Kissing Frogs

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Firsts, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate | No Comments »

If you’re looking to make a new amphibian friend, come on over to our house. Because this holiday season we’ve opened our home (and yes, our hearts) to Freezey, Room 2′s pet frog.

I love Kate’s school. Really and truly a wicked wicked lot. But man, do they send out a lot of email.

We get a school-wide “Friday Notes” email from the director. The same day we get a classroom newsletter from Kate’s teachers. Then every other day of the week we get anywhere from two to 300 other emails on topics of varying importance and interest from folks ranging from art teachers to the hot lunch lady.

Somewhere on the application we must have forgotten to de-select a box that said our email address would be shared with every school administrator, teacher, and janitor who has a lot to get off their chests.

I’ll have to check, but I’m nearly certain that in small decorative script bordering the school’s crest is the motto, “You can’t ever over-communicate. But we keep trying.”

And in case you missed reading it there, they sent that out in an email too.

A mom from the school recently emailed me about getting our kids together for a play-date. I shot back the response, “We’d love to, but I’m too busy reading email from the school.”

Which I found uproariously funny. Like I sometimes do with things I say.

So anyway, when I got Kate’s class newsletter a couple weeks ago—which actually DOES relay lots of info I DO care about—it fell to its usual low-priority place in my email in-box. Behind more pressing messages like snarky responses from friends to my Facebook status updates.

When I finally did read the newsletter, I saw that the teachers were looking for a home for the class frog. It’s really a wee wee thing. No flabby croaking bull frog. Just a little underwater dweller, no bigger than my thumbnail.

My immediate reaction to this request was something along the lines of, “No way, sucka.”

But on second thought, my frosty heart melted a bit. It might be fun for Kate (and Paigey) to have the thing at home. We’re not going anywhere for the holidays—’staycationing’ as they say. No relatives visiting, elaborate plans, or parties to throw. So why not throw open the doors of the McClusky estate to a small, homeless frog? Perhaps, at the very least, we could afford him a brief respite from the trauma of 25 children constantly tapping on his tiny tank.

Instead, there’d be just two kids doing that.

And two adults.

I asked Kate if she’d like to frog-sit. Suffice it to say, my eardrums bled after experiencing her extremely loud and positive reaction to the possibility.

It was a “first to respond wins” sort of deal. But by this point it was Saturday. The email had gone out the day before. God knows what other parents had jumped at this offer in a more timely manner. We’d likely missed the boat, and I’d be spending the entire two-week break comforting a heartbroken Kate because Freezey the frog was living it up at Gemma or Henry’s house.

Which would, no doubt, set a vicious domino effect into motion resulting in Kate not getting into an Ivy League college.

I mean, not that I ever think about that.

Every three minutes for the remainder of the weekend Kate yanked at my arm and bellowed in my face, “Did Alice email you back?! Do we get to take Freezey? Do we, Mom?!”

It was fun.

Monday morning as we walked towards the schoolyard I prepped Kate for defeat. If it turned out that Freezey was going home with another kid, there would still be things in her life to look forward to.

Upon seeing one of her teachers, Kate screamed and panted out her question in a brink-of-hyperventilation state.

“Freezey…,” the teacher said slowly, like some reality show host announcing the winning contestant, “Is going home with… YOU!”

I nearly vomited, had a migraine, and wept all at once. I was blinded by joy and luck and sweet, beautiful tantrum-avoidance.

So it wasn’t until I got into the car later, watching Kate prance around the playground from friend to friend sharing her giddy news, that I began to fret.

The thing is, Room 2 used to have two frogs. Freezey’s friend (lover? life partner? tank mate?) Cutie Pie, recently, uh, croaked. (Couldn’t resist that one. Sorry.)

Yes, a couple weeks ago I picked up Kate from school and heard all about the funeral, the tears, the card-making, the sharing of feelings about loss. Cutie Pie, she explained, had started to hang out under one of the orange rocks in the tank. Then never came back out.

Some valiant dad did the honors of removing the corpse. Cutie Pie was buried under a tree outside the classroom. “And we had to change the water in the tank after,” Kate said somberly. Cause really, who wants to swim around in Death Funk water?

Kate was especially hard-hit by this development since in a contest to name the frogs, her submission, “Cutie Pie,” won out in the voting. Cutie Pie, by all accounts, was Kate’s first baby.

My God, I thought, leaning my forehead on the steering wheel. If I ask for only one thing in my life, it will be that Freezey doesn’t die on our watch.

Thursday, a day before school even let out, the teacher emailed me. “Could you take Freezey home this afternoon?” Kate, she said, “was enthusiastic about this idea.” (Read: Pestering the poor teacher incessantly.)

I figured, if we are going to kill this animal, why not start a day early.

I drove home that day with Freezey more slowly then I did taking a newborn back from the hospital. (Alas, if only Mark had been available to sit in the back seat with the small frog.) No water sloshed from his tiny plastic home. No apparent trauma was suffered from what must have been violently changing environments—through the kid-packed school hallway, to the gray-rugged Subaru floor, to several different settings in the house while Kate sought out the perfect place to keep him. She was like Thom Filicia in a tizzy to select the ideal nook for some avant-garde Japanese piece d’art. The feng shui apparently had to be impeccable.

As I cooked dinner that night Kate bellowed out status reports from her room. “He looks sad,” she wailed. And, like my dad who has a low threshold for anything bleak or dismal, I called back, “Honey, I’m sure he’s fine! He’s HAPPY! Happy to be with us. Happy to be here for his Christmas vacation.”

But Kate was un-convinced. “He’s sad,” she repeated more quietly, almost to herself. “His eyes… they look sad.”

It wasn’t until I’d slapped dinner on the table, bathed the kids, and was clearing away dishes later (don’t mean to glamorize my life here), that I glanced over at Freezey in his new approved tank spot. (Note: I’m avoiding the term “resting place.”)

I took a couple steps closer. First off, his pale gray skin doesn’t exactly convey the image of robust health. But more than that, what concerned me was that the critter was fully submerged, spindly legs splayed out, and utterly unmoving.

I panicked. HE’S DEAD.

But Kate sashayed in and drawled a hello in his direction. Picking up on my frantic Mama vibe, she reminded me how he got his name. “Mommy,” she said, with the weary exasperation of a child three times her age. “He’s called Freezey because he almost never moves.”

Wonderful. I have to spend the next two weeks tending to an animal who is fervently adored by Kate and 24 of her dearest friends, while he plays dead.

I was jolted into a deep maternal panic, more intense than any fretting I’ve done for my own human offspring. I considered emailing the teachers to see how they manage to ascertain Freezey’s  alive-ness. But with 25 human five-year-olds in the room, I decided it probably wasn’t a priority for them.

In the ensuing days I’ve felt like Shirley McLaine in the opening scene of Terms of Endearment, convinced her sleeping baby’s not breathing. She shakes the infant out of a peaceful sleep to a full-bore wail, breathes a sigh of relief and says, ‘That’s better.”

If only I could hold a wee mirror up to Freezey’s mouth to be assured of his breathing. Unfortunately, that trick won’t work in an underwater setting.

At any rate, it turns out that having 1.5 ounces of amphibian around the house has had a happy impact on the place. Kate and Paige came home from a holiday party Friday and held the spoils from their stockings up to Freezey’s tank. They waved candy canes in front of the glass, and relayed the thrilling details of their day, hoping to gain Freezey’s barely-conscious approval. They were like Kim Kardashian vamping outfits in the Prada dressing room for the admiration of the ambivalent salesperson.

Last night Kate strained to stay awake until Mark returned from his work trip. Not to lay eyes on her sorely missed father, but “to introduce him to Freezey.” When it became clear she might fall asleep before that was possible, I had to vow I wouldn’t let Mark near the amphibian sanctuary, so Kate could do The Reveal in the morning.

No doubt sealing our fate for a brutally early wake-up call.

But despite that I’m glad I ignored my initial impulse to avoid temporary custody of another living being—albeit a small caged one that only requires feeding twice a week. Even though this could be a terrifying precedence-setting act, one that lays the groundwork for years of hamster, snake, and hermit crab classroom critters coming home with us at holidays and summer breaks—so be it. We’re just a few days in and Freezey’s already served up some sweet moments of childhood glee.

I’m also coming around to the little guy (gal?) myself.

And we haven’t even fed him yet! A prospect Kate says involves pellets that are “really stinky” and requires one to “wash hands really well after.” I can already picture Paige feeding her dolls and lamby pretend food pellets. That is, if she doesn’t decide to stick a candy cane inside Freezey’s tank first.

Yesterday, as I cleared the breakfast dishes from the table, I paused by Casa La Freezey to take a peek at my new frozen friend. He was facing outward, which I took as a thrilling sign of life, since at Lights Out the night before his typical dead-man’s-float position was facing the wall. From this new angle I was able to look at his face for the first time. And I nearly dropped a plate of scrambled eggs when I saw that his eyes really DO look sad.

So now, amidst last-minute shopping, holiday baking, and keeping the kids entertained while school’s out, I’m all hopped up on finding some way to pull my new chum Freezey out of his glum froggy funk.

I wonder how the school will feel about us taking home one frog, and bringing back two.

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