Like many first grade classes I suppose, my daughter's first grade class has a class pet. On a scale of difficult pets to keep, pet rock being at one end, and say, howler monkey at the other, this one is relatively easy: a pair of hermit crabs.

The very first day of school she came home terribly excited with the news of the classroom crabs and spellbound by the fact that one of the jobs in the classroom was to take care of the hermit crabs. No classroom job could ever be a wondrous as this classroom job - not even the coveted classroom job of "Office Girl" from last year. Oh, how she longed for this job.

When I met the teacher during the first week of school, The Dormouse announced within ear shot of the teacher and in a loud stage whisper as we walked away, "She's the one who decides who gets what job. I SURE WOULD LIKE to be on the hermit crab job next week." *wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nowhaddimean?* Yeah, THAT wasn't planned at all.

She angled for three weeks until she managed to get the teacher to get her name onto hermit crab duty and it was a dream come true. She watered them, fed them, scooped out their cage daily and was on top of the world... at least until the end of the week when they switched jobs again. But we were still regaled with hermit crab antics and behavior and even some juicy controversy when one day she came home to tell us that one crab had moved out of its shell and into a new shell, but then the other had taken over the vacated shell a couple of days later. (I guess finding an apartment in Hermit Crab World is like finding one in New York City: you have to wait for someone to die or move to a better place before you find one of your own.)

A couple more weeks into the school year and The Dormouse came home and announced in a grave voice:

"I have some VERY sad news for you all. Star died this weekend."

(Apparently the children had named the crabs Star and Climber. Star was so-named because there was a sequin glued onto its shell which looked like a star and Climber, you know, likes to climb on stuff. Six year olds are not known for their inventive use of newly created American names, I guess. Also: she appears to have learned a thing or two about tactfully breaking bad news to people.)

And then in the next breath, "My Teacher says that if anyone out there... anyone at all... would like to buy a NEW hermit crab for the class, they're welcome to do it because we're VERY afraid that Climber will get lonely." *hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nowhaddimean?*

After about two weeks of cleverly working the subject into every possible topic of dinner conversation, ("What? You have a lot of work to do because someone in your office is sick, momma? That's an awful lot like Climber. He doesn't have a friend anymore so he's probably got a lot more work to do too. Remember how My Teacher said we could buy another hermit crab for the classroom if we WANTED to? You don't remember that? Well, My Teacher said we could buy another hermit crab for the classroom. But only if you WANT to.")

Finally, sick of the hint dropping, I acquiesced and we purchased another crab for the classroom. We got twenty-five or so thank you cards from all the kids in the class. Which made it totally worth the eight bucks because: have you ever SEEN twenty-five first graders try to draw a hermit crab? It's hiLARious! It was immediately named Buggy (it had a ladybug painted on its shell - so creative these children are) and it almost as immediately died.


Fortunately, the children had already dealt with the sad prospect of pet death once this year and so crab death number two didn't affect them nearly as badly as the first did.

This time My Teacher bought the class a new hermit crab. I found out later that she figured out they had probably died because they were keeping the crabs right under the heater vent, so I guess she felt guilty enough to shell out (shell out, get it? I kill me.) for a replacement crab this time. It immediately moved out of it's shell and into the shell the original Star had inhabited, and so, it was renamed from whatever temporary name they had selected to Star II. Which totally makes me laugh because it reminds me of Snowball I - V of The Simpsons fame.

Toward the end of September, when the schools were closed for a few days for Yom Kippur and a couple of teacher professional days, we started getting new hints dropped: "My Teacher says that if SOMEone wants to bring the hermit crabs home over the holiday, they totally can because they can't really go that long without having someone water them. They'll get too dehydrated and they MIGHT DIE. Can we take them home, momma? Can we? Can we? Canwecanwecanwecanwecanwe?" Clearly we've moved past the wink, wink, nudge, nudge stage.

Well, we couldn't be responsible for yet more grief in the first grade, so we agreed to have the hermit crabs join us for the Day of Atonement.

Then came the lead up to Thanksgiving. The Dormouse had planned for the hermit crabs to come to our house over the Thanksgiving holiday even before the adults in the picture knew when Thanksgiving was this year. I told The Dormouse that if someone else wanted to bring the hermit crabs home for Thanksgiving weekend, she should let that person have a chance. She agreed.

And s
o, you guessed it, the hermit crabs were our guests for Thanksgiving dinner.

When Christmas break rolled around, we were again peppered with lodging requests and I made it clear to My Teacher in case the message had been intercepted before, that we'd be happy to take home the hermit crabs if, and only if, there were no other families who wanted the chance to care for them. Because it's not fair for us to always have the hermit crab guests. Someone else should clearly get a turn if they want it. I'm not really sure why I was surprised that no other takers arose.

We even prepared for their arrival by making the hermit crabs the subject of The Dormouse's 2009 Christmas ornament. You can read an abbreviated version of the hermit crab story here. But wait, there's more.

The problem with Christmas break was that we had a big snowstorm and school was closed the three days before Christmas break even started, so we never got the chance to pick up the hermit crabs. I'd assumed that My Teacher would pick them up and take them home. But a couple of days later, we got an email from My Teacher saying she was out of town and could we pick up the hermit crabs because she was afraid that after four days they'd be out of water and die. We agreed, and asked how to get into the building if school was closed. A few emails went back and forth between the school administration and My Teacher and finally she wrote back to us saying, "They're telling me that they don't want parents to go to the school because there's 'snow in the parking lot and it hasn't been plowed and it's very dangerous.' So the building is closed to the public. I was told not to ask parents to go there. So thanks, but it looks like you won't need to go get them. I asked someone who is there to water the crabs for the next two weeks; let's hope they do it."

Personally, I thought this was the lamest 'beat it kid, you bother me' a school district has ever come up with and I knew as well as that teacher did, no one was going to remember to water the hermit crabs so when the kids returned to school in January, they were going to come back to two dead hermit crabs.

So The KingofHearts and I figured all they could do was kick us out and we braved that death trap of a parking lot with it's three inches of snow in it (which was totally plowed when we went down there). There was no administration, but the cleaning people were there working (apparently, it's too dangerous for parents, but not janitors?) and I bullied my way in with one of them by claiming that if they didn't let me in, the hermit crabs would DIE and they would be responsible for the DEATH of the classroom pet and all the children would CRY.

I actually said these things. Not only did I say them but I said them out loud and with a straight face. The things we parents are willing to go through for our children.

The woman at the door didn't know what to do with me and finally waved me on. When I got to them, the cage was like a desert and no one had been there to water them at all. So we took the hermit crabs and smuggled them out of the building, then nursed them back to health.

I later told My Teacher about this somewhat dodgy incident and apologized in case she took any flack for it. All she had to say was, "YAY! I was POSITIVE no one would have come to take care of them over the break and they'd be dead but I didn't want to tell you that. Let's hear it for the strong classroom moms!"

And that is the story of how we had hermit crab guests for Christmas.

A few days before Christmas, I was regaling my mother with the Saga of the Hermit Crabs and I said something about what a pain in the a** this was.

She simply replied, "Just be glad it wasn't a bunny."

Something tells me she's been through this drama before... but I wonder, With whom?