Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Things She Brings Home, or, Our First Pet

Part of living with a teacher is accepting that she's going to bring home stuff. Lots of stuff. There are half-finished lesson plans, stacks of papers that she'll be up late grading, holiday cards from fourth-graders, assorted childhood diseases that come from the germ factories masquerading as our elementary schools (we're going to have fantastic immune systems, if we survive the first year or two anyway), all the various frustrations that come with being a public school teacher...

And crayfish.

The other day M comes through the door with her arms full, as usual. "What have you got there?" I ask, as usual.

"A crayfish!" she says.

Not as usual.

"A what?"

"A crayfish."

"You brought home dinner?"

"No!"

The fourth-grade science project this year was crayfish: their anatomy, biology, physiology, habits, and I don't know what all else, just everything to do with the life and death of crayfish. Mostly death, because these lab-supplied crustaceans were not the hardiest of mudbugs: for days now I had been regaled with stories of how their numbers had been dwindling, the sadness that sometimes accompanied their demise, and the problems of disposal. The girl's bathroom trash can, the entire fourth grade now knows, is not an appropriate resting place for a deceased crawdad.

But there was one survivor, and now it was in my living room.

"What are we going to do with a crayfish?" I asked hopefully. Because I was ready with suggestions, many of them involving butter.

"It's going to be our pet!"

Clearly, butter was not at the forefront of her mind. I temporized. "A pet crayfish?"

"Yes! Since we can't have a dog..."

Now I don't know about you, but when I think of a pet, dogs are pretty much the first thing I think of, followed closely by cats, hamsters, and goldfish. You know - things you can play with, or at least watch moving. Crawfish, well...they tend not to move much at all. They're nocturnal bottom-feeders whose idea of a good time is hiding in the mud at the bottom of a creek waiting for a meal to come their way. All very interesting in a marine biology sort of way, but not what you'd call an ideal pet.

"...and isn't it cute?"

"Well, yes, as aquatic spiders go, I suppose it is. And tasty."

"No! Not tasty!"

"But..."

"Don't eat our pet!"

OK. She wins. I won't eat our pet. It just wouldn't be right, eating the very first small creature she brought into our home, even if it would be awfully good. And besides, any little mudbug that can survive two weeks with a bunch of fourth-graders periodically picking it up and looking at it deserves to go to a better place. Even if I think that better place is in my belly, and she thinks it's on top of the dryer.

But I got the last laugh. I got to name it.

We call it Gumbo.