Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Ode to the Toad

I asked another first grade teacher in my town recently if she had named her toad. She replied, "No. I am very careful with that. I tell them that it is a wild animal, not a pet like a cat or a dog. It is there for us to learn from and observe, not to love or cuddle."

Hmm. All good points that I'm sure the kids would benefit from, although at this point I think it's a bit late for our beloved little toad, Hoppers. I checked with another teacher to get her opinion, and she said that she thinks kids learn eventually not to personify animals anyway, so not to worry about it. Unfortunately, it seems not to be a lesson that I've ever really taken in.

It all started on my first camping trip when I was five. My sister, dad and I went hiking in the White Mountains. We hiked approximately 12 miles in to the shelter we stayed at, with packs that were around 50, maybe 60 pounds. (Though when I repeated the same trip at age 17 I discovered that it was actually 2.25 miles and the "packs" weighed circa 7 pounds. They were those mini-sized LLBean backpacks that preschoolers use.) Anyway, it was hard, and bordered at times on child abuse, especially since we stopped to pee in the woods before we were even done driving and I chose what looked like a great spot -- right smack on top of a bee hive. The bees were not appreciative, and came out to let me know, so I started the trip with about 12 bee stings covering my butt cheeks.

To try to take our minds off the pain and burden, my sister and I started collecting toads. We collected 27 in total, all of whom we named, and also collected urine samples from all 27 before letting them go. (Did I mention that it's a defense mechanism for toads to release a gush of pee when they feel they're being attacked? One that's particularly effective on humans, I might add.) It was, in a word, awesome.

I noticed this personifying tendency resurge on one of the first days I took Hoppers out for the class to observe. I was holding him up to get a good look at his ear holes before showing them to the kids, peering close into his face, when suddenly I had the urge to kiss him. I know my mom always told me you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, but somehow I don't think this is what she had in mind. (In my defense, he's about the same size as my pet bird, who craves endless kisses.) I resisted, but did bring him a bit closer to my face and made some silly kissy noises while cooing his name, which my kids thought was hilarious.

Today we took Hoppers out again, and sat still and silent in a circle to watch what he would do. Well, lo and behold, who does he hop up to -- ME! A few kids piped up: "Look! Hoppers likes Mademoiselle!" "Nooo, he felt safe because I was sitting still. Or maybe he likes the color of my pants. Or he thinks I'm a good escape route to get away from all these people," I protested. But secretly, I was elated, and I couldn't help but croon to him: "Viens ici, Hoppers!" ("Come here, Hoppers!") Just then, he hopped up onto my leg. The kids gasped with delight -- Hoppers had listened to me!

Of course, I know Hoppers wasn't listening to me. But I still think he's pretty freakin' cool, and sometimes I like to imagine that maybe, just maybe, he thinks I'm cool, too. I'm almost considering asking the science director if I can take him home at the end of the year -- except I think Persil would be jealous.

P.S. Speaking of animals, check out Pip, the red-tailed hawk in Washington Square Park. Little dude is all of 2.5 weeks old, and he is HUGE. He's, like, the same size as a wild turkey, and he could probably swallow Persil whole. And this photo was taken 4 days ago!

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