Our three children have brought great joy into our home and lives over the past two decades…not to mention piles of homework, multiple musical instruments, dozens of friends, hundreds of graphic t-shirts, numerous collections of rocks, dolls and baseball cards and several pets.
But our youngest son’s most recent acquisition is notable: A six-month-old bearded dragon (a lizard species originating in central Australia known for its “hardy nature” and “easy care in comparison to other exotic reptiles,” according to Wikipedia).
Unfortunately for our animal-loving brood, my affinity for non-humans is scant, but that hasn’t prevented the kids from treasuring four cats and three rabbits (mostly in serial fashion) over the years.
Whether it was summer’s doldrums, a genuine desire to have a unique pet of his very own or a deep-seated interest in reptiles, our 14-year-old son’s insistence that a bearded dragon was the creature for him only intensified throughout August.
“If I can’t have a dog, how about a bearded dragon?” it had begun, months ago.
Subtle hints were dropped, brochures about reptiles appeared on my placemat and cost estimates penciled on notepads were mysteriously pinned to bulletin boards.
When the kid presented a typed three-page, single-spaced document he’d prepared detailing the pros, cons, expenses and intricacies of bearded dragon ownership, my cold heart began melting–not due to a sudden love for reptiles, but from the realization that if he was willing to put in hours of research to advocate for his cause, maybe he would be a highly responsible pet owner.
Somehow, the phrase “eats live crickets” had escaped my notice.
First came the 40-gallon tank, then the heat lamp (to mimic the dragon’s native desert habitat), followed by a spray bottle for daily misting (“like the morning dew,”) and finally the bearded dragon himself. Ugh.
At least it all landed squarely in HIS room; I thought I was safe.
A baggie bursting with 100 live crickets lasted for the pet’s first four days of residency. Unbeknownst to me, husband and son collaborated in ordering ten times that many to keep feeding the beast.
I found the delivery at the door one afternoon last week; only a fragile screen separated me from 1,000 active, chirping crickets. The box practically moved by itself. I’m not sure what children’s author Eric Carle intended by titling one of his best-sellers, “The Very Quiet Cricket;” did he ever really meet one?
Our new ninth-grader hurriedly fed his dragon the next morning, dashing out the door with backpack in hand as he called, “Can you check the box? I’m not sure I shut it tightly enough.”
“Yeah, I’ll check it,” I replied absentmindedly, then ran out the door myself soon after.
Returning home a few hours later, reptile and crickets forgotten, I climbed the stairs to the second floor and….CRICKET BREACH!!!
A horror movie had sprung to life before my eyes. Dozens of hopping, chirping crickets dotted the beige carpet, lining the hallway and preparing to hit the steps. The unruly insects’ instant reaction to my extended scream alerted me to the fact that crickets have excellent hearing.
After my shrieks and initial shock subsided, I backed down the stairs, desperately devising a strategy. I grabbed an ice cream bucket and box from the garage, stripped paper towels from the kitchen roll and determinedly re-entered the battle zone.
Trying not to squash any crickets with my bare feet, I shut the doors to the upstairs rooms that so far had escaped the insect invasion before carefully removing the primary cricket container, doing my best to keep as many inside it as possible.
Then, smothering my yelps and cringes, I caught crickets one by one and shoved them into the bucket, slamming down the lid with each tiny victory. When the hallway was clear, I began throwing the crickets directly into the dragon’s lair, totally making HIS day.
Wild-eyed and harried, I pinched up every last one of those escapees, although an occasional Jiminy Cricket has turned up every day since.
Anyone seeking to insult me might need to consult Little Jimmy Dickens’ 1965 country hit “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” for new ideas because after this, it’s going to take a whole lot more than 1,000 live crickets to scare me.