By: Staci Stallings
Three things to set the groundwork for this piece: First, the majority of the info you are about to read came from a six-year-old drama king. Second, said drama king started kindergarten last fall. In their classroom they had a bearded dragon, which is pretty much a forearm length iguana (I know, reptile lovers will quibble, but I just want the non-reptile lovers to get a picture of this thing). Third, I do NOT like reptiles of ANY kind–snakes, lizards, etc. give me the shivers.
This particular kindergarten “pet” definitely qualified as a reptile, so when I visited the classroom, I stayed well away from the tank it was in. As a long-time friend of the teacher, we had several conversations about Guido the Bearded Dragon throughout the year. Then last Sunday she told me that Guido was not doing well (you can imagine my reaction). He was so weak that she was having to (brace yourself!) feed him baby food with a syringe because he was no longer eating on his own. Guido had been a gift from a young lady who had had him a long time. He was very old, and the teacher was worried that the end was near.
Sure enough, on Friday six-year-old drama king got into my van after school. “Mom, it was the worst day of my whole life!”
“Why? What happened?”
“Well, Mrs. Scott had to take Guido to the vet (at which I’m thinking Why would she do THAT? What could a vet do anyway?), but this morning we found Guido in the tank, and he wasn’t breathing anymore.”
Like a good mom, I was sympathetic. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, it was bad. I had to get a box.”
“And Alyssa had to get a cloth.”
I’m now picturing this kindergarten class of 23 springing into action over the funeral preparations for a dead lizard.
“We got everything, and Mrs. Scott put him in the box. Then Will took him out, and there was this BIG hole, and Will dropped the box and Guido into it.”
I don’t know something about this picture struck me as quite touchingly funny. I know it shouldn’t, but, have you ever been so into picturing the story a six-year-old is telling that you just kind of get amazed at how perceptive and SERIOUS they are about life?
“So did the whole class go out for the funeral?”
“Uh-huh. Everyone.” (In their cute little church uniforms, 23 kindergartners standing around a hole in the ground, I’m quite sure that was quite a sight.)
“Did you say any prayers?”
“Mrs. Scott did. She cried.”
“Did you sing any songs?”
“Well, the only song we all knew was ‘God Bless America,’ so we just sang that.”
(Go ahead, try not to laugh! I was about to lose it.)
“Really? Well, what about Father Waldo, did he come to the funeral?”
To which my precious little six-year-old drama king replied, “Mom, he dug the hole!”
Come to find out, I’m not sure all of that was exactly accurate, but that’s how it’s in my mind now, so I’ll leave it at that, and add just two more little pieces of this story.
First, upon talking with the teacher, I found out that they had a little wake service prior to the burial. She took Guido out of the tank, put him on the cloth in the box, and set the box on a small table. Then each child was allowed to go by the box. She said, “Some chose to touch him, others didn’t, but they all got to say good-bye. Then we took him out and buried him.” She said, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry. Father Waldo had given me a little prayer book to God bless the cats and dogs, and I added bearded dragon. Then when I got to those words, I just cried and cried.”
My son, stood next to me as the teacher told the story, and he very solemnly nodded at each word.
“When it was all over,” she continued, “we came in and had a birthday party for one of the little girls, and we talked about celebrating life and how we celebrate it in different ways–sometimes with birthday parties and sometimes by saying good-bye to really good friends.”
I think those are very wise words to live by. I just wish we did a bit more celebrating of life every day, in every way, with every person we meet.
Maybe then we would all feel as loved as Guido the Bearded Dragon was by a bunch of kindergarteners who learned a little about death and a lot about life that day.
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