Tuesday, January 31, 2023

“Mommy! Mommy! Can you check if my frog is dead?” my daughter bursts through the front door, ignoring the fact that I am talking to a vis­itor, and has a look of sheer panic on her face. “It’s like this!” she says, and tips her head to the side at an odd angle, her tongue dangling out of her mouth. It doesn’t take a near-death-ex­perience of a frog for a child of mine to inter­rupt me, and so I try to dismiss the behavior un­til the guest gets the hint that I have a child on the verge of hysteria and gracefully leaves.

I stopped everything to run outside and check on the well-being of this aforemen­tioned frog. (Let it also be noted that the ani­mals are not allowed inside our home.) We had been the proud owners of this amphibian for a grand total of 21 hours, my daughter having brought it home the previous afternoon from the woods, after a rainstorm. I know that sen­tence is misleading because you might actual­ly believe that she caught it herself, but she did not. She traded it for a salamander, and happi­ly placed it in a small bug-habitat along with some puddle water, a rock, grass, and a few un­tradeable salamander friends.

I peer into the habitat, and it is clear, with­out even having to consult a biology textbook, that indeed the frog has passed on. Or else it is sunbathing casually under the warmth of the sun’s rays, magnified three times due to the lens on the cover. Maybe it was the sunbathing that caused its sudden death.

There are real tears coming from her eyes. They are streaking her cheeks and touching her lips and she is heaving great deep breaths of sorrow. I think they are tears of disappointment; she had hoped to have a connection with this new pet, had worked hard to acquire it on her own, and then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone.

They had only gone on one “hop” together, where she let it free in the driveway for a minute or two, then trapped it again, and returned it to its container. But she had envisioned them hav­ing many excursions throughout the summer, exploring different territories together, and then re­suming shelter in its cozy plastic hovel. With the frog’s death, this dream had vanished.

There is something enticing about finding a small animal, trapping it, and keeping it. There is an excitement that buzzes through the air in our Catskills community after a storm, as the kids gather in a section of the woods, along­side a park, and hunt for creatures to inhabit the plastic containers lined up neatly on their porches. There is competition: who has more animals, which look more exotic, who has bet­ter recreated the great outdoors in a small en­closed box. But these animals won’t survive; they won’t eat the pieces of popcorn they are fed, the cut up vegetables or the blades of grass. They will feel isolated and scared, and will spend the rest of their days yearning to re­turn to the wild, for their former freedom, roast­ing in their restrictive Tupperwares, until they die. Each time my daughter traps an animal, it will be a lose-lose situation, both for the animal and for her own eventual disappointment.

We talk about the three boys kidnapped in Israel. “Do you think they liked being taken away from their homes?” I ask, and she sudden­ly understands the comparison, even though her motive stems from love and not from something malicious. She shakes her head. “Living things do best in their environments,” I say, and together we decide that if she would like to continue trapping crickets or small ani­mals, she should let them go at the end of the day.

The next day, there is a big black carpen­ter ant under the kitchen table, and although I am used to the way the bugs in Upstate NY seem to think they are partial homeowners, I still don’t accept this behavior. I kneel down to kill it. “NO!” screams my daughter, the same one who once shrieked about a centipede in the shower. “How can you kill it?” And she bends down, trying to cradle it in her hands, to rescue it from my zealotry, and to return it to its home in the great outdoors.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is work­ing on her first book. More of her essays can be read at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Sarah Abenaim

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