Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The sad incident of the crawfish

Haven't written for a while for two reasons. First, Greg was out of town and I no longer had time to write in the evenings. Second, and perhaps most important, the kids have been obsessed by the computer game Civilization so are constantly on the computer. Even Kadin, who can't read, is interested in this very complicated game that simulates how civilizations evolve. He is illiterate, but amazingly, he can play it for hours and in the process he has invented the alphabet many times over. What is going on in that fascinating little brain of his?

Reason number one is all better now, Greg is back (yea!), but reason number two continues on as strong as ever. I will have to take more advantage of typing on my palm. So that was a bit of an update, the sad tale of the crawfish follows.

Last Saturday, while Greg was still away, the kids and I were invited to a “crawfish boil” put on by a friend from Kadin's preschool (who is originally from Louisiana). None of us eat shellfish: Rees being a self-delcared vegan (well, he does have milk on his cereal and will eat eggs if they are in something else, like banana bread), me because I do not like the taste, and Kadin because he is allergic to shrimp. In short, this did not seem like the most appropriate party we could attend. Still, I figured it would be a nice distraction, there would be lots of kids around, there would be other things to eat, and we would have fun in spite of the boiled crawfish.

The boys have always been interested in crabs and lobsters and such (speaking of which, I am not sure what exactly a crawfish is, and don’t know if it is the same as a crayfish or crawdads. I would imagine there are lots of different kinds of small edible crustaceans.) so I was a little worried what they would think. Boiling and eating such things would never occur to them and might be a bit traumatic for them. Nina, one of the people hosting the party, assured me that we didn't have to eat the crawfish and that some children had taken them home as pets the year before. I was hoping to avoid both possibilities: pets or meat.

The party was nice, outside in the back of a house bordering open space and the foothills. There were lots of friendly adults and lots of happy children. In a large basket there were thousands of crawfish, awesome red, mini-lobsters. They were alive and and looked extremely healthy and robust. Mike, the host, told me they were flown in from Baton Rouge that morning. I was impressed. I have never seen such a large of quantity of such healthy looking shellfish.

There was a kiddie pool and a water table set up where the children commenced playing with the doomed crawfish. I hadn't yet broken the news to the boys about their fate, but it looked like a while still before the meal began. Eventually I asked them if they knew what would happen to the crawfish. Then, when they looked at me with their innocent, wondering eyes I told them they would be boiled and eaten, "but we don't have to eat them." Their faces sink, but they have accepted it, I can see, brave and resigned.

Kadin eats a hot dog and I sample some of the excellent salads and then I feel it is time for us to make our move. Kadin's preschool teacher is coming to babysit while I have been invited out to the theater. Rees shows me "claw," his favorite crawfish. "Mama, he's the one with the biggest claws," he tells me. He has apparently become quite fond of him. They are buddies. I say my goodbyes and tell the boys it's time to go and Rees then pops the (inevitable) question, "Can we take him home?" Where to keep him, how to take care of him? I don't know. I tell him I will first go and ask Nina about the care and feeding of a crawfish as it would be sad to take him home if we can't provide for him. She assures me that the crawfish last year lived for months in a tub of muddy water out back. They like muddy water, she says, and then Mike tells me they eat dead grass. They live in the bayous of Louisiana, after all, not the most pristine environment. Well, it sounds simple enough, so who am I to say no. They look like ancient, indestructable, hearty creatures. Kadin wants one now too, so he picks one out as well and the boys carry them home in plastic cups. By the time we get home they have been christened "Claw" and "C-fish."

I then have about 15 minutes to house the crawfish and change for the theater before the babysitter arrives. We have a plastic garbage can filled with rain water, so I throw in a couple of chunks of old sod from the lawn (mud and dead grass in one), put on a skirt, stockings, and some make up, and head out. Rees and Kadin are thrilled with their new friends and play with the crawfish all evening and into the next day.

By the next night, Claw is not looking so good. Not so active. Hmmm. Maybe they sleep at night? I have disturbing dreams all night that Claw is slowly perishing a terrible death. It's a school morning, so the crawfish are forgotten and the boys head out to school. I see Nina at the preschool and tell her of my concern. She thinks maybe they need a place to be able to come out of the water. Oh no! I rush home and fish them out of the bottom of the can. Claw is not moving at all. Perhaps he has drowned, and now C-fish is seeming listless too. I put them on a rock in some shallow running water and watch and wait. No improvement. I call Nina again to see if she has any surplus crawfish at her house still. No luck. By lunchtime I am certain they are both dead.

Kadin is the first to come home and notice they are not moving. I tell him the sad news. He cries and cries. We talk about it and conclude that it was our first time and we didn't know how to properly take care of them. We break the news to Rees on his way home from school. He too is devastated. He can't believe it. I take him to see for himself. He sees it is true. More tears, more anguish.

I ask him what he would like to do with them. Would he like to bury them and have a ceremony? Would he like me to bury them? Should we throw them away? Leave them out for the raccoons? He says I should bury them, so I do.

I temper the news with the good news that we will get our kittens in two weeks (next weekend!). Still a long way off for the boys, but cats are something that was made to be a pet. Something furry and responsive that lives in a house. This is my plan to move away from bugs and lizards and crawfish. Not that it will work, but I feel I must try.

A couple of days after the demise of the crawfish, we are driving home at dinnertime past "Jazzy's Crab Shack." Standing out front is a person dressed in a red crustacean costume enticing hungry commuters in. The boys are engrossed in some petty argument in the back of the car and I am relieved that they will miss the waving crab person. But the light turns red and there is nothing to do but stop and wait. "Look Rees, look!" Kadin shouts, "a crawfish!" "I love that costume,” says Rees, "I want one." I did not enlighten them about the restaurant behind.

They truly did identify with those ancient crustaceans. It was very sweet while it lasted and very sad when it ended. Where did we go wrong?

Next week: the true and heart-warming story of tabby kittens Rex and Pearl! Stay tuned.

Postscript: a week after the crawfish were buried, I went to check their grave. As I suspected, they had been dug up and eaten. Somehow, for me, this is the appropriate end for them. I am glad they have gone back into the food chain. It seems nobler somehow.


Anonymous said...

...and so, a la Gary Larson, there was no young worm complaining that there was a claw in his dirt...
;-) kate

Diana said...

Jen - For the feeding and care of crawfish talk to your southern cousin Richard. He is a connoisseur of crawfish.