My son has begged me for a pet… forever. I am allergic to all things with fur, so my “poor” children have had only fish for pets. Rounding the corner to his 9th birthday, James told me that he wanted a lizard.
I was like, “Um, no. Gross.” I told him that I didn’t think a lizard was a great idea, and I was sorry. But I would take him to Blick Art Supplies and he could buy a ton of art things for his birthday.
I could literally see the sweet disappointment in his eyes. Which was different from spoiled disappointment. His little puppy dog eyes were simply reading, “Sad. Bummer. No pet for me. Like ever.”
I stood my ground. Lizards? Gross. And the Expert was even more anti-lizard, just from a sheer kid’s-pet-usually-turns-into-mom’s-pet, and he didn’t want to hear it.
Well. I was certain.
Then, on James’ birthday morning, I dropped him and Stella at school and went for a run. On the drive home, I saw PETSMART. I parked, and like an automaton, walked in.
(All the while knowing that I had about 8 minutes before all the animal dander would send me into a sneezing, water-eyed fit…)
I found an employee, shrugged and asked, “Lizards?”
The very tall, older gentleman with a hemp necklace and huge beard took me over to the bearded dragons. He pulled one of the five inch-long baby lizards out of the glass cubicle…
And he put the damn lizard right on my shoulder.
I froze. I started sweating. Not cool. OMG. A lizard on my shoulder. No no no. Hell no.
Before I knew it, I was standing there with this lizard staring back at me, surrounded by fear and a whole lot of things: terrarium, heat lamp, fake logs, heating mat, fake carpet.
And I thought, “My son is going to love this.”
The nice man said, “I almost forgot! Food for the dragon.”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Food. The dragon.” (Dragon? I was going to have to get used to that term.)
“Here we go,” he said, holding a carrying box full of more creatures. I froze again, the bearded dragon peering over my shoulder.
“Oh. That is the food, eh?” I was woozy.
“Yes ma’am! Wait till you see this little guy slurp them up.”
I sneezed. The lizard jumped, and clung to my neck. Ewwww. I was so woozy. This was crazy.
“Okay, good great. The crickets are thirteen cents each? How many does he eat a day?”
“Oh,” he said, “that depends. Maybe 20 a day?”
For the love… I couldn’t do that math, but I knew that was too much money for a lizard diet. Whatever.
“Yep, okay. Give me the stuff. And him,” I said, pointing to the lizard. “Oh, do we know if it’s a ‘him’?”
Lizard man says, “Doesn’t matter unless you want to breed them.”
“Okay. No. I’m good with one.”
Off I went. I traveled home with the lizard in a little white container, squeezing it between my thighs. And talking to him. Because I was terrified.
An hour later, I am staring face to face with this lizard in my office, thinking, my son is going to love this. We have a pet. This is good.
It was time.
James rolls into the house with this little sad birthday face, knowing that he is not going to get the pet he dreamed about.
But then, he sees the lizard and is so excited he can’t take it. He squeals, ” A lizard!!! Oh mom!”
His sister is thrilled. “A pet! A pet!” she screams.
He said, “I love him, Mom. Wait… Is ‘he’ a ‘he’?”
“Yes, he’s a boy!” (#whitelies) “What do you want to call him?”
James thinks for a minute, and says, “Matthew.”
Well, okay then. Matthew is a great name for a lizard.
He is thrilled. I am thrilled. Score one for the mom.
A few minutes later, James is standing in my office, holding Matthew in his hands. And fun fact #33 that we didn’t know about Matthew at the time: he does NOT not like hands; he prefers necks and shoulders (#whoknew).
In this theme, Matthew does a 180 circle, spin covert maneuver in James’ hands, and scurries up James’ shirt and heads straight for his neck.
In a flash, I have no idea what is happening, but James screams. And throws the lizard off his body like swatting a fly.
Matthew hits the ground, and I am like, “Holy lord!” I grab Matthew off the rug (okay he’s alive), and look at James.
Little buddy has huge, fat fear-filled tears pouring down his face. His little hands are shaking. He is terrified.
“Hey buddy?” I look at him.
And I can see it in his face–he is D-O-N-E with this lizard. [And quickly realize that momma has a new pet.]
“It’s okay,” I say. “He just wanted to be up on your shoulder.”
“No. No, no,” James said, and he backs away from the lizard. And me.
In the meantime, his younger sister, Stella, picks up the lizard and kisses it squarely on the head, rubbing her fearlessness right in his face.
He shrinks down. I see him shut down right before my eyes. Over the course of the night, he withdraws completely. I watch it happen, and I feel helpless. All the while, Stella is not scared of the lizard. The Expert is not scared of the lizard.
James is done with it. And he goes to bed, broken-hearted about his new pet.
And me? Well, I am actually quite PETRIFIED of the lizard. He’s terrifying. I’m with James usually much on any fear spectrum- and this one I created myself. What have I done, I ask myself. I must somehow make this right.
I “Momma Up” and I pick Matthew up every chance I get that night, forcing myself to get used to this creature, this reptile. The back of my neck prickles, and my heart races when he walks around on me. And man, this lizard likes to lay right on my neck. I feel sick. He poops on me, and I think, well this is just freaking super. (Lizard poop smells like a baby poop. SO weird. So gross.)
I stay up late, and follow #beardeddragon accounts on Instagram. I “like” the hell out of all their posts. If I am going to have this lizard, I need to approach it from my love language: social media. Oh! And I immediately order a book from Amazon on bearded dragons, knowing that James loves books and facts and reading. Maybe it will help. (“Overnight shipping.” Yes please. Urgent. So freaking urgent, Amazon. )
The next morning, James leaves for school without hardly a look in the lizard’s direction.
I look at Matthew, and think, I just don’t know if I can do this. I look at the pet store’s return policy. These lizards grow two feet long and live for ten years, by the way. I was not going to spend ten years with a giant lizard who scares me, peering at me from his perch near my desk. Something had to be done. I had less than two weeks to make this lizard the love of our lives.
I look sideways at Matthew. “Okay, Matthew. We have to make this happen. Time to love you.”
I pick him up. I prickle. I sweat. He hangs out with me on my shoulder, my neck for a bit. I put him back. I repeat this over the course of the day. I still am not loving this lizard. But I MUST learn to love this lizard. Mission critical.
James comes home after school. “Hey buddy, do you want to hold—” he walks up to his room. He won’t even look at Matthew.
Well, Stella (age almost 8 and always looking for an opportunity like a serial entrepreneur) declares the lizard HER pet, and rubs it in his face like a proper little sister. I glare at her and say “stop it” with crazy mom eyes. She’s like, “What?!?!”
James is sad. I can see it. This sucks. Okay, but I had a few Hail Marys left.
I had attended the USAT Art and Science of Triathlon coaching symposium last month, and one of the seminars was with Dr. Jeff Anders, who discussed fear of open water swimming, and how to help athletes move past this very common, often seemingly insurmountable fear.
Swimming and lizards. I was making a connection.
Dr. Anders said that one of the ways to get rid of fear is to “normalize it” —to discuss the truths, the facts and the realities of the situation.
I thought about that. Can this apply to lizards?
The next evening, which was Day 3 with the lizard, I gave James the new book.
I said, “Let’s just see what we can learn about Matthew.”
He looked at me. “Okay,” he said.
After a day of ME feeding him crickets and having Matthew crawl so far down my back that I can’t reach him, I am officially over my fear of him, and I am starting to find him pretty cool. I won’t even talk about the night he fell asleep in his water bowl, and I picked him up and he was literally freezing. So I put the damn lizard on my chest, in my hoodie for skin-to-skin contact. He loved it. Warmed up, and stayed there for an hour. No no no, I thought, this is not happening. #lizardmother #thethingswedoforthekids #right
So Matthew is sort of cute. And funny. I love watching him slurp up the crickets. #whoknew. I can see that he’s going to be my friend during the day (which causes me to ask myself if I am going crazy.)
So James walks in from school, and declares, “I have learned a lot about bearded dragons.”
He gives Matthew a slight glance, and walks out.
Later that night, at bedtime, I asked James, “Okay. So what do we know about Matthew?”
James thinks for a minute, “He’s a baby.”
“Yes,” I said. “What else?”
“He’s a reptile, so he likes our necks because he likes to be warm. To help him regulate his body temperature because he’s cold-blooded.”
“Very cool,” I said.
And he continues to tell me facts about Matthew: what they like to eat, how long they live, how to travel with them. He has read the whole book in a day. And at the end of our convo, we have come to the conclusion that Matthew is pretty okay, and that tomorrow, he (James) will try to hold him again.
The next day, James, armed with his facts in his mind, holds out his shoulder and allows me to put Matthew on it.
Three seconds, he’s trembling. “No, Mom. Take him.”
That night, we go over what we know again. “Matthew is a baby. He does not bite. He loves crickets. He likes to be warm…”
I hang out with Matthew all day. We’re cool. He’s adorable and I officially love the stupid lizard.
I am keeping him for my pet, no matter what, and I create him an Instagram account (@matthewthelizard), because why not make a lizard have a personality. I faced my fear and prickles, and I was able to like him. It worked.
By this time, I have declared lizard ownership as a lesson in resilience. Bearded Dragons as the gateway for big things like Tony Robbins seminars and skydiving.
On Day 6, James and I go over some more facts, and he said, “Okay Mom, I am ready. Let’s do this.”
I pull Matthew out of his terrarium, and I hold him. James pets his little head. I touch James’ neck, lightly, and say, “Okay, Matthew’s going to want to be right here, okay, bud? When you put him on your shoulder, he will want to lay here.”
James nods. He gulps, and he takes Matthew and places him on his shoulder.
Matthew goes straight for James’ warm little neck. James cringes, slightly. But he takes a deep breath, and says, “Matthew is a baby. He wants to be warm.” Fact. Fact. Fact.
After five or so minutes, James was good for the night. “He’s okay, Mom, but let’s put him away.”
And so we proceeded over the next few days. And eventually, James lost the fear. Now, three weeks later. Matthew is officially HIS pet. He had done it. He, in his own words, was “brave.”
Right around Day 12, James came home with this note.
Dear Mom, Thank you so, so, so, so, so, so so much for the lizard. I love Matthew alot he is loving he is caring and i think he will live for a long time. And thank you for helping me be brave with the lizard. I love you.
I crumpled up the PETSMART receipt, and smiled.
I can’t help but think… that maybe life is full of these lizard scenarios. That everything can be super scary sometimes, but then after a while, the lizard is tolerable, and then maybe we can learn to love it.
I have experienced it several times in swimming. I went through it in the sport of weightlifting. Heck, I have even experienced it with people.
When we take a scary situation and begin to run through the facts about it… the things that we know are true, it can help us rationalize the fears–and learn how to face them with a little more ease.
If you are celebrating the outcome of the election, you probably don’t have the fears that others, who aren’t celebrating the outcome, do.
If you are terrified for this country after this vote, then there are a few things that you can do:
- control your mind
- control your attitude
- control what you allow in
- look at the facts
All of these things are in our power. Manage your Facebook feed for the love. People block me all the time. Use that blocking tool to block what you don’t want to see. You aren’t hostage to your Facebook feed.
When I look at the United States government, there is a purported balance of power, checks and balances, and the way our government is structured to ensure that we won’t have a monarchy or a dictatorship, or crazy pants from happening. Of course, in order for that to work, someone has to actually be willing to use the checks and balances –they are not spontaneously self-regulating, and do not act on themselves.
While I don’t see this political situation turning from scary lizard into cute, loveable pet… I do think that if we all breathe, remain positive, and take actions to try (as best as we can) to normalize our fears into a list of rational things.
It can help. It can help our headspace. I’m not a shrink. I hate politics, and I rarely pore over the news because its stresses me out.
But if you are in a state of panic, fear and dread, whether it’s politics or lizards… well, you can’t live like that either.
Sure, taking these steps won’t heal all. But maybe it can buy some peace for the fearful. No matter what the fears may be.
And this blog is not a political commentary, its merely a connection. I will also add that I would be posting these comments no matter which way the election went yesterday. To have a blog and to remain completely deadpan silent about yesterday seems wildly un-Meredith.
So that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Let’s really work on #lovewins, and work on loving each other, being kind, being brave wherever we are.
And being thankful.
Thanks, Dr. Anders for the wonderful hints that have really made a difference in my family, and in my boy.
And now, you know that your work can apply to pet lizard fears and politics, as well as open water swimming. #whoknew
Love to you all. Really.