The glamorous life on tour:  Cleveland in January. 9 degrees. Ice, lots of ice. With the exception of the couple that lived in the building across from my hotel that left their blinds open 24/7 for the entire world to see “nature”…it was a really lonely weekend away from my family.

Hilarities at Pickwick and Frolic is one of my absolute favorite clubs in the country. That's the only reason I brave the horrific weather in Cleveland.

When I’m on the road, my cell phone is my life-line back to my family. I’m so thankful for its invention. When Mark and I first dated, there was no such miracle. We lived 2000 miles from each other for the first 2 years of our relationship and had to pay long-distance charges for each and every call. We would average $400. each most months.  Sure, that’s the “safest” our love-life has ever been but I think a 900 number would have been way cheaper.

Calls from my sons have changed along with their ability to talk. Teaching my boys baby sign language made for really challenging phone calls. Mark would hold the phone while Nate would sign, “want Mommy” and “I love you, Mommy” to the receiver. It would have been great if Mark had learned the signs along with the boys.

“What’s he signing, Mark?”

“Uhhh…umm…grab my chin. I think he’s saying, ‘grab my chin’ to you.”

“Really? Well, I’ve never taught him either of those words, so I’m guessing it’s something else.”

“Well, he’s pulling his two hands into himself then he touches his chin with the thumb of his open hand.”

“Yeah, he’s saying, ‘I want Mommy.’ Gee…I wonder why?”

I don’t know why sign language is so hard for Mark. He’s practically fluent in French (and English). During a beautiful symphony once, I gave Mark the short hand sign for “I love you” which is your palm facing out with the thumb, pointer and pinkie fingers up and the middle and ring finger down. He smiled at me and nodded. After the concert was over he said, “Hey, why did you give me the Spiderman hand?”  {sigh}

So now Zekey likes to hold the phone. He’s 2 so his conversations consist of him counting the numbers on the phone as he pushes them. When I hear the tone of the button being pushed, I yell, “AAAahhhh!” like he poked me. This makes him laugh uncontrollably and I get to hear his sweet little cackle.

Nate and I can actually have a conversation but it’s still hard to understand him sometimes. Thankfully, Mark is there to interpret.

“Hi, Nate! How are you?”

“I’m good, Mommy. I miss you. I got to eat sand at the park today.”

“WHAT? What did he say, Mark?”

“He said he got to meet Sam at the park today.”

“Oh! That’s nice, Nate. Did you have fun with Sam?”

“Yes, but I got sad because Daddy wouldn’t let me take the tick home with us.”

“Mark! Why are you letting him play with Ticks? Are you crazy?”

“Stick. I wouldn’t let him take the STICK  home because he threw it.”
“Oh. Sorry.”

“Mommy? We have to go now because Daddy bought a hammock for the dragon.”

{laughing hysterically} “Mark! It sounded like Nate said, you bought a hammock for the dragon!”

Mark bought a hammock for the dragon.

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Well, folks, I’m sorry to report… it ended badly. Spiny Back is no more. Mark peeled off his rubber gloves; removed his mask and scrubs and sulked into the waiting living room with the bad news:

“He’s gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

{with disbelief that I wasn’t pacing the floor, waiting for the news} “SPINY BACK! You know, the Bearded Dragon I’ve been trying to save for 3 weeks?  Yeah, he’s passed.”

“Are you sure? Remember how he likes to come back from the dead?”

“How can you make jokes at a time like this? I’m really upset.”

“Why are you upset, Daddy?”

“Well, Nate, I have some bad news. Spiny Back has gone to Heaven.”

“Again? Are you sure, Daddy? Maybe he’s playing a joke on you again.”

{sigh} “I’m going to give him a respectful burial outside…Nate, do you want to come with me?”

“Sure. Can we wait until after Phineas and Ferb, Daddy?”

Spiny Back's final resting spot had to be kept a secret from our dog, Dublin and our youngest son, Zeke and his new shovel.

After about 10 minutes, Nate came back into the house by himself. When he saw me he started crying uncontrollably.

“MOMMY! I don’t like funerals!”

“Aaahh, no one does, Nate. I’m so sorry. Funerals are very sad. Are you sad because you’re gonna miss Spiny Back? Is that why you’re crying? Because Spiny Back went to Heaven?”

“NO!” {crying harder}

“Are you sad because we have to tell all your friends and teachers at school that Spiny Back didn’t make it?”

“NO!” {beyond hysterical} “I’m so sad because when we went out to the woods to bury Spiny Back, I tripped and scraped my face on a tree branch!”

A Kindergartener’s mourning period is significantly shorter than that of the adult man that’s been trying in vain to nurse the lizard back to health. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate just a wee bit from time to time, but you be the judge and tell me if you think this was a bit on the excessive/obsessive  side:

$160. for a Bearded Dragon “kit” which included a huge tank, lid, UV light, day heat light, night heat lamp, food, bedding, food and water dishes, thermometer/humidity gauge.  (Please remember that the lizard came to us with a tank already. You should have heard Mark’s sales pitch on why we needed the new one.)

$128. for the FIRST Vet. bill. Yes, you read that right…there was more than one. This included a shot of calcium for his metabolic bone disease; liquid calcium medicine that had to be administered 2x a day with a syringe and we had to hydrate him with fluids. This is the same man who when I was sick on the couch for a week, threw aspirin at me from across the room.

$42. to have silk worms, wax worms and butter worms FED EXED here from California! (I reminded him at this point that a new, healthy Bearded Dragon could be purchased for $3. less. I know…but I was having a bad day.)

$31. for the final Vet. bill and he didn’t even see the Lizard…just his poop! Yup. Mark not only scooped up, bagged and labeled lizard poop but he drove it over 40 minutes each way to present it with pride to be analyzed. This wasn’t just any lizard poop. This poop was joyously received after 3 days of worry, coaxing and massage. Don’t believe me? I have photos:

First, Mark gave Spiny Back a warm bath. He's lovingly holding his head above water so he doesn't drown.

Then Mark gently rubbed his belly with a soft tooth-brush. Hey, wait a minute...I'm the only one that uses a soft tooth-brush in this house. ARRGGGRRR...

"Hey look...he likes it!" "Yeah, well I'm gonna leave you two alone, Mark. This just went way past creepy."

...and we have poop, Ladies and Gentlemen. Mark came out of the bedroom with tears in his eyes, "Honey, great news! It worked! Spiny Back pooped!" That was 5 more words than he said to our families when our sons were born.

And the results of the fecal exam? Lots of parasites. Poor little guy was infested with them. (OK, so I felt a little bad for him. No one should ever have to go through that. Ew.)

So, despite the anti-parasite meds, the high protein food fed to him through a syringe and the gentle words of encouragement from my husband, Spiny Back was laid to rest on Jan. 10, 2010. He is survived by us and the Celebration Montessori Coral room. He will be missed.

Think this is the end of the story? Oh, no my friend. Turns out this was an elaborate plot by my husband:

Spiny Back wasn’t in the ground 3 hours and Mark says, “Hey, did you know Repticon is this weekend?” “No, but I’m guessing you did.” My stomach did a flip as my mind raced back over all the seemingly random events that led up to this moment.

This weekend, I stood in the doorway of my home, saying goodbye to my husband and son who were leaving with an empty aquarium and 2 tickets to Repticon clutched in their fists.

Everyone...this is Spike. Spike...this is everyone.

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!