The little zookeeper

Those of you fortunate enough to know my daughter Macy know she has a love for animals that’s as big as Texas. She’s said from her earliest days that she wants to be a vet and a zookeeper. I can think of no other vocations more suited to her, and despite the fact that she may end up at Texas A&M (oh, the horror!) for vet school, I support her.

Getting a little ahead of myself, again.

Keep in mind that we already have two dogs and three fish in our house, and that on any given day I’m meeting myself coming & going just keeping up with the necessities of getting through the busy day. So when Macy asks for another animal for Christmas, I heave a big sigh and think, what’s the best way to change the subject?

This isn’t the first time she’s asked for another animal. In fact, every time we go to the pet store she lobbies hard, and that girl is persuasive. Factor in my own love of animals, and we’re lucky we don’t have more of a menagerie around here.

I knew we were in trouble this time, though, because the only thing on her Christmas list was an animal. Uh oh.

A note about this child: from the moment we saw the sonogram image of her in utero we knew she was different. Different, good, that is. That first image showed a beautiful profile with her tiny wrist laid flat against her forehead in classic Scarlet O’Hara pose, as if from the very beginning she was thinking up some form of drama to unleash on the world.

Macy has never been like other girls. She never liked the Disney princesses, and to this day can be heard muttering under her breath when she comes across one of them on TV, “That Belle is so stupid.” When all the other little girls were having a Tinkerbell-themed birthday party, Macy wanted a barnyard theme. When all her little preschool classmates were tottering off to ballet class, she was in the backyard, digging for worms and filling the birdfeeder.

So it should come as no surprise that this fiercely independent girl not only goes her own way (despite the crowd), but has stayed true to herself for all of her 8 years. Her love of all creatures is here to stay.

While her first choice for a new animal was a chinchilla, the $150 price tag turned me off, and Trevor has a strict “no rodents” rule, so she moved on to a turtle. I told her that, while fascinating, turtles stink and I’m not sure they like to be handled, so she may be disappointed with a hard-shelled creature. Next up was a bearded dragon. Considering they grow to be 3 feet long and eat live mice, the answer was not just no, but no way.

Cue the leopard gecko.

Macy has taken care of a friend’s leopard gecko, the beloved Rico, so she (and we) knew what they were all about. So I went to Petsmart last week to look into it, see what all we would need to make her Christmas dreams come true this year.

There was a sale on leopard geckos. I love a good sale. However, that also meant, as the reptile lady pointed out, that they were selling more of the geckos, so I might want to go ahead and get mine and avoid the risk of coming up empty-handed when I was ready to purchase. Tricky sales technique, and it worked.

I brought the little guy home and set up his tank, with the two lamps and fake plants, the cave and the water dish. I put the mealworms in the fridge and thought about the best place to hide him. I settled on the guest room closet and when the kids got home from school, told them to stay out of there.

All was well. Or so I thought. I snuck up to the guest room to feed him the mealworms twice a day and to switch the lamps from day to night light. I thought I was being pretty sneaky. But a few days ago, Macy came downstairs with a very long face and a worried countenance.

After some coaxing she finally came out with it: she’d been looking for her clipboard and found the tank in the guest room closet. She was afraid she’d be in trouble, but truth be told, I was relieved that I was no longer in charge of the gecko’s care. I didn’t realize how stressful it was to keep him under wraps and alive until Christmas.

So we moved him from the guest room to Macy’s room, and she was tickled pink to know that she was the proud owner of a leopard gecko. We were busy getting his lamps plugged in in her room and so it was a few minutes before she decided to lift the cave and lay eyes on her new creature.

This is what she found. (Don’t look if you are squeamish.)

Sorry it’s graphic, but that’s life, people. The new gecko had dropped his tail. Apparently it’s common as a defense mechanism (when they’re being hunted) or in times of stress. Guess this little guy was stressed about his new home.

Ewwwww, gross.

But the little zookeeper wasn’t grossed out, she was worried. She was afraid he was going to die. Cue the tears. Merry Christmas, everyone.

After some quick Internet research, she was reassured that he was ok, this was something that just happens and that his tail would grow back in a month. We made another trip to Petsmart to treat him to some live crickets (gecko comfort food), and all was again right in our world.

This isn’t Macy’s lizard (didn’t want to subject him to even more trauma, so we skipped the paparazzi), but this is what his behind looks like.

Kinda creepy, if you ask me. But as the little zookeeper later explained, it’s all part of life, for a gecko.


Dear Santa,

I’ve been a pretty good girl this year. I’ve smiled at fussy babies in checkout lines at HEB. I did my time at the grade-school class parties (not my scene, to say the least). I called the collection agency back — yes, I really did — when they left me a message saying I owed money on a past-due hospital bill that my insurance company says has been paid. I donated nearly-new clothes & home goods to charities multiple times. I helped out with the school fundraiser, even though I really, really, didn’t want to. I’ve said please and thank you and bring my own bags. I was a big girl and good sport about all the trips and baseball games I missed this past summer.

And while we’re on the topic of this past summer, dear Santa, do ya remember all the hell I went through? It all started on April 27, 2010, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk about an “aha” moment. The timeline quickly unfolded like this: the rest of April and first part of May were consumed with tests, tests, and more tests: BRAC analysis, CT scans, x-rays, PET scan, bone scans and MRI. In case that’s not enough acronyms for ya, there was also the L-Dex and then the genomic typing of ER/PR positive and HER2 negative. More injections and blood draws than my poor left arm’s veins could keep up with (literally; there’s a permanent knot in the big vein). Countless appointments with the breast surgeon (Dr Dempsey, who is on the “nice” list) and plastic surgeon (Dr S, who may be on the naughty list), and 3 different oncologists.

Meanwhile, there was research to be done and crushing decisions to be made as I prepared for surgery. The phrase “life and death” took on a whole new meaning, sweet Santa. There’s a strange juxtaposition between packing school lunches and signing field trip permission slips while also filling out my medical directive and living will. I learned pretty fast how to act normal when everything around me had been turned upside down. I think, dear Santa, I also did a pretty good job of adjusting and adapting to the new normal. I think, fat man, I’m still doing a damn fine job of that. One quick look at my profile tells you that there most definitely is a new normal around here.

Santa baby, I was a good girl after the double mastectomy and the lymph node removal that left me battle-scarred and weary. I was an especially good girl in the face of the plethora of prescription drugs I could have used & abused. I was a diligent girl when it came to choosing green drink over Diet Coke, all-natural hormone-free yogurt over Blue Bell.

Santa, I was a brave and good girl when the nasty infection set up shop in my still-raw chest wall. I endured the 103-degree fevers, 22 days in the hospital, multiple tissue excisions and untold poking & prodding without much complaint. I missed the comforts of home, my dogs & my kids more than words can say, but I only cried twice. And even then, it was when no one else was around to see.

We don’t even need to recount the 18 days during which I was attached to the wound vac 24-7. I would really like, dear Santa, to permanently erase that memory from my grey matter, por favor. But I would like to remind you that I was a trouper during the home health days, and all those hours that were consumed with wound care and the administration of IV antibiotics. And while I’m at it, can I get a little shout-out for not killing Dr S, even though he probably deserved it?

Oh Santa, I do crave some credit for all the antibiotics I’ve endured — and continue to endure. From the Vancomycin to Cefapim, from the Cipro to the Zyvox, from the Biaxin to the Bactrim and Minocycline. Those last two will be part of my daily routine for a few months yet, but I’m already looking forward to the day in which I don’t have them on my kitchen counter anymore.

So Santa, how about we make a deal? I’ll set out all the milk & cookies you want in exchange for one little thing. All I want for Christmas is to have it easy for awhile.