When I was a kid I had a turtle.
I had several cats. An iguana. And a cage full of finches. At various stages of my development I took care of these animals. Changed tanks, litter boxes and newspaper covered in poop from the bottom of cages. I watched the finches lay eggs and raise families in the nests that I bought for them. I hand fed strawberries to the turtle while it “exercised” on the bathroom floor. I designed an elaborate atrium for the Iguana in the bird cage, only to find him back-broken one day after school as he tried to fit through the bars.
Looking back on these experiences, I saw them as positive. I learned responsibility while also making close bonds with nature. They came and went, died and were given away, but overall I feel I was better for having had them.
This was the attitude I had when, after weeks of begging, I relented and told Kaia and Skye that they could have two turtles a little over a year ago. They were tiny and cute and fit inside a relevantly small tank.
I figured that Kaia would also learn the lessons I learned and perhaps make that connection to these tiny animals. I admit that I did not think that our commitment to these terrapin would be eternal. I figured, we’d have them for a while and then we wouldn’t. I know, I know that pets aren’t temporary and if I ever forgot, Mairin was there to remind me. She never thought our foray into the world of reptiles was a good idea.
Last March, we brought the little guys home, and from the start I realised that the tank, when full of water was, way too heavy for Kaia to lift on her own, so every Sunday I would have to help her empty the water. I also quickly realised that she might not be able to really clean the filter to the level that it needed to be cleaned. So I ended up doing that too.
Since it turned out that I would basically clean the tank, we agreed that each Sunday while I did the heavy lifting, the girls would at least take Bob and Shelly downstairs and run them around the grass. I figured if they weren't learning the responsibility aspect of this little experiment, they could at least do with some bonding. They never seemed super excited about this, however, and so the turtles became a bit of a burden and a chore for everyone.
Fast forward to now- we have three big problems.
1. They are too big for their tank and need a bigger tank or some kind of outdoor pond. I have neither the desire, skill or time to run this type of habitat.
2. The kids are not really as connected to this experience as I had hoped and as a 43 year old man I am not loving having a turtle as much as I did when I was ten.
3. We no longer have a live-in helper and we don’t know what we would do with them this summer while we are in the US for seven to eight weeks.
The turtles had to go.
A few weeks ago, I started to prime the girls on what this might look like and how and why they should prepare themselves. They were upset, but seemed to get it.
Today after I cleaned the tank, I put an ad on Carousel, a classified app, and offered the tank, all the accoutrement and the turtles to what I hoped would be a responsible pet owner. Within minutes, I had a few bites and the guy promised to be at our place tomorrow.
I prepped the girls. Revisited the very logical reasons for giving them away and after a few tears, they seemed fine. That is until the dude sent a message saying he was downstairs. He had thought our rendezvous was for tonight. The kids were already in bed.
We had to get up, empty the tank, get the turtles ready for their departure.
Skye did not handle this well. There was crying and anger. Kaia was fine during preparation, but then after they were gone, she was a mess.
I am currently sitting in her dark room, as they whimper themselves to sleep feeling like a pretty shitty dad.
“I never liked this turtles,” has been Mairin’s mantra from the start, but I honestly thought that they would serve a purpose for our kids. Be some kind of reptilian memory, but now I am not sure the fond memories will outweigh the dramatic scar that might remain after I gave away Shelly and Bob in the middle of the night to a stranger.
He promised that he has a bigger tank and he wants the smaller tank for some fish. I asked that he send a picture, so the girls can see that they are fine, and he promised he would.
I experienced so much loss as a kid that I became used to it. I guess that I saw dealing with loss as my ladder to adulthood.
But to hold Skye in my arms tonight and feel her shaking, made me realise that maybe my kids are still a bit too sheltered. And the ripping off this band aid may have been too much.
We will have to wait to see the repercussions of this experiment, but I can see all of us sitting around some table when they are adults, still cursing me for the night I packed up Shelly and Bob under the cover night.
I hope I will have done a few things to make up for this. Man parenting is hard work.