Change is an inevitable and important part of life. When I brought live tadpoles into my classroom that was the lesson I had planned to teach. Too bad it didn’t turn out that way.
These were not ordinary tadpoles – they were large, green, bullfrog tadpoles I had purchased at the local Walmart for a whopping forty-nine cents apiece. “Oh, they’re easy to care for,” the young salesgirl assured me as she placed the precious cargo in a see-through plastic bag. The tadpoles eyed me warily with big, bulbous eyes and I smiled back confidently.
Sure I could raise them. I had a rabbit and crickets in my classroom, didn’t I? Tadpoles would be a cinch, a snap! Yeah, right.
I placed the tadpoles in an aquarium filled with water and colored rocks (primary colors at that). For a while, the tadpoles swam about enjoying their new home.
After a few days, the children started to complain, “The water smells funny!”
Knowing I had to take care of it that day or walk into the smell of a fish market the following morning, I placed the tadpoles in a bowl and poured out the filmy water. Then I filled a bucket with clean, fresh water and poured it into the aquarium.
The next morning the tadpoles seemed listless and depressed. I threw in some fish food and kept my fingers crossed. But by the time the children went to centers, one of the children tugged at my sleeve and announced. “Teacher, the tadpoles are standing up!”
I walked over and, sure enough, the tadpoles did look like tiny green soldiers at attention with their noses pressed against the water line. “Hmm,” I replied nonchalantly even though my heart raced, “Maybe they’re lined up to go to lunch.” The child nodded thoughtfully and continued to study them.
As soon as the last child left for the day, I rushed to the grave site only to find our “new amphibian friends” still modeling correct posture in the now murky green water.
I’ve seen dead fish before but never a tadpole! At the age of six I petted one of my father’s prized Black Angels and the next morning it lay on top of the aerated water glaring accusingly at me with its one visible fishy eye.
Forty years of guilt dragged me back to my parents’ living room in McKinney, Texas. Reluctantly I picked up the largest tadpole and laid it in my hand. It didn’t squirm or wiggle but lay in sweet repose and (dare I say it?) at still as D-E-A-T-H!!!
“Oh Lord,” I prayed – a full-blown panic attack setting in. How was I going to explain this to twenty-two five-year-olds who trusted me implicitly?
After cleaning out the aquarium and flushing the tadpoles along the way that many good little tadpoles go, I called my “lifeline” – Walmart.
This time an older, more experienced saleslady helped me. I told her step by step what I had done to care for them.
“Well honey,” she said, “Was there soap or some kind of cleaner in the bucket?”
I shuddered. Only a few months before, I had mixed bubble solution in that very same death trap complete with three tablespoons of glycerin for strength. Once again, I could feel the accusatory fish eye glaring at me down through the years.
The next day I was assailed with, “Where are the tadpoles?”
Should I lie? NO! Make up a story? NO! I had to tell the truth.
“Oh, they went to tadpole heaven last night,” I replied fudging the truth just a little.
“But where is tadpole heaven?” One of my brighter (and obnoxious) students asked. Sure – tie the noose good and tight!
I envisioned the swirling of the water as the tadpoles received their sailor’s burial and could not bring myself to divulge that much information. “Well, it’s a nice, cool place where they’ll never be sick again.”
Then I took a deep breath and began to explain environmental pollution to a classroom full of anxious young biologists.