleful glare, actually managed to convey anger, misanthropy, and even a feeling of malevolence. I fully anticipated he would leap the tank one night and crawl down someone’s throat, just for the joy of choking off an air supply.

It wasn’t our saddest day when Anikin hated his way to the Grave That Flushes.

Then we had a quiet few months of relative ease, months when we merely struggled to care for our own curfuddled selves.

On Labor Day, however, we drove up the shore of Lake Superior and hung out with some friends for the afternoon at a place called Gooseberry Falls. There, Paco and a compatriot found some warm pools in the rocks, pools full of tadpoles. Desperately wanting one, but completely unwilling to touch anything slimy (he’s the anti-six-year-old boy, you see), Paco tried to cajole his parents into catching one. Better luck came when we gave him an empty tupperware for scooping; he managed to snare one and, in turn, pride himself on being a veritable lion tamer.

Get this: over the ensuing weeks, we didn’t kill the thing. I don’t know how it happened, but the tadpole didn’t die, and when it went through its evolution, we were fascinated. Before September, I thought I’d had a good sense of the whole “and then the little tadpole becomes a mighty frog” process, having seen it in the 1970’s in a filmstrip–but the truth is I had no idea. Watching the tadpole get legs and become more frogian everyday was riveting.

Suddenly, though, the transformation was complete. We had a frog, and not just any ordinary hopper but, rather, a tree frog, replete with them space-age type grippy sucker toes and a jet pack. Paco named him Grippo, and we were off, skipping down the path of pet ownership…

which entailed us running around in circles, dithering, “What do we feed a tree frog? What kind of habitat do we need? Who will clean its habitat? Do we need to clean its habitat? Do frogs even poop, or can we ignore it and thereby never have to clean its habitat?”

Fortunately, there were neighborhood experts mere yards away: the family with four boys. They gave us a lesson in catching crickets and loaned us a habitat, and we all settled in to the idea of watching our new pet climb every pencil we stuck into his tank. A tiny piece of me felt–no, not love–but contentment that my children might one day exhibit interest in going to a zoo.

Grippo suckers up the side of his house

The frog mansion…

which all too quickly was returned to the neighbors when Grippo hopped off to the Great Froggy Mansion In the Sky after about three days.

Seems a piece of his tail never fell off when he left the tadpole stage. Takes about three days for remnant tail to mold and toxify its carrier. Takes about two seconds to flush a frog corpse.

Takes about two months for a six-year-old boy to find a replacement pet. Yup, this week Paco has hit upon a solution that satisfies the whole family, from his animal-averse father to his allergic-to-cats sister to his Pilates-loving mother:

His name is Max. He doesn’t eat, so there’s no food to buy; he doesn’t poop, so there’s no cleaning up; he likes to play with kids, so we get to hear their giggles; he doesn’t bite, so we don’t need a muzzle; he doesn’t mold, so he won’t gradually become glassy-eyed and moss-covered; he is perfect.

Max sleeps at the foot of Paco’s bed each night, and every morning the lad rolls his pet into our bedroom. They romp together, and sometimes Paco holds Max on his lap while he eats dinner.

One thing, though:

if he ever pops, Max is going to be a bugger to flush down the toilet.






25 responses to “Hello, PetCo? I’d Like to Cancel My Line of Credit”

  1. Midlife Jobhunter Avatar
    Midlife Jobhunter

    "Fortunately, there were neighborhood experts mere yards away: the family with four boys"


    I was thinking this as I read. We've had every pet known to mankind except snakes and rats. I don't do snakes and rats. However, now only have a cat and bird – rather mundane after the days of the dog eating the siding and the rabbit chewing the woodwork. Somewhere in my house lives an escaped hamster. We always joke that he now weighs 500 pounds and lives SOMEWHERE upstairs.

    Don't know quite how my husband, the perfectionist, has survived. Enjoyed it.

  2. phd in yogurtry Avatar
    phd in yogurtry

    I was going to say, Paco might enjoy a pet rock.

    And that tree frog? That is sooo tiny and cute!

  3. monica Avatar

    !!!!! how come I never thought of that? A Max would be perfect! I am sure there is no fur shedding, no home contents or such wrecked, no loud barking in the middle of the night, no mud paws all over the house etc. etc… :o) OFF COURSE not liking animals is OK, but it is typical animal lovers thinking this is not normal…it's like people who choose not to have kids – us parents (sometimes secretly envying them..) tend to think there is something wrong with them… hooray for double standards.. :o)

  4. chelle Avatar

    The frog was soooo cute!
    I am the nerdy animal lover. My poor husband. So we have two cats and I am so hoping a dog will follow us home soon!

  5. Jazz Avatar

    Max. Well, okay….

  6. kmkat Avatar

    Yeah, when Max pops — which is thankfully much less messy, although much more noisy, than poop — Paco needs a pet rock. It has the advantage that it can go everywhere with him in his pocket. He can name it… Wilson. And try to play soccer with it.

    Was Groomeo at Wolf Ridge in Finland? And was he there in 1990-92? If so, he probably met #1 son, whose school sent an E2 class there every year.

  7. Pearl Avatar

    I was heavily into frogs and salamanders as a child. Thanks for the memories!


  8. jess Avatar

    I am also a fairly nice person who nevertheless exists happily without the need to ever clean up after a pet. I've lived with several excellent cats and I always appreciated them more for the fact that my roommates/their owners, and not myself, were responsible for their poo-scooping-horrible-smelling-food-feeding-vet-taking upkeep.

    We found tadpoles when we lived in Venezuela and they grew into frogs and promptly died in a horrifying mass frog suicide/starvation tragedy. It was sobering. However, as I remember it, the crickets in Venezuela could have eaten the frogs we grew 20 to a bite so I'm still not sure what direction we could have gone in, food-wise.

    As for non-living pets, have I ever told you about the time my sister and I ate peaches and kept the pit as pets? We were odd but inventive children.

  9. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    You CRACK ME UP. I never knew that about frog tails…and I did think "Naturalist–teaches people about nature at a state park" or some such thing.
    I wonder if I could persuade my children to adopt Max instead of a puppy…

  10. Susan Avatar

    I grew up without pets and seem to be more than making up for it. Somehow they keep sneaking in here. I think the only thing we haven't had is the noisy parrot my husband wants so badly.

    Max is the perfect pet. I wonder why I never thought of that…

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Too funny,
    I, like the Groom and fortunately like my husband, also have no fondness for pets. They're nice but no desire to clean up, walk, pay for, etc…However, the boys keep asking Santa. We told them Ben was their pet but he poops and cries too much and now is getting into all their stuff.. I don't think a Max will work as we have one and they haven't attached. We may break down and try a turtle. We'll see what Santa says.

  12. Sunflower56 Avatar

    It is so cool that you found a tree frog tadpole at Gooseberry!

    And wow, a reference to Mrs. Hwiggens. I haven't seen that name in print in a long time! Those scenes were hilarious.

  13. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    No, I didn't think nudist, but thatwould have been an intriguing story.

    When I was a kid on the gulf coast of Mississippi, I used to scoop tadpoles up out of the bayou and raise them to frogs in my wagon filled with water.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    You neglected to mention that Groomeo grew up in a house full of pets. There were three cats and a dog. I think the cats were very skilled in the art of barfing in family member's shoes, and the dog was always caked in flea powder.

  15. diane Avatar

    When my kids were little, we had a gecko named Gretta (Scacki). When Gretta died, my youngest daughter insisted that we bury her in a little box under the daffodils on the hill by our house. We said a little eulogy, sang softly, and cried.

    What a bunch of twits.

  16. ds Avatar

    So sad about the tree frog. We once had a pair of goldfish (the kind you "win" at fairs and such & so are not destined to live for more than a day). One of them lived for a year (the other, alas, the requisite day)–CS was quite impressed. So was I, considering that my darling progeny had poached dad's tropical fish at the tender age of 2. Comedian or axe murderer; there is no middle ground. Have always had cats, but they are my "fault."
    Max sounds ideal.

  17. actonbell Avatar

    That's intriguing, about the frog's tail. Huh.
    Great post:)
    When we lived in the greater LA area, we loved to catch small lizards. Well, in my case, I loved to TRY to catch these guys, but always wound up holding a wiggling tail. My bro, however, caught one, brought it in the house, and–lost it. We never, ever told Mom. We never found it, either.

  18. Maddy Avatar

    Always difficult to flush clingons!

  19. Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings Avatar
    Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings

    But Max can not love back.*

    Oh. My heart. It so aches for your Paco.*

    Cruel, cruel world that has a boy with a ball for a pet.*

    *denotes dramatics and sarcasm.

    Yet. . . no cat hair, hair balls, puke, dog peeing on random furniture just because he can or debate over whether the drooling cat is near death and what that is coming out of his ear.

    So, I can get a Max, where?

  20. Jeni Avatar

    Going way, WAY, back in time to when I was a child, I had a dog, given to me when I was about 6 months old and so was Lady, the dog. Had her for 12 years. But I shared her with my Grandpa as it was a toss up between him and me whose dog Lady really was. In my pre-school years, I had two cats but they disappeared and my Mom told me it was because of Lady, who was notorious in her dislike of cats, that they had run away from home. I found out many, MANY years later that the cats had left with a neighbor who took them to the happy hunting ground. (Back then, disposal of animals in that manner was an accepted way of life.)
    A year after my sweet Lady died, I carted a puppy home -a gift from our minister who was about to go to some kind of ministerial conference in Florida and the four puppies his dog had were just of the right age to move out. It was a rough sell but after a few hours of this pup giving my Mom the big "sad eye" she gave in and Duffy became part of our lives for the next five years. Best dog ever, he was!
    Since my kids came along, we have had numerous dogs and cats -no fish, no turtles, no hamsters, rats and sure as hell, no SNAKES! Until two weeks ago, we had also been bunny-free too but that has now ended with the three bunnies belonging to the stepgrandson now residing in a cage the SIL built for them in the basement! I always thought bunny cages got built and placed outside. How little I knew, huh?
    So right now, we are filled to the gills with animals -1 dog (brought home last week by daughter, Mandy), the three bunnies, two grown cats (Mama Nina and Chino) and still have four lovely kittens from Nina's recent litter. The kittens are definitely of an age to leave home and move on to college or married life -whatever -so if anyone is interested, please stop by my blog and check out how sweet and adorable these four little beasties are! I'd even be willing to try to fund shipping costs if I could afford that!
    Oh well, what the heck you gonna do when one of the other adults in the house is a bigger animal lover apparently than her mother was/is!

  21. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    I thought I wasn't a pet person until I gave birth to pet obsessed children. Two dogs, two cats, two turtles and one snake later I will say I have successful held the line on rodents (as long as you don't count the mice fed to the snake).

  22. Vic Avatar

    So what if I raised my hand, just a little, when no one was looking? It's not like I actually pictured your husband striding nude through the meadows or anything. That would be wrong.

    (Also, I think it's Mrs. SssWiggins. I'm going to have to go check now…:)

    Grippo is a great name! Who knew that about the tail mold? Was Paco sad to lose him?

  23. Chantal Avatar

    Oh that is so cool! I would love for my sons to see a tadpole turn into a frog. Awesome! One teacher at our school gets Monarch caterpillars and the kids get to watch them change into butterflies and release them. Unfortunately my son didn't get this teacher. I was soooo disappointed!

  24. Pam Avatar

    Groomeo had some interesting work…."to this day he still has strong memories of each place". If I had to slaughter a pig,my memory of it would be strong too! I adore animals and have had just about every domestic pet imaginable ( not at the same time).My husband has been quite long-suffering in this.Horses scare me though,in their ability to inflict serious injury and I have had no desire to have one to which my husband gives daily thanks to the Gods of Vetinary Expense.At the moment three Beta fighting fish are enjoying their third year of vast expanses of individual fish bowls in our home, after being rescued from various pet shops in containers the size of a small fist.Ross, The Other One, and Red of Collinswood live a good life.Husband says when he comes back in the next life, he wants it to be as one of my pets.Does he realize he'll be sleeping at the foot of the bed instead of in it, and minus a few dangly bits of anatomy? My Max doesn't lead half the good life of yours by the way. It's collecting dust on the top shelf in the garage, sadly neglected, next to the Ant Rid which gets taken out much more than he ever will.

  25. lime Avatar

    lol, my eldest, at the age of 5, dubbed the grave that flushes "potty heaven." i quite agree with you regarding children as creating enough repsonsibility and mess. you are my psychic sister. and max will be a bitch to flush. maybe he could just be immediately reincarnated into something else.

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