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I never thought I’d be a grandmother to a … lizard


For some time, I had longed to be a grandparent. Then, in the space of two years, my daughter presented me first with a granddog, and then with a grandson. The only drawback is that they live 2,000 miles away from Ottawa. So I was delighted when my son recently brought the grandgecko home to stay with us while he (my son) finds an apartment. At least I have one of my grandcreatures close at hand.

Contrary to a friend's suggestion of "Art," my grandgecko was named Kevin. He's a charming little creature, about eight inches long, creamy yellow-purple with black spots and tiny legs and feet. I feel he has intelligent eyes, but my son is skeptical. "He's only a lizard, Mum."

Unlike the granddog and the grandson, he doesn't do very much. No violent squirrel-chasing in the garden, or energetic kicking in his crib while batting a hanging plastic frog. Nope, he just lies in his little cave all day, sleeping.

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He has Spartan accommodations, really. No soft dog bed with attendant chewed rubber toys, or bunny-decorated crib filled with stuffed bears. Nope. He lives in a square glass aquarium, adorned only with three rocks, his cave, two thermometers and a reddish sandy floor. All my suggestions for cozier furnishings have been firmly rejected by my son. "He's only a lizard, Mum."

Mind you, his floor is heated, and an infrared lamp constantly beams warmly down on him from above. In fact, in these dark winter days, I often think I'd like to move in with him. It must be like living in Arizona and that dry heat would do wonders for my arthritis. But the thought of my subsequent diet does not appeal.

My granddog and grandson eat dry dog food and mashed avocado. Sadly, my grandgecko eats live crickets. These unfortunate creatures have their own separate (sealed) residence only a few feet away from his and spend most of their short lives leaping despairingly around in a bit of cardboard egg carton. When you are alone in the house, the noise is surprisingly loud and startling.

On occasion, I have been asked to pick up a dozen crickets ($2.49) to replenish the supply. This involves a rather hideous visit to the pet shop, where unsqueamish staff scoop handfuls of crickets out of the mother tank and imprison them in a plastic bag filled with air. If you leave the bag beside you while you are driving, the erratic movement of the crickets is extremely distracting and at times can lead to violent swerving. It is not generally known that driving with crickets is more dangerous than texting and driving.

After arriving at their penultimate destination, a few of the cricket crowd are chosen late every night for The Sacrifice. Unlike the little vending-machine toys in Toy Story, they do not cry "The Claw! The Claw! Take me! Take me!" but make every attempt to disguise themselves as part of the egg carton. Whisked inexorably from their dwelling, they are popped into a plastic bag of calcium powder, shaken vigorously, and released reluctantly into my grandgecko's aquarium. Here, they reel dizzily around in a totally disorganized way until they meet their end.

Meanwhile, Kevin (clever little creature) hears one's approaching footsteps and pokes his head out of his cave. (I swear he recognizes my son's footsteps, and my son swears that I have said, "Come out darling, it's dinner time!" but I really can't remember doing so.) With the least possible effort, he crawls out of his cave and waits for his dinner to hop to it (or him). I had no idea that lizards were so sedentary – I thought they spent their time briskly racing up and down trees and walls in search of prey. No wonder they have such ineffectual little legs.

With his tiny arms planted squarely on the sand, as if he were getting ready to do a few gecko push-ups, Kevin allows the dizzy, powdered crickets to race all over and around him, even in and out of his cave, until one unfortunate comes within half an inch of his ominous gaze. Then there is a quick snap, a few last convulsive kicks, a gulp and a pause for digestion. Sometimes he closes his eyes in ecstasy. High praise emanates from his grandmother, whose face at this point is pressed against the glass in excitement. Sometimes he will open his little red mouth wide to dispose of an errant twitching antenna. He then retreats slowly to his cave for another 23 and three-quarter hours.

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Unlike the granddog and the grandson, Kevin's bathroom habits are meticulously clean and tidy. His bathroom is behind the furthest rock from his cave, and his tiny droppings must be examined carefully every day to ensure that his complex diet is working. As a rare treat, he is given butter worms, and he works himself up into a frenzy of excitement on seeing them, moving an inch further forward and lifting his head slightly.

Like the granddog and the grandson, he will be much missed when he leaves. I have grown used to the warm red light and to chatting to his unresponsive cave. I shall also miss retrieving tissue-like pieces of his newly shed skin, marked very delicately with his top layer of spots and small bumps. I'm tempted to put them in my scrapbook, along with the lock of my grandson's hair, but perhaps that would be weird. "He's only a lizard, Mum."

Helen Clark lives in Ottawa.

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