My daughter wants a cat; preferably a cat who likes red meat and can be carried in a suitcase. “What will you do with your cat?” I ask. “Go on an airplane” she says.  “What will you feed your cat?” I enquire. “Beef” she says. “Beefy beef.” She’s got it all planned out. If she can’t have a cat her next pet of choice would be a dog. Every time we pass one on the street or in a park she explains, “I need that dog.”

“Do you mean you want to pet that dog?” I say.

“Yes” she says… “and I need it.”

On various occasions she has also expressed an interest in caring for a monkey, an iguana and a baby pig. At one point she adopted a cow that had been drawn on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. She named him Buddy. We visited him daily. She pet him and left him piles of acorns to eat. But then it rained. And Buddy disappeared. And try as I might I couldn’t re-create him in our own back yard. “That’s a cat mommy. That’s not Buddy,” she said after every attempt. Each time we arrived at the park I kept my fingers crossed that the artist had made a visit and had reincarnated Buddy. But it never happened. I thought of posting up a sign. “Urgent: Would the mother or father who has a gift for drawing chalk cows please sketch out another bovine slightly to the right of the swing set. Can you make it blue? Thank you!”

But I didn’t and Buddy never re-appeared. Then one afternoon Sage and I were pulling out weeds in the garden and I happened upon an earthworm. “Look Sage!” I said holding him in my hand like I was showing off a platter of desserts. “It’s a little worm.”

“Oh mommy!” She responded. “Cuttie, cuttie worm.”

The worm was in.

I spent the next few minutes helping him seal the deal. I gave him all the characteristics you’d want in a pet. “Oh look he likes to be scratched,” I said as I ran my finger across his back, or maybe it was his front. “What’s your name little guy” I asked as I leaned in close and pretended to put my ear up to his mouth, or maybe it was his ass. “He says his name is Squirmin’ Herman.” I informed my daughter. “Oh Squirmin’! I wanna hold Squirmin’.” She shrieked!

Next I gave Sage the pet speech. The one I’d been saving for a cat or a dog. I figured I could make it work for a worm too, “You are going to need to be really gentle with him,” I said. “He’s a living creature.”

“And feed him, and love him, and clean up after him.”

“Oh yes, yes, yes” Sage agreed as I handed him off.

She spent five minutes looking into his eyes or maybe it was his tail. The she started chatting him up.  “Will you go to school Squirmin’…like daddy? I’ll feed you beef? You like beef! Where’s your Mommy, Squirmin?  Is she on an airplane? Let’s go on an airplane.” It was all progressing so well. But then Sage got excited. She and Squirmin’ were heading for the pretend plane and she wanted to invite me to join. She gestured over towards the fence to show me where the plane was parked and…she dropped Squirmin’ into the grass.

“Squirmin’!” She cried out like she’d just lost a sibling.

At first I thought we’d have to put up missing posters and mourn his loss and I’d have to get an age appropriate video about how sometimes pets die or disappear in the grass. But then, it dawned on me. Squirmin’ is an earthworm. As hermaphrodites, worms can reproduce with any worm they choose. They must be mating all the time. There must be millions right under my feet! I got down on all fours, peered through the grass and like magic I found a new worm in seconds. “Look Sage. It’s Squirmin’! He was just on vacation.”

Problem solved.

At the end of the afternoon I explained that Squirmin’ needed to go to bed. We found him a comfy spot in the yard and said goodnight. The next day I bent down, picked up the first worm I saw and handed him to Sage. “Squirmin’ had a great nights sleep!” I said.

He really was the perfect pet. No matter where we were I could always just run outside and find him. On Saturday we were hiking through the woods and out of nowhere Sage asked, “Where’s Squirmin’?” I just plunged a stick into the earth, dug around a bit and poof, I had Squirmin’. “He’s right here!” I shouted with delight. “Oh Squirmin’,” Sage said as she curled her tiny hand around him.

Squirmin’ also became an easy solution if Sage were impatient. On Tuesday we were waiting in the parking lot as my husband ran inside for groceries and my daughter was particularly unhappy. “Want to visit Squirmin’?” I asked. “Yeah” she answered and I just leaned into the grass that bordered our parking space, turned over a few rocks, and scooped up a worm. “Squirmin’,” Sage shouted.

“Fancy seeing you here.” I said.

We never would have been able to pull that off with a cat or a dog.

He was great! He didn’t require that we feed him or take him to the vet. He didn’t bark at the neighbors or pee on the comforter. Sure he’d occasionally leave a trail of excrement in our hands but that was nothing we couldn’t take care of with a Kleenex. And it was hard to tell what his personality was, we were never really sure which end was his face, so we could make him whomever we pleased. If Sage was in a grumpy mood, Squirmin’ was too. If Sage wanted a buddy to sing to, Squirmin’ would always squiggle around in her palm. If Sage just wanted to sit and stare… well Squirmin’ was up for that too. On Wednesday we ate goldfish crackers with Squirmin’, on Friday we found him at the park and Sage showed him how throw a ball. It was all going so well. It was like those romance movies where they show a montage of all the adventures that have happened in a week and you just watch and think, “Why can’t my life be that fun.”

It was like that.

It was fun.

And I felt like such a hero for finding him over and over again and bringing him into our lives. Then Sunday rolled around. And just like always Sunday was the spoiler, the day when you come back to reality and realize another Monday is staring you in the face. We were in the back yard and I scooped up the nearest worm and Sage just looked at it and said, “That’s not Squirmin’! He’s too little.” At first I tried to play it off. “Oh, that must be his baby brother… Burmin. How about we play with Burmin?” But Sage was adamant, “I want Squirmin’!” she insisted. But each worm I found was wrong, one was too squiggly, one was too tall. Another had legs and that was just plain unacceptable. It was like overnight my daughter had figured out my trick. I’d lost my magic. I couldn’t just produce a pet.

It was really sad. There was only one thing I could do. “I think maybe Squirmin’ is gone.” I said. “Maybe he went on vacation,” my daughter responded. Then she just sat quietly staring at the dirt. She looked like she was working really hard to process the whole thing. I thought maybe she was planning to stay there until he came back from his trip. But after a few minutes she lifted her head.

“I could have a cat…” She said.

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