Our Summer of the Spider

We technically have a pet again. My daughter just got a fish, so if that counts (and if it doesn’t I’m fine with that) then we’re officially no longer pet-less.

When my kids were 6, 2, and an infant (which was really my prime. I’m telling you, I was superwoman in the kitchen and in the parenting arena, plus I looked smoking hot in my shoulder pads and big button earrings. That was a good look for me), we got our dog Spanky and I stood in the family room and announced to the entire family that because we had a dog, we weren’t doing any other, ancillary pets like lizards or snakes or fish or hamsters or mice and certainly no hermit crabs, those nasty stink-masters. To me, those sub-pets were for families that didn’t want to put up with dog hair; animal haters who wanted to get credit for giving their children an acceptable life. No one wants to be the parent who has to explain to the therapist why they wouldn’t allow any animals in the house. I was doing the dog thing so I didn’t have to put up with all those pet-wannabes.

My family responded to my declaration about the same as they heeded everything else I said: They changed the subject and pretended not to hear.

So over the next years, in addition to Spanky, we had aquatic frogs, fish, turtles and a snake. We also babysat lots of non-pet pets for other people, including a Komodo dragon, an iguana, a hermit crab that stunk up our house to high heaven (dumbest pet ever), exotic fish and I’m sure there were more, but I’ve blocked it.

And then, when the kids were 10, 5 and 3, we had a summer with a spider. We foster-parented Legs, a tarantula that was my son’s classroom pet. His fourth-grade teacher had a bookshelf full of animals that she would send home with students for the summer. Michael came home one day in the spring and said to me, “I want to bring Legs home for the summer. We have to put our names in for which animal we want to bring home, but we need our parents’ permission first.” He thought he had a pretty good chance because his parents were the only suckers who would allow a giant spider into their homes.

The hardest part of getting the spider into the house was finding the right moment to ask his dad so that he would say yes. At that point, we had been married less than 15 years, so I was still perfecting the art of judging moods and knowing how to get the desired answer to my questions.

I kept telling Michael to wait. “Trust me, not today.”  “Still not right. Patience, patience.”  “No, not now.” And then, “OK now. Go ask him right now.” He was in the bathroom getting ready for work.

Michael stood outside the door and gave his rehearsed sales pitch, complete with little known facts about the gentleness of tarantulas, myths debunked, and statistics on escapes.

There was a short pause and then from the other side of the bathroom door he heard: “Okay.”

Oh glory, we were getting a tarantula. Mike’s excitement was tempered by the fact that he didn’t have a chance to use some of his spider FAQs.

Sure enough, no one else in the class got permission to bring Legs home, so he was ours for the summer.

He came with a huge tank or cage or whatever you call those big glass boxes. Inside was a cave, where Legs liked to go to sleep and hang out. We had to buy crickets from the pet store and put them in the tanckage and then we’d watch while he ate them. Sometimes, if Legs wasn’t very hungry, the crickets would stay around long enough for Michael to name them. They became sub-sub-pets, which we had to feed, also. Having a spider was complicated.

Every morning when I went into Michael’s room to wake him up, I’d shine a flashlight into the cave and say, “Good morning, Legs.” He’d be in there just sitting. Or laying. Or standing. Or whatever tarantulas do.

Then, one morning, I walked into Michael’s room to wake him up, shined a flashlight into the cave and said, “AGH!” There were two tarantulas in the cave. They were the exact same size and they looked like twins.

I thought:

a) he had invited a friend over for a sleep-over and somehow snuck him in the tanckage. I looked for signs of a frat party but other than the fact that all the crickets were gone, no signs of shenanigans.

b) he had given birth to an adult-sized baby. I racked my brain for spider facts about reproduction. Do they have sex? Did he have to sneak a woman in? Is he a she?

c) he was operating a cloning cottage industry in the back of the cave where I couldn’t see with the flashlight and soon my son’s room would be swarming with hairy-legged tarantulas that would then take over the world.

I must’ve stood there with the flashlight, mouth gaping open, for a few minutes before Michael came over and said, “Oh, cool. He must’ve shed his skin.”

Or that.

I had to call the Field Museum in Chicago, which we had just the weekend prior visited to see a spider exhibit. I got the spider expert on the phone and he told me how to remove and preserve the spider skin, using salad tongs and astringent.

For a long time - long after we returned Legs to his home at Three Oaks Elementary School - we had Legs’ molted skin in a jar. After some years, the legs started to fall off and it was just a container of spider pieces. It didn’t make the cut on one of our later moves. I think we may have donated it to Goodwill.

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