South Bay Parenting: This dour pet must feel unwelcome in our home. Or he could be dead

My mother, the indulgent grandmother she is, bought my sons a gift of sand.

At least, that’s what it looks like when you peer through the glass walls of the aquarium in my oldest son’s room, squinting your eyes to glimpse life amid the desolate landscape of sand, brush, and empty shells.

Actually, it’s a hermit crab. But we haven’t seen the thing in weeks.

Columnist Renee Moilanen.January 27, 2010. Photo by Steve McCrank
Renee Moilanen

After only a few days in our house, the crab burrowed under the sand and hasn’t been up since. We’re left with a pile of beach that is quite possibly the worst pet ever.

But I saw this coming. The crab was never happy here. And, frankly, his dour mood irritated me from the start.

At first, I was willing to open my heart to him, as I am with every oddball creature my mother brings into this house. The children were excited to show off their new pet — a crab painted garish shades of blue and green, eye-catching in the pet store, certain death on an actual beach.

For the first few days, the crab scuttled about his home, checking out the new digs, nibbling his food pellets, sucking water from a sponge. We’d pick him up and he’d claw around our palms. It was great to have a crab in the house.

But then his mood started to change. Subtly at first. Then worse.

Whenever one of us came near, he’d retreat under his shell. If we picked him up, he feigned death. Loud noises startled him and he flinched every time the 3-year-old boy came close. The crab’s movements grew slower, less frequent. At night, he’d dig himself under the sand and stay there until I pried him out the next morning.

By all appearances, the crab was depressed.

“Leave him alone,” my husband said. “That’s why they call them hermits.”

But I began to resent the creature. His depression, the constant cowering, the way his beady eyes darted around in panic — all of it shined an unwelcome light on the chaos of my home. I’d long grown accustomed to the cacophony and unpredictable antics of my two young children.

But now this uppity arthropod was reminding me that it wasn’t normal. Every time the toddler suddenly and without warning whooped like a chimpanzee, the crab slipped under its shell as if to say, “How can you live like this?”

My resentment turned to anger. Yeah, that’s right, I told the crab. We’re loud. The kids run around naked half the time. My husband and I yell about the dishes and who last folded laundry, and if I can’t hide under my shell, neither can you.

For days I stared at that pile of sand, angry at the crab for his bad attitude, angry at my mother for giving my kids such a lousy pet. But then, my maternal side kicked in. And I found myself wanting to help the poor thing.

I Googled “hermit crab” and “depressed” only to discover that hermit crabs go through a period of molting in which they shed their old skin. During that time, they burrow under sand and stay there, sometimes for up to two months. Honestly, it sounds lovely.

I have no idea if the crab is molting or just fed up with us. But the last time he buried himself, I let him stay there. We haven’t seen him in weeks. He could be dead. Or taking an enviable vacation.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to tend the pile of sand. It’s family, after all.

Renee Moilanen is a freelance writer based in Redondo Beach.

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