Family life

When your kid wants an unusual pet

Susan Goldberg debates whether or not she should let her son keep his new little pets.

2013-06-30 11 Isaac watches over his new little pets with a friend.

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family's experiences.

We went camping last weekend.

(That’s a post — or several — in itself: my slow conversion from reluctant to (mostly) enthusiastic camper. For now, I will say that when certain conditions are met — in no particular order, I need (among other things) other children to occupy my own kids, easily accessible caffeine, the option of an occasional shower, and an air mattress and my own pillows and duvet — I am able to bear, and perhaps actually enjoy camping.)

But yes — we went camping last weekend, along with a dozen or so other families, to a gorgeous provincial park on the shores of Lake Superior. The company was fantastic, and the scenery was spectacular: a long, sandy beach littered with driftwood sculptures and embraced by a hilly backdrop. It was prime season for black flies and mosquitoes — the kids in particular look as though they’ve just got over a bad case of chicken pox — but the bugs couldn’t quite dampen the overall success of the trip.

In addition to bug bites, we came home with approximately a half-ton of sand, evenly distributed in sleeping bags and kids’ clothing, and — courtesy of Isaac — about a dozen tadpoles, which are now living, possibly precariously, in a bucket on our back deck.

Isaac is the kind of child who wants to take home every outdoor critter he meets — I’m talking crayfish, bumblebees, toads, turtles, earthworms, baby birds fallen from their nests — and keep it for a pet. And so when, on a hike with some buddies he came upon a string of tadpole pools, he just about lost it with excitement.


Normally, Rachel and I are pretty hardcore about leaving nature in nature. But the simple truth of the matter is that the sheer force of his passion and determination wore us down. He won. Hence, a Tupperware container containing some tadpoles and lake water and sand came home with us in the car, at his feet, with stern warnings not to take off the lid. We stopped regularly to give the little guys some “big drinks of air,” as he put it. The day after we got home, he and I made a special trip to the lake to pick up more water, and transferred the tadpoles to the bucket, where I am relieved and a bit surprised to report that they seem to be doing just fine, wriggling away like mad.

They can’t stay here long — I figure we have a few more days before we release them back into the wild, perhaps with some kind of ceremony that will hopefully mitigate my six-year-old’s sorrow at losing his “pets.” He knows he'll have to let the the baby amphibians go — along with his dreams of a bucketful and then a backyard full of frogs, who will live with us forever and ever. Still, he's angling to keep just one or two.

It’s an ongoing conversation, this one about respect for nature and its boundaries. I have ongoing conversations with myself about those very subjects. A couple of dozen tadpoles in a bucket for a few days — there’s no real harm in that, is there? Not unless you’re the tadpole, a little voice inside my head intones. It’s a learning experience, isn’t it? Yes, but what lessons are you teaching? That it’s OK to scoop living things out of their natural habitats? And on and on the voices go in my head, the conversation looping around like the tadpoles in the bucket, waiting for a resolution.

This article was originally published on Jul 11, 2013

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