we lost the turtle


Raising kids is a pain in the butt. You find yourself continuously teaching your children something that you believe should be second nature. I mean, you -- the 40-year-old -- know that sliding down the side of a mountain in a bathing suit is going to result in a couple of bumps and bruises. Why doesn’t your stupid 5-year-old?

Anyway, because my kids don't know anything, and because I apparently have not provided enough genetic material to figure it out, I am constantly trying to teach them pretty much...everything. Since I am clearly a hyper super-genius based on my ability to spew out 800 words/day of inane, scatological drivel on a blog site, I assume I am uniquely qualified for this task.

I have broken down all of the various lessons I give to my kids into one thing: consequences. Whenever I have a discussion with my daughter about making some choice, we always talk about it in terms of the consequences and then she makes the decision. (My 6-year-old, chip-off-the-block son, like me, already knows everything there is to know. Accordingly, he and I only talk when he needs me to get him to the next level of Super Mario.)

But for my daughter, who occasionally listens to me, we analyze the situation. "You want to eat a sixth scoop of ice cream? OK, the consequence is that you will be sitting on the toilet until next Tuesday. What do you think you should do?" Or, "You want to go to Susie's house? She's the meanest girl in school. You can do it, but the consequence will be that she is going to hit you in the mouth with a bat. What do you want to do?"

You would think that the answers would usually be obvious, but, as your kids get older, everything becomes more nuanced. For example, my daughter got a turtle for her birthday. Not from me, from one of our, um, "guests." This guy, who bought a live animal requiring five years of continuous upkeep as a gift for a 7-year-old, was later found dead in a wood chipper, but I have no idea how he got in there or why my favorite gloves were shredded along with him.

In any event, the turtle is small and my daughter can hold it in her hand, unlike her other pets: my two golden retrievers who are each the size of an Abrams M-1 tank and capable of causing far more damage. One day, my daughter asked me if she could take the turtle out of the tank. At the time, I was extremely busy watching the highlights for a Royals-Padres baseball game, so I responded with my standard parental admonition:  I grunted and turned up the volume. I, too, forgot that there are consequences for not talking about consequences when your child asks you a question.

Not hearing me say "no" is generally an invitation for my daughter to do whatever she pleases, and she carried the turtle into the living room. She has an army's worth of Littlest Pet Shop figures set up on my piano and I guess she thought the turtle would be a great addition to the cavalry. Unfortunately, while directing the charge of the Pet Shop Light Brigade, something happened to distract my daughter from her game, something like, I don't know, the wind blowing, or a light turning on up the block. Whatever it was, my daughter left the turtle to act as gunnery sergeant for the plastic infantry while she investigated the leaves falling in the street.

Needless to say, you know what happened next. When my daughter returned, the turtle was gone. Her shrieking roused me from my Baseball Tonight-induced coma and I ran into the room.

She told me the turtle was missing and we sent out a reptilian APB. We searched everywhere, high and low, but couldn't find it. After 30 minutes, I had to tell her, "Honey, he must've fallen in the piano and there's no way we can get him out." This sent her into complete hysterics, although the first question she asked did give me a little feeling of pride. True to her and my Jewish lineage, she screamed: "How much can a piano be worth if it's got a dead turtle inside?!?" I appreciated her disdain for life itself, as opposed to financial considerations, and made a mental note that I have to start teaching her the family business.

To show you the depth of my concern, though, I literally started to disassemble the piano one screw at a time before realizing it was a hopeless task. It's not like this was an end table from Ikea. It's a full baby grand and a dope like me with a Philips screwdriver covered in gefilte fish has no chance of making it inside without destroying the whole thing. Or choking myself with the piano wire.

I leveled with her. "Sweetheart, I'm sorry but the consequence of you playing with the turtle and leaving it alone is that you will forever more be known as a turtle killer." This didn’t turn out to be as comforting as I hoped and she cried for a while longer. Eventually, she realized the futility of the tears and said to me, "Dad, wouldn't I really be a turtle loser? Since I never actually saw it die?" The fact that her 8-yr-old brain already had legal skills that her lawyer/father would never acquire made me proud, and we went to get ice cream to celebrate the turtle's life and passing into that great turtle terrarium in the sky, via our Steinway.

One week later, our maid found the dehydrated turtle under our couch. We won't be worrying about consequences regarding the turtle anymore, however, because now he has a lock on his tank.