Serial Killers And The Mothers Who Love Them

Originally published In American Way

pet turtle

 It really doesn't matter what kind of child you have; athletic, good-natured, honest, polite –

                   they all lie about one thing. And every parent falls for it, even though they remember being guilty of the same crime when they were three feet tall. To what am I referring? It’s that fatal day when your child begs you for a pet and assures you, like a used car salesman who’s turned back the odometer, “I’ll take care of it, I promise.”  

                 We had already mourned the loss of two hamsters and a mouse when my son spied a little green shell floating in an inch of water at a local department store. “Mom I want a turtle” he declared. “ Pleeease. I’ll take care of it. It’s only $1.29.” Twenty dollars later (what kind of person would make a turtle live without a custom bowl, plastic palm tree and matching shrub?) and only three weeks into her residency, our little turtle floats in the water – lifeless. And after a few medical experiments – conducted with a #2 pencil (namely pushing her under the water to see if we can jump start her) we determine that she is – in Turtle Heaven. 

       The family gathers and after a few tears and a few words on Madonna’s behalf, we flush her down the toilet and wish her eternal peace. Her bowl and plastic oasis are washed out and placed next to the hamster and mouse cage in the garage. 

        One year later, older but no wiser (how does that happen?) we pass a pet store in the mall. My son, the future attorney, makes his opening statement.

“Mom I’m 9 years old now and very responsible…wouldn’t you say?”



At gunpoint … yes.” He continues (failing to laugh at my humorous retort) “I really want to get a bird. I’ve always loved birds.” As I shake my head at the prospect he throws in the fatal “I’ll take care of him – I PROMISE!” 


To my son’s credit, he did not kill the bird, he left the cage door open and as the cage was on the porch – Nemo walked/flew away. Of course my son was very sad. I felt bad too, we were running out of room in the garage. 

I, myself, have never won anything in my life, so I was surprised when my youngest boy won six goldfish at the school carnival. Of course, you never win any fish food or bowls, which made winning six fish at 5:45 pm on a Sunday evening a real treat. Only the fish and I looked concerned about this. Actually, I like fish, though their mouths are always open yet they rarely complain. 

My son was very enthusiastic, all I had to do was locate a pet store before it closed, spring for a bowl and the food (déjà vu) and he’d do the rest.

“Don’t worry – I’ll take care of ‘em.”

He took care of them alright – one by one. Each week another goldfish bit the gravel and soon the entire Jackson Five plus One (he was the cutest) had traded their earthly home for a heavenly residence in what we glibly referred to as Fish Heaven.

Even though you concoct a story about their lives after death and how happy they are with their other fish friends in the sky, you still feel bad knowing you and your children are going to Fish Hell if such a place exists for your heinous acts of negligence. No one admitted to throwing ping-pong balls into the bowl and yet there they were. And after Tito died we might have been too zealous when my 6 year old and I cleaned out the bowl – possibly not getting all of the soap out. Fish are such frail little creatures and though they were not with our family long we mourned them as if they’d been with us for months instead of just weeks. At this point our bathroom became more of a funeral parlor, we’d flushed so many animals down the toilet – it seemed sacrilegious to sit on it. 


To recap, we are at one mouse, two hamster, six goldfish and a turtle. I don’t know about you – but I think we’re ready for a pony – though we would have to get a bigger toilet. Of course I'm kidding, I don't believe my kids anymore when they beg for pets and swear they’ll “take care of them.”  It's basically a death wish and the same expression mobsters use to mean they're going to take someone out.  “Don’t worry, boss – I’ll take care of ‘em.”  


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