Friday, April 23, 2010


I try to make room in my heart for my kids' dreams.  Sometimes it is a more difficult fit than you'd think.  We have more fish than I would choose.  Bees were not my idea.   I took a deep breath and let Evelyn skin a road kill raccoon even though I am a hydrophobiaphobe (possessed of an unreasonable fear of rabies).  But Clementine's latest dream really put me to the test.

It was a BIG dream.  Imagine a terrarium--a tall one, as tall as a newly 10 year old girl, say--with water at the bottom, home to fire salamanders and fire belly toads, which only make a very cute croaking noise.  There is a waterfall in this dream tank.  It aerates the water and also--now this is clever--creates a spray for the geckos.  Geckos, you say?  Why yes, the house geckos who live and laugh their merry laugh peaceably in the upper portion of the tank with the common anoles and the green snake, creating a harmonious and huge, noisy, impossible to clean and probably stinky biosphere that will take up half the bedroom.

Ok, those were my thoughts intruding upon the dream right there at the end.  But this was a very real and vividly imagined dream. It was a many hours studied dream. A many months planned for dream.  And it was a spectacularly well funded dream.  My mom helped Clem count her money and I nearly collapsed in shock and horror when the tally came to over $500 which put the crazy dream in reach.

In desperation I informed Clem that she had to donate half  her possessions to make room for this thing.  Four days and 6 crates of toys out the door later she looked at me expectantly.  I had promised.

We drove to the East Bay Vivarium, an amazing place which, depending on what kind of person you are, you should either avoid like the plague or make tracks to of a Thursday morning when they are feeding bunnies to the huge pythons and fuzzy chicks to the monitor lizards.  Clem led me to the back of the store and I contemplated the terraria.  The one she wanted was large enough for her to stand in.  I imagined the ladders and even pulleys and harnesses that cleaning this monstrosity would require.

And I began THE SPEECH.

"This is 100% your responsibility.  I am not going to participate in any way in feeding and cleaning and any other caretaking.  You'll have to save money to pay someone to take care of these animals when we go on vacation.  This is 100% your deal."

At this point a man appeared.  I am not sure if I noticed at first his saintly aura.  He said, "Excuse me, I overheard you and I wondered what this `deal' you were talking about was."  He looked as if he might work there or possibly own the place.

I said, "It's a grand plan my daughter has been working on for quite a while.  Clem, tell the man about it."

And she laid out her plan.  And he listened.

When she was done he said.  "Well, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that you could probably have all those pets, except for the green snake.  Green snakes are exceptionally difficult to care for.  It is nearly impossible to keep them happy.  The others, the fire belly toads, fire salamanders, house geckos, anoles, you could have.  But not in the same enclosure.  Look at all the animals here."  He made a grand sweep with his arm which encompassed bearded dragons, garter and corn snakes, several tarantulas and a huge tortoise that was continually ramming its head into the glass walls of its tank.  "Wouldn't it be easier for me if I kept them all in one big cage?  But they all have different needs, so I can't."

Clementine's lower lip was quivering.

"But you don't really need a whole tankful of pets," the wise, wise man said..  "You need one pet that you really love."

Clem bravely fought back tears.  "But the green snake was the one I cared the most about."

"Ok, so you like snakes?"

"Yes."  Sniff.

"You like to hold them?"


"Well, green snakes don't like to be held.  Corn snakes are a good snake.  Do you mind feeding mice to your snake?"

We looked at corn and garter snakes and after a little bit of discussion we ruled out snakes.

We moved on to geckos.  The man took out a leopard gecko.  Clem shook her head.

So he takes down a different box.  "Now this is going to be the next big thing in geckos.  These guys are from New Caledonia.  They were thought to be extinct."  And he lifts the cover on the cutest gecko you ever did see.  A crested gecko.  (Bred right in the store, whew!)

It was love at first sight.

And he tells us this little guy needs a little tank his size.  Clementine opens the wooden chest that contains her life savings.  Bills come flying out. The man hands us over to Sasha, who will, "get us everything we need for the gecko," and, he (half) jokes "take every cent in that little box."

So we took home Dragon.

He was just the right size for Clem's heart and for mine.


AM said...

Do these things grow to the size of a apatosaurus?

Stefaneener said...

Clem and I had this same conversation where she laid out her dream. To me, non-Vivarium-trained, it sounded reasonable. I liked the idea of a community group (works in fish tanks, right?). It was a great conversation, and I enjoyed it greatly. And I'm so on your side! They always say they'll take care of them, etc.

We'd love to see you soon.

Kristin said...

I can always count on an engaging post here.

The dragon really looks like he has a personality.

I like that Clementine had concocted a tank with interrelationships among many living things. I could picture her vision and it was lovely. Perhaps it could still be realized through art.

Cecil has been into finding salamanders or wooly bear catepillars and making her own terrariums out of those huge plastic organic salad containers I'm embarrassed to say I buy. She recycles them all right.

J.G. Wilder said...

Oh, this is a fairy tale! Clementine, I'm wishing you happily ever after.

maria said...

oh my gosh what a relief that ending was!

Susan said...

AM- They swore they topped out at 7-9 inches. However, they can live 15 years.

Stefaneener--I know--it sounded like it could work to me--even if I knew it would be too much work. I'd love to get together!

Kristin You know I came across research that found that lizards do have personalities. Dragon is very cute. I snuck him out to hold him while Clem and Greta were having a bath.

Jennifer, isn't it a fairy tale? I am so grateful to our mentor. I half expect that when we go back they'll say they don't know who we're talking about there never was such a man working there.

Maria, you made me laugh out loud!

AM said...

15 years?! I am visualizing Dragon perched on Clem's shoulder as she walks across the stage to accept her PhD in herpetology.

Anonymous said...

I love it! Can't wait to meet Dragon! - Jenny

Mars said...

Awwww. She traded her dream of a reptile village for a dragon. Sounds pretty fabulous to me! Oh the things we do for our kids. Ask me sometime about the Hogwarts Summer Correspondence Course I put together for Hadyn one summer. It nearly killed me! But, she floated on air and LOVED it. What great mothers we've become. You had such a great example growing up. Me, I had to overcome my Not-a-mother and learn by sneaking glimpses of other families (like yours).

patricia said...

The fact that you were willing to let Clem build her dream in her bedroom is as good as her having actually done it, as far as I am concerned. She'll never forget that you said yes, even if it couldn't work out.

You are amazing. I would have cut off that dream before it ever made it to the Vivarium. Big ol' practical mom that I am.

Those baby geckos are my absolute favorite creatures at the Vivarium. I love how they jump up and down, scratching at the side of the tank like they're dying to meet you.

Seems fitting that even though Clem didn't get her original dream, she still got something otherworldly and fanciful--a dragon!

Here's wishing a long and happy relationship to Clem and her dragon.

(And your telling of the story had me captivated!)