The week had begun rather well, but the weekend was downright awful. I had promised to blog about this particular event in our lives, and knowing it to be an event I’d rather not repeat, the lessons learned are best captured in print…so I can remind myself that I possess the uncanny ability to torture an entire household, lest I forget the lesson and doom myself to repeat it…

To provide some history: Victoria has been wanting hermit crabs for over a year now. Her first grade teacher had them as a class pet, and Vic got to bring them home for a weekend while she was Student of the Week. She has begged for her own ever since. They were cute enough, and I probably would have relented earlier had she not lost one of Mrs. Scott’s crabs in Aaron’s room. Just the thought of a crab being loose in my home made medication look appealing. We found the crab after only a few minutes of panic – in Aaron’s bed, under the sheet. From that moment I vowed we would not be host home to hermit crabs ever again. I was irreversibly scarred.

But, the passing of time is a great healer of wounds, and I recently found myself wanting to let the kids have “room-pets” – something they could keep in their own rooms and take care of, like a fish, or a…fish. Well, the argument ensued over who had to suffer the injustice of owning a betta fish and who got the privilege of housing “real” fish in the only small tank that had a filter. Aaron wanted guppies so badly he couldn’t see straight. Vic wanted guppies too. But Aaron REALLY wanted guppies. So of course, Vic REALLY wanted them too. The conversations went like this for quite some time in planning the trip to Petsmart. Finally, from the backseat, I heard Aaron relent, taking one for the team in his selfless and loving nature, sighing “OK, Vic, you can have guppies. I’ll get the betta fish.” Vic happily responds, “OK.”

No, “Wow, Aaron, really? Thanks a lot!”

No, “Oh, but I know how much you want them; you’ve loved guppies for years.”

No, not Vic. “OK,” was all she had to offer, and that was just gonna be that! I asked Aaron, “Is that what you really want, Aaron? You’re willing to give up the guppies so Vic can be happy?” He was honest with me and said, “Well, it’s not really what I want, but it’s the best way for everybody to get something, and I’m just tired of talking about it.”

Immediately, I had a brainstorm. Something like, say, hermit crabs don’t need a filter. Wouldn’t that solve everyone’s problems? So I threw it out there. Like a raft with no rope, once it was said out loud, I couldn’t take it back. Aaron could have guppies in the filter tank, and Vic could have hermit crabs in the non-filter tank. Compromise. Bliss. Peace.

As we pulled into the parking spot at Petsmart, I was mentally guessing how much I might spend on this venture. We already have the tank, after all. Most fish (that I would buy) are around $2-3. Crabs are probably the same. Well, I quickly learned the small ones are actually $5. But Vic was convinced that one would be lonely by itself. So now I’m in $10. Then, while talking with the associate inside Petsmart I learned that we needed sand, food and water containers, extra shells to grow into, and some playground equipment for them. Some what…???

FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS LATER, we leave Petsmart and head home. I called Dom to let him know, in our movie-quoting fashion, that “the Independence crew is on board and accounted for. We’re even heavy two hermit crabs…” He laughed.

Once we got home, the tank was assembled and the rules were declared, ala Moses with the Ten Commandments:

THOU SHALT NOT turn the hermit crabs loose in my home!

Second to that came the edict that every hand that touches the crabs must be washed and disinfected before touching any other God-given, man-made or spontaneously-combusted matter. Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands!

And with that, Squirmy and Smiley became members of our family.

But, like I said earlier, I have the uncanny ability to torture an entire household. The crabs may have been family, but they were not necessarily dear to my own heart just yet. Especially not after my Facebook post announcing our newly acquired hermit crabs, and my friends’ reactions, warnings, and tales of ultimate demise. Blech. What had I gotten us into? Thinking I had a way out of the crab business, I began associating the crabs’ place in our home with Victoria’s conduct grade at school. At our lowest point, when the conduct grade had become unbearable, I bargained with Vic that she could only keep the crabs if she maintained a B in conduct for the next entire week. After that, our 14-day no-questions-asked return policy would expire, and I’d be in it for the long haul.

I will say this to myself many, many more times in the future: What the hell was I thinking?

Vic maintained an unprecedented A+ for the first two days of the week. Then on Wednesday, the bottom fell out. D in conduct for talking too much. This from the child who didn’t speak until she was 2. As she reported the news to me in the kitchen that night, and as I shook my head and reminded her of the consequence, she peered up at me with the saddest, brownest eyes and softly pleaded, “Mommy, won’t you please give me one more chance?” At once I heard SuperNanny, reminding me that consistency is just as important as consequence. And immediately following, my inner voice said, “How can I preach forgiveness to her if I am not willing to show her how it is done?”

Our next bargain went like this: Vic could have one more chance, but the stakes were higher. She had to keep an A for Thursday and Friday. Well, I guess you know by now that if we had been successful at that, I might not be writing about it. Friday night I was out and about when Dom called to read me the note she had taped to her bedroom door.

“Dear Mom,
If I’m sleeping or not take my crabs away because I got a B in conduct so take them away.
Love Victoria
p.s. Sorry”

I wish I could say it ended there. But I absolutely had to follow through with the consequence. As painful as it was, I knew that if I caved, I’d lose my footing forever. The next morning we loaded up the crabs and drove them to Petsmart with our receipt of purchase. Victoria held the tank in her lap, and held her gaze out the window for the entire ride. The only thing I recall her saying from the backseat was, “I knew I couldn’t be good.”

I instantly knew the depth of the lesson I had just learned. I had slowly been learning that Victoria talking in class might be something I shouldn’t punish at home. But the greater lesson was this: Never, ever, ever make a pet the subject of consequence. I took the little living beings Vic was responsible for nurturing, and I snatched them away from her, teaching her a far more cutting lesson than I ever intended. I realized that I might as well be giving Mabel back. And how would that feel?

Pretty freaking crappy.