For Christmas we bought our younger daughter a pet. Yes, I know. Pets are NOT gifts. Gifts are things you can exchange, or forget about, or give to Goodwill next week. Pets as presents? CRAZY TALK.
But when you live with an 11-year-old w/ a bearded dragon obsession, these things happen. We tried the *NOT ANOTHER PET* tactic. “I don’t want to have to deal with yet another pet, Georgia. I’m already caring for Kiwi, Roxy, Bella, Ginger, Charlie (now deceased), and the fish. “Daddy does the fish.” “True. But I do all the rest.” “But, Mommy. When you were young, Grammie and Pop Pop let you have whatever pet you wanted, you just had to learn everything about it beforehand.” She had me there. Still, we stalled.
For 2 months, my husband and I endured a steady-stream of pestering that would have killed weaker wo/men. Georgia hounded us, hourly some days, leaving notes and suggestions where we’d see them, creating a keynote presentation: WHY BEARDED DRAGONS ARE THE BEST PETS EVER! Reading every book she could on reptiles, and spending the rest of her time (between begging) glued to the computer, watching videos and absorbing websites devoted to the care and feeding of bearded dragons. By mid-December, my husband and I had CAVED. We didn’t tell her. Instead I crafted a cute “Redeem For One Bearded Dragon” coupon, which she got on Christmas. And for a mere $42.99 (w/ coupon), we made her holiday – and all the days after.
We got Chester on Boxing Day. We would have brought him home on Christmas had Georgia gotten her way, but we assured her ALL of the pet stores were closed, and their employees enjoying a well-deserved holiday. She didn’t believe us until she’d called several stores, to no answer.
SO first thing Dec. 26th, we got Chester. He was so cute and tiny! But his small size quickly revealed itself as a subterfuge. Between his cage and accessories, the endless stream of electricity powering day and night lamps, and the FOOD (oh the food!), it costs more to home Chester than it does our 128-lb. Rottweiler. Juvenile bearded dragons are bug-eating machines. Every day or two, we are at the pet shop buying crickets, mealworms, and roaches. Which we bring home, pop in the cage, and watch him inhale in 30 secs flat.
We’ve tried buying them in bulk. But as great as we are at caring for our pets, we stink at caring for their food, and we’ve got a whole tank of dead crickets in the basement to prove it. The mealworms keep much better. They’re sold in little lidded containers filled with minced oats. They’ll wriggle around in there, seemingly for ages, but, much like humans, there’s an issue with convenience food. We can’t rely heavily on mealworms because (and I quote) “Mommy, they back Chester up.” And I don’t even want to go THERE.
So back to the pet store we go. At this point, they all know us. We enter and the employees call out, HEY! YOU’RE BACK! They give us treats for our dog. They regale us with stories about their own pets. They commiserate on the expense of keeping bearded dragons. B/c they have them too. Which may be why they work at the pet shop (FREE CRICKETS, ANYONE?) The employees are all very nice, but a funny thing has happened, something I’d never have anticipated, which, strangely, is why I am writing. All of the blah blah blah above about Chester really isn’t the meat but merely the potatoes of this post. The real dish is – I AM OLD.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel like an 18 year old inside. Despite the fact that I have two daughters nearly my height, I don’t think I look all that ancient. But to some I must. Like the pet shop guy we see most frequently. I call him “Cricket Guy.” I’m not sure how old Cricket Guy is, maybe in his 20s or 30s, I can’t tell, after all, I am old. But my husband, who is also familiar with Cricket Guy, assures me he is not that much younger than we are. What I do know is that Cricket Guy calls me Ma’am. A LOT. As in, “Hi there, ma’am! How are you today, ma’am! What can I get for you, ma’am! Here you are, ma’am! If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, where are you from, ma’am?” And so on.
Either Cricket Guy is the most polite pet shop worker I have ever encountered, or he thinks I am 700 years old. No one younger could merit the number of ma’am’s sprinkled into each brief conversation. It’s become such a joke that when we walk into the store and see Cricket Guy is working, Georgia will elbow me and chuckle under her breath, “hey Ma’am.” I’m not an overly sensitive person and I applaud politeness, but I can’t think of another term of respect that could make me feel so utterly DISSED. I’m just waiting for him to ask whether I need help carrying the (roughly .2 ounce) cricket bag to the car.
Thankfully, as Chester grows, his diet changes. Right now it’s roughly 75% bug-based, with 25% veggies, but when adult, Chester will be eating roughly 99.9% veggies! — which are in no short supply here. Till then, it’s recurrent trips to the pet store. My only consolation? Two days ago, when Georgia ran in to get a bag of crickets, she told me Cricket Guy called her Ma’am, too. YAY!