Hissy Fit ~
classroom pets come to visit

By Patty Lawrence

My girls attend a Montessori school. It’s a lovely place with beautiful classroooms. I always enjoy carpool line when the teachers share a small tidbit of the day. I hear, “Jordan read a book.” or “Avery finished her work plan.” Successful car pool lines must move quickly so the discussions are brief, but I look forward to these small exchanges. Then I learned the hard way that smiling teachers and happy children make for the prefect ambush.

“Mom!” says my exuberant five-year old.

“Can you take home Hissy and Hisser?” finishes her teacher Casey, “over spring break.” The children call their teachers by their first names and classroom pets are part of the Montessori curriculum.

“Yeah, sure.” the words are out before my brain is engaged. I think, Hooray! It’s not the rabbit. My second thought is I’m not a sissy. This is not a problem.

As I pull away from carpool, my brain finally functions. I’d just agreed to bring two cockroaches home. The rabbit started to sound pretty good.

School is only 2.2 miles from home and by the time I reach my house, all thoughts of cockroaches left my head. Denial is a powerful thing.

On the last carpool morning before break, Casey says, “Don’t worry about Hissy and Hisser. They’re easy. Just keep the sponge moist. Andrea just pours in water without touching the cage at all.” She pantomimed the process. It was a jolt. I’d forgotten them entirely.

I blocked them out again until afternoon carpool line where I was greeted by my daughter and her two teachers who were holding a small plastic terrarium. “See,” Andrea says, “just make sure the sponge is wet.” Then she reached into the cage to feel it. I blanched.

“What do they eat?” I asked noting the crackers. These are special hissing cockroaches from Madagascar and I don’t want to mess with their diet.

Casey reassured. “They eat anything. They really enjoy oranges.”

I think, of course, they’ll eat anything. They are roaches.

“Mom” Jordan chimed in, “Can I have an orange for snack today?”

I sighed, “Are you going to eat it?”

“Yes” she says. “I’m going to eat all of it--except two pieces.”

This time on my 2.2 mile drive, I am transported back to my old laundry room in South Carolina. Generally the Palmetto State references a small palm-like shrub but it’s also a fancy name for a really big cockroach. Just before we were to close on our nearly empty house, I made a solo trip back. On my last night in the house, I ventured into the laundry room where a humongous palmetto bug crawled up the wall. Revulsion made me shudder. I slammed the small wooden stepping stool I was holding smack into its path. The cockroach got away. The light switch bit the dust. I stood alone in the dark and screamed.

When we got home, Jordan peeled an orange and gave a section to each roach. She left the rest of it on the kitchen table. I wondered if I sent Cincinnati cockroaches to Madagascar would someone would peel oranges for them.

The girls loved the cockroaches. They carried the cage, tipped the cage, and shook the cage.

Finally I say, “Stop, the cockroaches have had a big day. They need their rest.” In a surreal moment I’m concerned for cockroach welfare. I think about martinis.

Later that night in Jordan’s room, something moved silently across the floor. A scream rose in my throat before I realized I’d kicked a marble. I wish for the rabbit. The cockroaches are safely ensconced in their plastic world. They are amorous and I find religion, “Please, God, let these cockroaches be gay.” Then I worry. How long is cockroach gestation? And more pressing, how long has this been going on? So I add, “Please God, don’t let them scale plastic.”

The girl’s pediatrician sent his children to our school when they were young. He comes back to teach anatomy to the older students. Jordan’s well visit is scheduled over break. She proudly tells him about Hissy and Hisser.

He smiles. “We had them over the summer once. They had babies.”

“Did they get out?” I ask, maybe a little too quickly.

“No.”

Over the remainder of spring break, Jordan wants a play date with everyone so that she can show off Hisser and Hissy. We settle for calling Grandpa. He laughs.

Jordan asks repeatedly to hold them and I repeatedly put her off because I know that if one of them gets loose, we are not calling an exterminator. We are moving.

One evening when I go into Jordan’s room, one cockroach is curled up on its side. It reminds me of a dead guppy. I shake the cage until he unfurls and moves an antenna. I sigh with relief and think about martinis again. It’s bad when you can’t decide if you want the cockroach dead or alive.

I remember a conversation with a mom who housed the rabbit one summer. She was relieved to have brought it back alive. At the time I wrote her off as silly. Now I get it. Not on my watch, thank you very much. Maybe I should feed the roaches some vegetables to go with the fruit. Or some cheese for the crackers. Maybe I’m crackers. These guys will survive a nuclear attack. For the rest of spring break, I shake the cage a couple of times a day.

Just before spring break began, Ozzie, the classroom gerbil died. Casey and Andrea explained to the children, “It is part of the circle of life.” Even while I’m shaking the cage to see if Hissy and Hisser move, I know that if they escape, they will discover the circle of life when they met the semi-circle of my heel.

Later in the week, when Andy places the wetted sponge in the cage Hissy and Hisser emit a very clear hiss as his hand gets too near. The hssssss is so clear and so futile. All of us laugh. They seem harmless. The girls try to make them hiss. Finally Andy says, “Give them a break.” Cockroach rights return.

On the Sunday before school started back, Andy let the girls hold them. The girls proudly walk out of Jordan’s room to show me. In an uneasy truce. The cockroaches made no attempt to escape and I made no attempt to squash them.

Jordan does not want to return them to school. “But you’ll be with them everyday,” Andy and I reason.

“Hissy will miss me,” she insists.

On Monday morning, all I want is the safe return of Hissy and Hisser. The 2.2 mile drive seems more like twenty. No accidents. No spilling the plastic terrarium. No cockroaches scurrying around my car. In their excitement the girls forget their lunches and so I make two trips to school. It doesn’t matter. The cargo is safely delivered.

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