Five days after I wrote my column about our poisonous pet blister beetle, I nearly stepped on a foot-long lizard that was sunbathing in a patch of sunlight on the floor of our laundry room bathroom.
I would have shrieked, except the boys were napping, so I backed away and peered at him from a safe distance. Initially, I thought maybe it was a fake rubber lizard that the boys had planted there to scare me. Upon further examination, however, I realized that even though the lizard did not scurry away like most lizards do when they encounter humans, he was quite real. He stared at me with his beady eyes and dared me to come closer. I stayed away.
I had to leave for work and could not deal with him at that moment, so I closed the door, rolled up a rug to block the crack under the door, and taped a sign to the door that said in red Sharpie, “DO NOT ENTER - LARGE LIZARD TRAPPED INSIDE!” When our babysitter arrived, I warned her about the lizard and told her to leave him in there unless she felt especially comfortable with lizards. She made a face and shook her head.
When my husband got home from work, I told him about the lizard. “He’s really big, and not at all scared of people," I said. "And he's huge!"
He immediately went downstairs to scope it out, then called up, “He’s gone!”
“What? But I blocked the door! Where could he have gone?”
“The rug didn’t block the crack entirely. There were two little spaces on either side. He probably got out that way.”
“What are you talking about?” asked my oldest son.
“There was a huge lizard in the downstairs bathroom and I asked Dada to catch him, but he escaped," I said.
“How big was it?” he asked. I showed him with my hands, adding a few inches for effect.
“Dada’s looking for him now," I told him. "Maybe you guys can help him. You can go on a lizard hunt!”
“Yeah, a lizard hunt! Come on, guys, let’s go on a lizard hunt!” said Jonah.
“Yeah, woo hoo, a lizard hunt!” chimed in the four-year-old.
“Lizard hunt!” repeated the two-year-old, and they all went barreling down the stairs.
“I’m heading out to go swimming!” I called out, secretly relieved to be leaving. “Bye!”
Just as I was about to hop into the hot tub before my swim, I heard a chime from my iPhone, alerting me that I had just received a text message. In a Pavlovian-like response, I fumbled in my swim bag and pulled out my phone to see who had texted me.
The message was from George. He had texted me a photo of the lizard atop the hand towel in the bathroom, with the words, “Found him!”
“Ack!” I texted back. “What’s the plan?”
“Developing as we speak!” he replied.
I tucked my phone back into my bag and hopped into the hot tub, telling my swim friends that the boys were busy catching a very large lizard at that very moment.
When I finished with my swim, the rest of the drama unfolded via more texts from George. He sent several photos: one of the lizard in the bathroom sink, one of the boys examining the lizard, now trapped in a Tupperware container, a photo of a bite mark on his pinky finger with the message, “He peed on me and bit me. All good unless he’s poisonous,” and finally, a photo of the three boys lying on the living room rug with the Tupperware in the middle, all peering in at the lizard, and the words, “Boys in heaven.”
When I walked in the front door, our four-year-old bounded over to me. “Mama, we caught the lizard! It bit Dada and peed on him, too, and his name is ‘Alligator Kembel’ because he’s an alligator lizard!” He lifted the Tupperware up to me proudly.
“Wow, buddy, that’s so cool!” I lied as I peered in. “He doesn’t look as big when he’s in a Tupperware,” I said to George.
“He’s not really as big as you thought he was.”
When we put Mason to bed, Alligator Kembel, safely ensconced in his Tupperware, was carefully placed on the top of their toy bunk beds.
The next morning when I got our two-year-old out of his crib, the first thing he said was, “We got a lizard!”
“I know, it’s so exciting!” I said as I put him on the changing table. “Did you guys pick a name for him?”
“Yeah. It’s...uh...Chi Chi!” he said with a grin.
“I like that name—Chi Chi the Lizard!”
Chi Chi was well-loved. We fed him a mosquito eater that the boys caught for him, which he gobbled up completely except for one leg, and also gave him a few flies that the boys had somehow managed to catch with their bare hands. We also fed him some sliced oranges, as my husband had discovered in his “extensive research” that it was one way to provide water for an alligator lizard.
Chi Chi got to take a special trip to Jonah's kindergarten class the day after he was captured, and to the younger boys' preschool the following day. He ended up meeting nine teachers and almost 50 children.
When he arrived home from school on the second day of his captivity, Chi Chi was not looking good. The walls of his habitat were clouded with condensation, lizard poop was scattered across the bottom, and he looked lethargic and depressed. When I peered in at him just before I put the boys down for their naps, his eyes were closed. Fearing the worst, I tipped the Tupperware slightly to see if he was still alive. His eyes blinked open momentarily, but he barely moved.
“Boys, Chi Chi is not looking very happy anymore. I think we should let him go,” I said to the boys.
“But I want to keep him!” protested Mason.
“I know, buddy, but he’s not happy in there and he might die soon if we don’t set him free. And then we would be even more sad.”
“But we can take good care of him. We can put him in a bigger box and everything!”
“He’s a wild lizard, buddy, and he’ll be much happier being back in the wild. It's kind of like how you don’t like having to stay in your room during a timeout. He doesn't like being in the Tupperware, and it's actually bad for his health, too."
After much negotiating, we finally decided that we would release Chi Chi in the backyard in a special freeing ceremony. All the ceremony entailed was cutting open the tape that was securing the lid and watching him scurry away. “Bye, Chi Chi! Bye, Alligator Kembel!” we called.
“He’s so happy now!” I told the boys. And so am I, I thought.
When I shared a photo of Chi Chi on Facebook, one of my friends wrote, “Dude, seriously? You guys are never-ending excitement. Are you vacationing in the Amazon or something? Or is that just your average everyday Redwood City lizard-in-my-bathroom?”
I’m not sure if it was an average everyday lizard, but it was just an average everyday incident in our household.