Two Mothers, Five Kids, A Frog, and a Duck
By Daisy Alpert Florin
The sun hung low in the sky, shining its golden light through the trees and down on the children. There were five of them–my three plus two of my friend Cheryl’s children–all wet from a late afternoon swim in the pool, the water dappling their August-brown skin like mermaid scales. Cheryl and I sat at the end of our lounge chairs, perched like cats ready to pounce at any cry for help.
I kept a close eye on my Oliver, the youngest at 14 months, as he padded softly around the patio, watching dark footprints bloom beneath his chubby feet. My gaze flitted back and forth from him to my older kids–Sam, the oldest of the group at seven, and his 5-year-old sister, Ellie–who were more active, daring each other toward the deep end, emboldened by the life jackets that swaddled them like brightly-colored cocoons.
Suddenly, there was a cry.
“Mom! Mom!” they all seemed to shout simultaneously. “There’s a frog in the pool!”
Cheryl and I stood up and bent low over the children to investigate. Sure enough, a small, green frog had gotten trapped in the square drain of the pool, kicking its webbed feet furiously in a futile break for freedom.
“Can I bring him to school tomorrow?” Sam asked me at once, and the undisciplined side of myself, the side that wants to adopt the pit bull mix at the local animal shelter, yearned to say yes. But my rational side–or, perhaps more accurately, the side that imagined his teacher’s reaction when he marched into school the next morning carrying a frog in a bucket–searched for an alternative.
“How about,” I began slowly, the plan taking shape as I spoke the words, “we take a picture of the frog and then let him go in the pond down the street?” My voice sped up. “That way you’ll have something to bring to school tomorrow and the frog will be free!” I was almost shouting when I reached the end of the sentence.
The plan was accepted by all parties. With surprising ease, Sam plucked the frog from the drain and the group of us headed down the street to the pond that sat on Cheryl’s property at the end of our cul-de-sac. Sam held the frog gently between his fingers, the younger children following close behind him, everyone excited to take part in this impromptu rescue mission.
“He is going to love living in that pond!” I told the kids with a cheerfulness bordering on the insane.
“But it’s so yucky in there,” said Ellie, wrinkling her sun-kissed nose.
“Well, the frog will love it because there’s so much algae in there for him to eat!” I answered with conviction. Where was I getting this from? I grew up in Manhattan. What do I know from algae?
When we reached the edge of the pond, I took several pictures of Sam holding the frog and then turned my attention to the murky water. The children were bubbling with excitement as a group of angelic-looking white ducks gathered near us. Who says motherhood is static and dull? I thought, taking in the beauty of the ducks, the pond and the children in the waning summer afternoon. Even the frog was kind of cute! Here I was, creating a beautiful and spontaneous teachable moment, reacting to circumstances given to me by the universe, teaching my children to love the world and all its creatures.
“Won’t the ducks eat the frog?” Sam asked me, his fingers tightening around the frog’s plump middle, his brown eyes big and serious.
“No!” Cheryl and I said in unison, our voices ringing with the certainty only a mother can muster and only her children will believe. And so Sam tossed him in.
The fight was over within seconds. Instead of plunging into a life spent getting fat on algae and pond scum, the frog was snatched by a duck’s quick beak before his body ever touched the water. He put up quite a fight, struggling and writhing so much that the duck almost gagged on his muscled body. The other ducks chased alpha duck around the pond, trying desperately to grab a piece of the frog. After a minute or two, the wriggling subsided and the surface of the pond was once again glassy and calm.
We stood on the grass, the seven of us, stunned and horrified. Our rescue mission had gone terribly wrong, and a frog had paid for our mistake with his life.
Cheryl and I shot quick looks at each other. How would we position this? I looked around at the children, all of them frozen and silent. Who would speak first, and what would they say? Would there be tears? Outrage? Cries of betrayal?
Ellie peeled her fingers away from her face, squinting into the sunlight. Cheryl’s boys looked to her for guidance and she smiled cheerfully, as if this had always been the plan. Sam shrugged his shoulders, speechless but resigned, a scientist in the making. No one said a word.
After a few quiet moments, during which the frog and his fate seemed to be digested and forgotten, we headed back up the road, home for baths and dinner.
“Wow!” I said, my voice rising again. “I didn’t think that would happen! I guess we didn’t make the frog’s life any better, but we sure did make the ducks happy!”
“That’s probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to them all day, maybe even all week!” Cheryl added, definitely on my hyper-perky wavelength.
So, goodbye frog. We meant you no harm. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “All stories end in death,” and I guess this one is no different.
Daisy Alpert Florin lives and works in Connecticut.