It all started innocently enough with a question. “Can I have a tortoise for Christmas?” he asked. “No” I said, “The cat will eat it, and if it survives I will be the one who ends up looking after it”. You would think that would be the end of it, but it was just the opening volley of his finely-honed “Wear you down with chatter until you agree to do something you don’t want to do, just to make him stop talking about it” battle plan.
He talked about nothing but tortoises for two days straight. He discussed cages he would get “..if he was someone who would eventually SOMEDAY be lucky enough to own a tortoise”. He gave discourses on the difference between Greek and Russian tortoises, and asked my advice on which kind he should get IF he ever got one. He researched tortoise ownership on the Internet and enlightened all of us as he discovered each new fact about heat lamps, ideal temperatures, feeding regimens, and growth rates. Every pronouncement was prefaced with the words “Mom, if I do get a tortoise…” Eventually our conversations began to go like this:
Me: “Is this about tortoises?”
He would go away and come back later with something he had done to show me he could be trusted to own a tortoise. He gathered items from the house and garden and made cardboard and duct tape climbing toys for tortoises. He took an old plastic box and filled it with rocks and a cardboard nest. As a final appeal to my pity he put a tiny little plastic tortoise in it. My resolve began to waver.
Saturday night rolled around and I realized that we had not had a single non-tortoise related conversation all day. It seemed that our relationship was now entirely defined by our positions on the TORTOISE ISSUE. I had a headache and my mind was filled with images of reptiles. Facts about humidity control, UV lamps, shell patterns and tortoise vitamin powder were coming out my ears. I knew the location of a local shop called Reptile Rapture and their exact inventory of tortoises. I went to bed.
Early the next morning he came running into my room. “Mom..come and see this” he said, “There is something in my room you have to see!” “Can I look at it after I wake up?” I answered groggily, pretty sure that the magnificent object he was talking about was some kind of improvised tortoise condo. “I’ll bring you a picture of it” he said, grabbing my mobile phone from the nightstand. I rolled over and closed my eyes. A few minutes later he came back with a photo of the sunrise. Feeling terrible, I got up and went into his room to look at the sun, which was now up, from his bedroom window. We grabbed a blanket and sat together under it in the early morning light.
As we sat there I thought about this little boy who will soon be too big to want to snuggle with his mum, or to bring me blurry pictures of the sunrise, and I felt guilty that I had almost missed this moment by a combination of laziness and fear of another tortoise lecture. Sensing my guilt and weakness he pulled the blanket more tightly around us, smiled at me mischeviously and went straight for the jugular, delivering a 20-minute talk on the differences between various forms of tortoise bedding before we finally made our way downstairs for breakfast.