My husband is a science teacher and animal lover. In our den right now, I am beneath a mounted six-foot sailfish that the realtor, my aunts, and my grandmother all thought would be lovely in the garage. We have pictures of gray wolves, statues of grey wolves, a cross-stitch of peregrine falcon, pictures of snowy owls, Florida panthers, a ceramic quail, some woodland ducks, and a red-tail hawk. National Geographic would be proud.
April, naturally, grew to love animals–over the years, she brought home cats and dogs, frogs and turtles. She had a hairless rat named Mayor, whom I–horrors!–grew to love. I drew an emphatic line at snakes, and I really protested when it came to bearded dragons, iguanas, and ferrets because as every mother knows, I’d inevitably end up with a degree of pet duty, and reptiles are just not in my skill set.
For a while, April’s bearded dragon fixation was satisfied by her friends’ pet, a young beardie named Mushu. But, when they decided a dog would be more fun, Mushu needed a new home.
Nope. Not us. No bearded dragons allowed. None.
I came home one day to find Mushu and his aquarium, lights, and sun rocks set up in April’s room. He was the picture of bliss. (My grandmother used to joke that pets told one another about our home: If you can just get to that yellow house with the basketball goal, you’ll be in high cotton.) Mushu looked at me with peaceful disinterest; he’d arrived, and I’d have to cope.
He was an arrogant beardie; he didn’t want to be held, nor would he participate in a Youtube-worthy frolic with our cats. He wanted to be hand-fed, and he preferred peeled grapes, thank you very much. I made weekly trips to buy crickets at the local bait shop; we all gathered to watch him feed. His cricket-eating had a peculiar video game quality to it; the crickets who lived longest did so by riding around on his back.
He was an expensive pet–he needed a certain $20+ bulb during the day, another $20+ bulb at night, a larger tank as he grew, and mealworms–all of which required sixty-mile trips to PetSmart. The expense, combined with his lack of personality, grew tiresome, and April said we could sell him.
None of my coworkers wanted him. Indeed, no one in our small town wanted a beardie. No beardie rescue organizations responded to our emails. We were stuck with a surly, pricy, pet-sitter-requiring lizard.
Last summer, on my way to take Abby to camp, I stopped to see an old friend several hours away. She’d recently become a grandmother, and I wanted to see The World’s Cutest Baby. We had a great visit with her daughter-in-law and grandchild and said our good-byes. They were on the porch waving as I walked to my van when I stopped. I suddenly clearly knew: One of them will take the dragon.
I was leaving. Almost gone. Our conversations had been about the baby and the military. We hadn’t discussed pets, other than the dog on the sofa. I hadn’t seen B—- in twenty years, and I was about to sound insane.
Still, I asked: “This is odd, but do either of you want a bearded dragon?”
B—-‘s hand flew to her mouth. “YES! YES! I promised my son a bearded dragon!”
The story emerged in fits and starts–sprinkled with giggles. Her teenage son had received a bearded dragon as a gift, and, one day while trying to be helpful, his mother rearranged the rocks attractively in the terrarium. One promptly fell and killed his prized pet.
Her son took to calling her “The Dragon Slayer.” She felt horrible about her inability to immediately replace the doomed beardie.
Soon had been put off time and again, and then, finally, soon became a definite date.
Three weeks later, I drove 294 miles with Mushu riding shotgun, glaring at me for most of the drive. I pulled up in the driveway, and B—- and her son greeted the reptile delightedly. She had to go back to work and instructed me to go supervise the cage set up.
I sat in a desk chair as the boy plugged in the lamps and arranged the rocks non-fatally. I looked at him, this boy I had never met, so thrilled with his pet.
I’m not a spooky Christian, watching for portents and throwing fleeces. I don’t pray in the woods or post pictures of my coffee and my open Bible. There’s a lot about God and his ways that I don’t know.
But that afternoon, I saw two things clearly–God cares about our smallest desires, and He speaks to us clearly.
Even about really arrogant lizards.