Love In a Bucket
Moving on from Sam
After my wife had put Jeffrey to sleep that night, she casually asked me, "So how's Sam?"
"Great," I said proudly. "I let him loose."
"You what? How could you? I've just been assuring Jeffrey that Sam is okay. He'll never trust us again!"
"I was only thinking of the worm," I said.
"Don't you get it?" she said. "We keep telling our children they can trust us to protect them, and you shatter that trust by getting rid of your son's worm."
I started to feel like a worm myself.
"You have to get another one," my wife said. "And it has to look exactly like Sam."
And so I found myself out in the dark backyard, a flashlight in one hand and an Easter bucket and a trowel in the other.
I decided to look in the little garden bed where I'd released Sam earlier. In a moment of ridiculous optimism, I hoped that Sam might still be crawling around and would even be happy to see me.
But that was not to be. Right away I learned something about worms: They don't know they're supposed to be nocturnal animals. Not only was there not a single worm in sight, but it took nearly half an hour of digging before I found one, deep in the dirt.
That's when I learned something else about worms: They come in an almost infinite variety of lengths and thicknesses. What's more, they also vary in shade, some as pink as a cartoon piggy, others more of a darkish red or brown. I mean, who knew?
My first catch was a plump little fellow a full inch shorter than Sam. I considered tossing it back, then remembered how much trouble I was having finding any worm and dropped it into the bucket. More digging eventually produced a second worm, a good inch longer than Sam and noticeably thinner. I put it in the Easter bucket, too.
"What do you think?" I asked my wife when I showed her my haul.
"Why are there two of them?" she asked, getting right to the point.
Fortunately, I remembered the old folklore that worms, if cut in half, will live on as separate worms. "I'll say Sam split in two," I offered. "It will be like a bonus."
"And how will you explain that?"
She had me there. I wasn't going to tell my son I'd chopped his beloved worm in two. That would be worse than telling him I'd let Sam go. Suggesting it was a self-inflicted wound probably wouldn't cut it, either.
In the morning I decided to play it low-key. I didn't call attention to the bucket. I'd let my son discover for himself that there were now two Sams.
At his age, many things in life must seem mysterious, even magical. Like the sun rising and setting. Or saying good night to one worm and waking to find two. How he explained it to himself I'll never know. But he didn't ask me, and that was fine.
A child's attention span being what it is, it wasn't long before he'd completely lost interest in worms, and I saw my opportunity to free the mismatched pair. Now he was focusing higher up the food chain. After the requisite amount of pleading, and despite our usual misgivings, we let him buy a goldfish. His name was Pete and he lived for about a week before I found him floating lifeless in his bowl when my son was out.
I thought about Sam and the fine line we parents sometimes walk between shielding our children from some of life's more unpleasant realities and flat-out lying. It's a tricky tightrope in the best of times, but all the more so when the world is in such turmoil. I scooped Pete up, plopped him in a sandwich bag, and hurried to the pet shop. "I need another goldfish," I told the young clerk. "And it has to look exactly like this."