As a wee lad, I was all about catching creatures. Give me an empty peanut butter jar, and by golly I’ll put spiders in there. Bees. Wasps. Lizards. Caterpillars. Ladybugs. If it could fit, it would be caught. And I took pretty good care of my “pets”, or I would let them go after watching them for a while. Pretty good system I had going on. Until the day I went tadpole hunting. Or, as we like to say in the ‘hood: tadpolin’. Or t-polin’ if you’re nasty.
Behind my house was a ditch that used to collect water, and the neighborhood kids would go down there and catch tadpoles. So, being an impulsive follower, I grabbed my trusty Jif jar and headed down there. I caught a handful of tadpoles that day, say 5 or 6. Poked a couple holes in the lid and thought I was good to go. Left them on the table in the backyard, then probably went inside to watch He-Man or Ducktales or something.
Next day, came out to check on the tadpoles. And there they were.
Cause of death? Beats me. I’m guessing suffocation or perhaps they boiled in the sun. Regardless, I came outside expecting to see some swimming, happy creatures, and instead saw dead bodies floating around. Traumatized! Those poor tadpoles never had a chance! Because of ME! Because of me, they’ll never be frogs! Because of me, they’ll never reach froghood! They’ll never grow little froggy legs and hop happily from lily pad to lily pad! OH GOD, why? WHY!?!
For years after, I would be plagued with a recurring nightmare where Kermit the Frog would stare at me with those beedy eyes of his and chase me with a jar and no matter how fast I ran he would always catch me and put the lid on the jar and continue to stare at me while repeating, “It’s not easy being green, is it?” over and over while i noiselessly pounded on the side of the jar until i woke up screaming into my pillow.
And ever since then, I never caught another tadpole. Just stuck with ant farms.
Fast forward oh, 25 years. My 6 year old daughter and I are riding our bikes at Riverwalk Park. In the middle of this park there’s this lazy stream that connects a couple of small lakes. And on this particular day there was a little boy and his mom wading around in the stream, bending over and catching something with a jar. Uh oh. I’m feeling lightheaded. Flashbacks! Shake it off, Kevin!
Presley: “Look, Dad! I wonder what they’re catching!”
Me: “I don’t know sis, lets keep going.”
So we ride around some more, and we make our way back to that same spot. Mom and son still in the stream, still catching things.
Presley: “Can I ask them what they’re catching?”
Me: “……..fine. Yeah, sis, you can ask them.”
I close my eyes and can see it like it was yesterday. The Jif label. And behind the label…..tiny, green, floating corpses. Never….they never had…they never had a chance! I bite my fist.
Presley: “He said they’re catching tadpoles! Can we catch some, dad?! Daddy….what’s wrong with your eyes?”
Me: “Nothing, Pres, just had some dirt in my eye. No, sis, we don’t have anything to catch them with. Maybe next time!”
Presley, disappointed: “Ok.”
A few days go by, and I do some soul searching. Come on, dude. You gotta shake it off. Man up. Time to put on your big boy pants. It’ll be a good learning experience for the kids. Do it for the kids! And besides, you have the “internet” on your side now! Look up how to take care of them, and that way you’re not a MURDERER again!
You know what, self? You’re right! By golly, I’m back, baby, I’m back! Time to get my t-pole on!
So I make myself five or six peanut butter sandwiches, but I start getting sick. I throw the sandwiches away, and ask the wife if we have any empty jars and explain my intentions. And, viola, she comes up with an empty licorice jar. Perfect! I grab the fish net from the aquarium and I am officially open for business! Lets DO this!
We get to Riverwalk Park, and my resolve starts to crumble. I’m getting shaky. I break out in a cold sweat. The family is out of the car waiting on me. “You coming, Dad?” “Yeah, kids, just uh, making sure the radio is off and uh, I’ll be right out! You know where to go, Presley!” I look at myself in the rearview mirror, and it’s tough love time. “You worthless piece of crap. You suck. Get off your butt, and go catch some friggin tadpoles! You’ve waited 25 years for this moment! Stop being a wuss!”
I get out of the car, head to the stream, and it’s friggin open season on those poor tadpoles. All kinds of kids in there catching them. I’d like to know what the mortality rate was on all the tadpoles that were caught. No, I probably don’t. I wanted to interrogate all those kids. I wanted to grab them and shake them. Ask them what their plan was when they got home with those tadpoles. Were they going to care for them? Or just leave them to die a slow, terrible, agonizing death in some crappy, airless jar? But, alas, it was not my place to do so. So Presley, Aevin, and myself find us a spot and boy, those tadpoles were everywhere. I’m floundering after them with my stupid net, and I look around and the other kids are just scooping them up with their bare, grubby hands (which probably isn’t good for the ‘poles, but again, not my place). So I ditch the net (I don’t know why you brought that thing, Presley! Rookie.) and Presley and I, and a few of Presley’s friends, start catching tadpoles like the professionals that we are. Aevin was in charge of holding the jar. Did a fine job. In the end we caught about 15 tadpoles.
The drive home was nerve wracking. With every bump I’d look back at the kids: “How are they? Are they ok?” “YES, daddy!” Then I would swerve because I was looking backward, then I’d have to ask “How about now? Still alive?” “YES, DAD!” I swear, it felt like I was bringing a newborn home from the hospital for the first time. People would cut me off, and I’d hang out the window: “HEY! WATCH IT! I GOT TADPOLES HERE!”
We get home and set the OPEN jar down in a nice SHADY spot. I toss some fish flakes in there and hope for the best. Luckily, I’m married.
The next day my lovely wife takes it upon herself to go buy an aquarium with some rocks and also some, get this, “tadpole food”. Well, shoot. Better Half alert! We set up the aquarium and give the rocks a nice slope, that way when they turn into FROGS they have somewhere to go (because these tadpoles are turning into frogs if it kills me. I will NOT ruin the kids the way I was ruined. By golly.). Fill half of it with water, set the aquarium up in the garage/room and we’re good to go!
The next day I go to check on them. And there they are.
Alive! ALIVE I TELL YOU!
Swimming around! Happy! I feed them their little nuggets, and they go to town. Just to make sure everythings good, I pour in a fresh bottle of mountain spring water. Hmmm, yeaaaah little tadpoles, that’s some niiiice fresh water, ain’t it! Don’t you worry, guys, I will NOT let you down. I change the water every couple days. Feed ’em twice a day.
That was a few weeks ago.
Today, I’m happy to report that we have a four full fledged frogs in that aquarium. A couple more that still have tails and look really creepy. All the rest at least have legs sprouting out. Really, they seem to change right before our eyes. The kids have really enjoyed watching them, too. Presley gets excited whenever a new one is hopping around on the rocks. Turns out that in her class they were learning about the life cycle of frogs, so hey, perfect timing. Aevin, well, he gets excited too, but I don’t think he really gets it yet. He just likes looking at creatures.
As for me? Well, I’d like to think those tadpoles I let down back in 1988 are pleased with me. They’ve forgiven me. Closure at last. Sweet redemption!
Somewhere, Kermit is nodding in approval.