All of this started with a weekend drive to Italy.
My wife, Deedee, and a few of her friends would be shopping for Italian pottery in a little town called Nove on a Saturday. Needless to say, that didn’t tickle my manbone, and I figured even the 4-year-old (now 5) wouldn’t have eight-hour-pottery-shopping attention span. So, we needed something else to do, aside from sit in our hotel room and watch American Forces Network commercials or prowl the post exchange store.
Fortunately, my friend Bruce lived in Italy. Bruce was also gracious enough to invite us to his friend Franco’s house. “He’s got all sorts of animals there. Annabelle can play with the animals and we can hang out, drink some wine and enjoy the day.” Sold.
So, we roll onto Franco’s driveway and I realize Franco has his own Wild Country Safari inside the friendly confines of his Italian home. Chickens, turkeys, magpies, dogs, cats and … turtles. There was also a trampoline and a tree house. We’d strolled into 4-year-old heaven.
I mentioned turtles. While you think a trampoline, a tree house and free range animals roaming the place would fill her day, you'd be wrong. Instead, Annabelle got laser-focused on Franco’s turtles. See, Franco kept the larger ones, about 25, in a long, grassy pen. But the small and very small turtles, about 200, he kept in boxes. Boxes easily handled by a 4-year-old's arms.
Aside from a break to thumb through a book with pictures of the Italian version of Bratz, Annabelle stayed fixated on those turtles. Holding. Playing. Holding. Turtles won the day. Sure, there were moments on the trampoline and Franco fed us an excruciatingly good meal. We nearly napped. Thank you, Franco, for the hospitality. And off we went home, images of the turtles fading from my head.
About half way through the Italian Dolomites toward our Southern German hovel, this query peeps up from the back seat: “Daddy, can I have a pet turtle? I’ll name it Rainbow.”
Thanks, Franco. “We’ll see.”
After we returned, and for about four weeks, the phrases, “When I get a pet turtle, I’m going to name it Rainbow” and “I can’t wait to have a pet turtle named Rainbow” and all variances thereof popped up. This is a 5-year-old versed in negotiation and psychological warfare. She kept her cute bombs and other smart weapons on target. Eventually, we caved.
Two weeks ago, we set off for the pet store, which is about 35 miles from our German town. We arrived only for them to tell us they don’t sell turtles, but another pet store does, and it’s only about 15 miles away. Back in the car, and about 15 minutes later, we find said store.
Now, this, good reader, is where the story goes into a “Matrix”-styled slow motion sequence. I walked in the store and across the displays, I saw the glass aquariums and bright heat lamps. My pace quickened. I got closer and, sure enough, there are the little hamburger bun-sized reptiles. I looked down and checked the price.
One hundred and sixty five dollars.
Just as I’m about to turn around to devise a strategy to wave off buying one of these ridculously overpriced reptiles (42 bucks a leg!) with my still approaching wife, I hear this:
Annabelle sees the turtle. Deedee walks up.
Her eyes widen, then silence.
“We can’t spend that much on something I can go scoop out of the lake,” I add.
Also important to note that while visiting the first pet store, we came thisclose to buying Annabelle fish as a consolation prize. But I can’t stand tending to an aquarium. It’s messy, labor intensive and unless I have a full-time aquarium stooge, there was no way we were getting fish. Annabelle threw a fit, but when we told her there were probably turtles at the next stop, she clammed up and hopped in the car seat.
“DADDY … DADDY … It’s RAINBOW!”
Knowing we were never going to pay $165 for the turtle, we did what any parents would do in this situation.
Maybe these were the famous spotted Madagascar Leaping Forest Turtles. Perhaps these turtles were intended for some sort of German gourmet cooking dish. Maybe these turtles could speak, do dishes, vacuum or summon freaking Ewoks. Something. There just had to be other turtles.
So, we were about to walk out and face the music that would be Annabelle’s heartbreak when Deedee said these magic words: “How about a Guinea Pig, Annabelle?”
“Okay!” Annabelle chalks to the right and begins her selection of a guinea pig. Now, Deedee and I have about as much knowledge of guinea pigs as is contained in the period at the end of this sentence. But Annabelle thought the idea of guinea pigs sounded cool and jumped onboard. We bought a guinea pig and were out the door under budget.
At this point, the Bullet time-portion of the story ends and we managed to get home with our new guinea pig, Rainbow. As it turns out, guinea pigs get lonely, depressed and will die with socialization. So, our second guinea pig, Bubbles, came home a few days afterward.
We’ll probably still get a turtle. Low maintenance and quiet. A little Purelle and everything is fine. Plus, it’ll outlive every one of us. But for now, Bubbles and Rainbow seem to be happy they’re "the new black" of pets in the Tudor home.