No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Love is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! But let me back up a little bit because every good love story needs a little background.
So, a little boy showed up at school one day with a toad in a small plastic habitat. And in “monkey see, monkey do” fashion, my son had to have one, too. And since his birthday was coming up (and since I’ve been known to slip into moments of complete mom idiocy) we decided to add to our family. After a trip into Wichita a purchase was made in a somewhat questionable pet establishment in an equally suspect part of the city. The sales fella assured us that this was an easy enough pet to care for and that our new fire belly toad would happily enjoy the little plastic habitat that we had already purchased at Toys R Us. (FYI: living creatures almost never thrive in plastic containers.)
So, Todd the Toad moved into my son’s bedroom. WAIT…I forgot to mention that fire belly toads (which are poisonous by the way…so should have looked that up before we brought it home) also need LIVE crickets every 3-4 days. Okay–if you have never seen a toad devour a cricket you might be surprised to discover that it’s pretty amazing and just as cool as some of the things you’ll see on Animal Planet, except that it’s happening right in front of YOUR face! So Todd would entertain us during feeding time, but that was about the extent of it. And since this particular toad didn’t have much of an appetite, more crickets drown than actually made it into his mouth. And this was a problem because cleaning this little plastic habitat became not only necessary, but also quite gross. To top it all off, poor Todd wasn’t thriving. He seemed miserable, sad and scared. My only thought at the time was: please, please don’t let us kill Sean’s birthday present! Something had to be done and thus another moment of mom idiocy ensued.
Google is one of my best friends. It wasn’t long before I had loads of info and armed with knowledge we headed back to a different pet store (in a better part of town) and looked for a whole new set up AND a companion toad (because two is always better than one and who doesn’t need someone to pal around with? I know, even more mom idiocy!) Almost $100 dollars later, we were set up with a new industrial terrarium and cover, a special light bulb, a new lamp, spring water, an electric thermostat and even a little greenery and log to keep our toad chums happy. The children were ecstatic and tossed names back and forth on the drive home. They settled on Bob and Todd because it sounded like good radio DJ names (???) and the dynamic toad duo settled into their new digs. We are such good parents 🙂
So here’s where the actual love story begins…you thought I forgot? Within a week my son had a few questions. There’s nothing quite like the “birds and bees conversation” presenting itself when you least expect it. After a very matter-of-fact talking to…Todd was renamed Trudy and my daughter declared the two “married.” Casey began praying for baby toads while I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into. Back to Google…more research needed to be done. (I am pleased to report that we were NEVER blessed with the “pitter-patter” of tadpoles!)
Bob and Trudy were quite the pair and displayed text-book fire belly toad characteristics. Trudy was quite docile and ended up being much smaller in size than Bob. Her skin stayed dark in color and she would secrete the poisonous milky fluid that wards off predators whenever she became frightened or uneasy. Bob on the other hand ate like a champ, his skin color would fluctuate between various shades of green according to his male hormones, and he frequently “barked” through the night to communicate with his beloved Trudy. (The barking sounds like a high-pitched dog bark, but it is so faint that for weeks we thought our neighbors must have purchased a small canine.) Bob was very protective and frequently “bowed up” when we would get too close or stare a little too long at the goings on in the tank. However, Bob displayed one unusual characteristic…while Trudy would hide and bury herself in the rocks, Bob was always trying to escape. On more than one occasion we would find Bob tucked up in the top corner, trying to get out. Although the crickets did manage to escape the terrarium on a regular basis, it basically seemed impossible that Bob could ever get out. He was easily bigger than Trudy but still small for an amphibian (2-3 inches at best) and the tiny crack that separated the cover from the terrarium was just too narrow. Bob wasn’t anywhere close to strong enough to move it on his own. It just couldn’t happen, right? Yet, he continued to try. We imagined he was on a quest to take his beloved Trudy and blow this popsicle stand…aka our house.
These antics played out day after day, month after month, and eventually year after year. We became regulars at the pet store (our frequent cricket purchases earning us occasional freebies) and we became experts at fire-belly toad behavior and habitat maintenance. These tiny toads became members of the family. They were my son’s roommates. We learned to recognize their barks and moods. We had to arrange care for them whenever we traveled. Not to mention, our dog was extremely jealous of his pet brother and sister. Like any family member, they were thought of and cared for on a daily basis. So imagine our surprise when sweet, little Trudy started slowing down. She would bury herself in the rocks for days now or hide in the log. While she was never the most active toad, her lethargy became worrisome. When she stopped eating, we feared the worse. We were about to lose a member of our little family.
We had lost ants (and countless other bugs) and a Beta fish named Swimmy, but on some level we all knew this would be different. We had cared (and dare I say loved) the toads for quite some time. They really were a part of our every day. I wondered how the kids would take it. Would they cry? What kind of questions would they have about death? And heaven? And ultimately, our Great Creator? I’ve read countless articles about the important lessons we learn through our pets and that death is a part of the life cycle that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about. And while all of this was milling about in my mind another thought occurred to me, what about Bob?
I wish I could say that we had plenty of time to delve into the subject of death and loss, but we didn’t. Trudy’s time had come. And afterward, Bob barked and barked and he continued to try to escape. And it wasn’t but a blink after Trudy passed away that her companion, her partner, her protector, her “husband” (my daughter pronounced them married, remember) went missing. MISSING! A poisonous toad was lost somewhere in our house. Good gravy.
Of course, the kids were distraught. Bob just had to be found. How could he have possibly escaped? They couldn’t lose BOTH of them. It was too much. We searched the tank…uncovering rocks and logs and faux plant life. Nothing. We searched the bedroom. Under things, behind things, and around things. Nothing. We systematically began searching the next closest bedroom, closet and hallway. Finally, the thought occurred to us. If Bob did manage to escape, would our dog have eaten him? I know it’s gross, but we were in sleuth mode and had to check off all the boxes. My husband made a quick call to the vet and we waited, but Maddie (the dog) was as healthy as ever. And no Bob.
After a week all hope was lost. We gave up. We wondered if some how he managed to make it out of the house. And the question became, if he did–how long could he survive? We cleaned out the tank. Repurposed the table it sat upon and eventually moved on with life.
Every once in a while the toad topic would come up. Everyone had a theory. 1) Bob just couldn’t live without Trudy. 2) He escaped in a desperate effort to find her. 3) He met his doom in the belly of our dog. 4) Or….he some how managed to make it outside..found freedom and made a new life for himself. 5) Perhaps, he was eaten by the crickets (I know this one sounds extremely far-fetched, but research shows that the crickets can and will turn on a predator and in large numbers crickets can actually take a small toad down.) We just didn’t know, until…well, until we DID know.
About half a year later, I discovered Bob (or what was left of Bob) shriveled and flattened…hidden under a pair of old baseball cleats in the far corner of my son’s closet. Now, before you think I’m a bad housekeeper I must say that YES…we had searched that closet dozens of times, YES…Sean regularly gets in and out of his closet, and NO we are not like many on the popular Hoarders TV show who neglect their surroundings to the point that critters frequently die and go unnoticed for months at a time. I don’t know how Bob made it across the room. I don’t know how long he survived in that closest (he would have needed a food source, water and tropical temperatures.) What I do know is that he was found, the mystery was solved and my heart was heavy. The love story was over.
Those itty-bitty toads taught me many things. First of all, I never thought I could love such exotic, and let’s be honest–ugly, creatures. I didn’t think that something so small and needy would ever survive in our care! I couldn’t imagine what a time commitment they would be or how much fun it would be watching them grow, play and change. These tiny creatures were awesome in so many ways. It is just another example of a truly amazing Creator! How could I have known that these toads (like children) thrive in routine and schedules, they’re very social and live in a communal setting in nature, they pair up and protect one another, and at the same time they are remarkably equipped to protect themselves from predators of every kind? They were such a wonderful example of a committed love relationship. And in many ways they came into our lives at just the right time…their parting prepared us for difficult moments to come. It still blows my mind.
Love truly is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! What a wonderful lesson for our whole family. In the past few years we have experienced loss (unfortunately, on more than one occasion) and as we grieved it occurs to me that while acknowledging the death we have also celebrated the LOVE. The love of family and dear friends. Of course it hasn’t been easy (it never is,) but I think we honor those who have gone on when we remember them well. We still talk about the toads. In fact, as I was writing this, I wondered did I ever take photos of them? Will there be images to keep their tiny spirits and their special story alive? And to my delight, I found many pictures and thus, many happy memories.
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. –Helen Keller