When I got home from performing on NCL’s ship, the Pearl, I was met with huge hugs and smothered with “smooches” from my boys. (Mark, included!) The kind of welcoming committee I was hoping for.  Little did I know I was being softened for the real surprise:

“Mommy! Guess what? We get to watch Spiny Back for the entire Christmas holiday that we don’t go to school!”

“Spiny who?”

“Spiny BACK. The Bearded Dragon that lives in my classroom that everyone voted and picked the name Spiny Back that I raised my hand to tell everyone that name.”

“Wow. That’s awesome, Nate. ..um…where is Spiny Back right now?”

“In your bedroom.”

“mmm…hmmm…in my bedroom. Where is your father?”

“In your bedroom looking at him.”

Funny how this information was never mentioned in all the emails Mark and I exchanged when I was gone for a week.

My bedroom has been invaded! Notice my sewing machine just dumped under the table.

This is not the aquarium that Spiny Back came to us in…oh, no. This is a newly purchased, $180. setup that Mark and the boys had to get because, “Spiny Back’s feeling kinda low, Mommy!” Apparently, Nate’s teacher’s feel the same way about Spiny Back that I do. “Seriously? You have to feed them live crickets and meal worms? They need not one but three different kinds of lights on them and you expect me to reach into that cricket container and grab what???!!!”

How can I put this as gently as possible?  Spiny Back came to us with not many expectations that he would be returning. He was looking directly into the white light….Spiny Back was on his death-bed. He was laying completely flat with his arms and legs going the wrong way; his eyes were closed most of the time and he couldn’t lift his head. But that only made Mark want him to live more! We were in emergency, reptile-nursing-back-to-health mode.

Everything was cleaned with bleach and water and moved into the new deluxe bearded dragon habitat. I kept hearing the song, “Well we’re moving on up…!” from The Jeffersons. While Mark surfed the internet trying to figure out how to correctly “force feed a Bearded Dragon” I was stroking my sewing machine saying, “Don’t worry…it’s only temporary…”

Flash forward to Mark holding Spiny back in one hand and prying his mouth open with the other while I’m squeezing cut up meal worms out of a syringe, trying to aim them into his mouth.

“Mark, what did you use to cut up these worms?”
“The big kitchen knife, why”

“Where did you cut up these worms?”

“The cutting board, why?”

“I just wanted to know what we were going to throw away when we’re done.”

We got a little in him and he perked up a bit. Mark was thrilled. “I’m going to get him a cricket!” “Knock yourself out.” I told him. “I’m going to wrap some Christmas gifts. Remember Christmas? 3 days away…big holiday…family coming over?” After about 20 minutes, Mark came out of the bedroom completely dejected. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. “It’s just so sad. I put a cricket in with him and he just laid there. The cricket actually crawled up on his head and sat there, mocking him! Spiny Back’s self-confidence is completely shot. He’s humiliated.” “Mark, Honey…don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you may be projecting just a smidge.

Nothing was working. Spiny Back just laid back down with his head in the sand and closed his eyes. Didn’t look good. He was in the same position for over five hours and never moved.

Mark went to bed early, so I decided to check on him before I went to sleep. Still hadn’t moved. In fact, I couldn’t see any breathing. Uh, oh….was he gone? I tapped on the glass…nothing. I opened the lid (OK, so I was feeling a little bad for him.) and I nudged him with my pen. Nothing. I lifted him up with the pen and he was not responding at all. His arms were stiff, his eyes were closed and he wasn’t breathing. He was gone.

“Mark..wake up!”

“What?”

“Spiny Back is gone.”

“What? How could he get out?”

“No! Not gone…he’s expired…”
“What?”

“Dead. Spiny Back is Dead, Mark. He’s gone to that big Lizard aquarium in the sky.”

“Oh, no…. really? How do you know?”

“He told me he was dead.  What do you mean, how do I know?  Not moving, not breathing…survey says…dead.”

“Oh, that’s horrible…OK, I’ll deal with it in the morning.”

I turned off all the heat, UV lights and went to bed. In the morning, I showed Mark the corps. He was just laying there all pitiful. “OH, NO! We have to tell Nate.” I remembered. Well, this will be a life lesson. All things die eventually. “Do you think we should have a funeral for him? We always did in my family.” Mark asked.  “Well in my family, if you were dead, you got tossed into the trash.  I had to swear to my Grandmother that I wouldn’t let Mom ‘toss her to the curb’ when it was her turn to go.”

” I think you’re right Mark,  it would be good to have a funeral to teach Nate and Zeke about life and death.”

“We probably shouldn’t show Zeke where we bury the body.”

“Yeah, you’re right. That wouldn’t be good…he’d definitely want to play the let’s dig up the box game.                              Here….what about this box, Mark?”

“He won’t fit in that…unless I pull a ‘Dexter’ on him.”

“Very funny. Here, use this one. It’s even black.”

“Nate…can you come here for a minute?”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“uh…er…um…Mommy wants to tell you something.”

“MARK! OK, listen Nate. You know Spiny Back wasn’t feeling very well. He was pretty sick, right?”

“Right. He was feeling low. That’s what my teacher said.”

“Well, Daddy and Mommy did everything we could to help him but his little body just couldn’t be fixed.”

“Did he die, Mommy?”

“Yes, Nate. I’m sorry but Spiny Back died last night.”

“Is he in Heaven?”
“I think he is. What do you think, Nate?”

“Yeah, he’s in Heaven playing with all the other Bearded Dragons! That’s fun, right, Mommy?”

“I’m thinking if you’re a dead bearded dragon…that’s the place to be! So, listen…we’re gonna have a funeral for him.”

“What’s a funeral, Mommy?”

{sigh}”That’s kind of a …er…um…a goodbye party you have for people and pets when they die. You say goodbye to them and then bury the body in the ground.”

“Why, Mommy?”

“Why what, Nate.”

“Why do you bury the body in the ground?”

“So we’re not up to our chins in dead bearded dragons, Nate.”

So Mark took Nate into the bedroom with the box. ..

Mark reached into the cage and gently lifted up his body. Just as he was lowering him into the box, Spiny Back  whipped his head around, opened his eyes and looked Mark right in the eye!

“Mommy! Spiny Back is alive again! He came back alive!”

“Yes, it looks like he’s definitely alive, Nate but he didn’t come back alive (I hope) he just wasn’t dead.”

“But you and Daddy said…”

“I know, Nate but we were wrong. Don’t worry, we have lots of money put away for therapy sessions for you later in life.”

I don’t know if he was playing possum or if he was in a coma or what but Spiny Back is alive, Folks! And actually doing really well. Mark bought some tongs and fed him 6 crickets. He gulped them up and licked his chops.

Mark preparing breakfast for Spiny Back.

Spiny Back eyes his "coffin" and decides to eat some crickets. Hmmm...do you think that would work on a preschooler?

Head up, eyes open and belly full of crickets...if only my life were that simple.

I think we should rename him “Lazarus”.

Thank you, goodnight!

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