Breastmilk vs formula fed, cloth diaper vs disposable, stay at home or work outside the home, public school vs homeschooling vs unschooling (is this really a thing??). There are many choices to be made once you start having kids and no matter what you choose, it can feel as though your decisions are being scrutinized by other parents. My parenting methods can be a little unconventional at times so I expect some mom-shaming from other moms but I have to admit I did not know that it was possible to feel judged by a pet parent!
It all began 5 years ago when my husband took our oldest son to the pet store to buy what was supposed to be a goldfish. Instead, they came home with a leopard gecko that my son named “Authority” because Petco was next door to Sports Authority (hey, it’s hard to be cute AND creative, okay?). Instead of a pet with a lifespan of a few weeks or months, they chose a pet that could live to be over 20 years old and ate live food. As the designated errand runner of the family, this meant that I got to go to Petco once a week to get crickets to feed this thing. Well it didn’t take me long to realize that, not only do crickets need their own enclosure, but they need these orange cubes to eat so that they survive long enough to be eaten by our gecko. If you don’t keep the crickets alive, they die and they stink! So not only did I have to buy food for this lizard but I had to buy food for her food. And yes, we know she’s a girl. My husband googled how to determine the sex of a gecko and just trust me on this one.
So, as I was buying crickets for what had to be the hundredth time that month, I came across the miracle that was mealworms. Feeding these to our gecko seemed like a much better plan for a low maintenance pet owner such as myself, since they didn’t require food or care and they came in their own container. As I was contemplating which type to buy, one of the Petco employees walked up behind me. He saw me holding the large container of mealworms and immediately asked me if I had a “beardie.” Now I had no idea what in God’s name a “beardie” was, but it didn’t sound like anything I wanted to be a part of so I replied, “I don’t think so.”
In hindsight, this might have been the point where he realized I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to reptiles. He proceeded to go through the dietary plan of his gecko (because don’t you know he had a leopard gecko in addition to his beloved beardie) and what it ate for breakfast each morning. Meanwhile, I was staring off at my kids who were basically running amok throughout the store: dipping their hands in the fish tanks, opening containers of pet food, knocking on the cages, making the hampsters bury themselves under the wood shavings in fear, and I was wondering if I ever got around to feeding them breakfast that morning. He then started talking about the different personalities of geckos, as I just nodded away. At this point, it seemed pretty clear his gecko was an ISFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator (meanwhile I refer to my kids as “the hyper one,” “the mean one,” “the baby,” and “the one who will never move out”).
The whole time he was talking, I was terrified that he would find out that when we left for the beach every year, we just threw a few extra crickets in her aquarium and hoped for the best. I also turned down the heat, thinking that her body would go in a hibernation-like state where she didn’t need to eat as often. I had zero scientific evidence of this, but she had survived at least 10 of our week-long trips so I must have been doing something right! And in my defense, I once heard of a guy who bug-bombed his apartment and “forgot” to take his gecko out, and that thing is still alive to this day. Everyone talks about roaches and twinkies being able to survive anything but I’m telling you, the post-apocalyptic world will be rampant with leopard geckos. I just hope the zombies remember to feed the crickets their orange cubes!
Anyway, as the employee continued on about various mealworm sizes and potential choking hazards, I looked over to see my son in the aquarium aisle, picking up different logs and plants and figuring out the perfect way to arrange them in Authority’s cage. And it hit me: our gecko doesn’t need the perfect parent, she needs my son.
Sure my son may forget to change the lights or forget to feed her every now and then but he loves her. And yes, Petco employee, I may have “accidentally” missed school band sign up for my oldest because I didn’t want to have to take him to school by 7 am every day, girl twin’s hair may look like a bird’s nest because I am too tired to fight her about brushing it, I may use the excuse that boy twin has eczema so I don’t have to bathe him every day, and the baby may have eaten 3 bags of pirate booty for breakfast, but I love them. And that makes ME the perfect parent for THEM.