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How a Shopping Trip became a 72-Hour Science and Parenting Lesson

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It began with a Facebook post, and suddenly, a whole bunch of people were invested in the story, so I thought I'd tell it properly...

On Mother's Day, Simon asked me what I'd like the family to make for dinner -- I was off cooking duty for the day. I had an overwhelming taste for broiled salmon, an avocado salad and new potatoes, don't ask me why. The boys were happy to oblige, and while shopping, Simon picked up a bag of Blue Point Oysters as a surprise starter -- he knows I love them and so does our 9-year-old son, Francois. I still don't know why he happily eats shellfish but won't eat potatoes...but that's another story.

Shucking the oysters has become a "manly" thing that the boys do with Daddy, so when I heard exclamations coming from the kitchen I assumed someone had hurt themselves and I'd find blood and tears. Nope. The guys had found a teeny, tiny crab inside one of the oyster shells. Simon first assumed it was dead, and carefully removed it from the oyster, thinking to dispose of it after prepping the food. Then...it moved. It actually started trying to crawl away, albeit slowly. What do we do now?

The boys were adamant. We should create a habitat for it and raise it. They had visions of it growing to be the size of a "normal" crab, which to them is fist-sized, at which point they'd take it to the Red Hook shore and release it. I warned them that probably wouldn't happen, as it didn't seem to be fully developed. We'd be lucky if it lived through the night. Nevertheless, we sterilized a bowl, researched online the average saline content of seawater or salt water aquariums (.03 parts salt to 1 part water, if you were curious.) We grabbed and cleaned a couple of rocks, some kitchen detritus for nutrients and a couple of plastic lego blocks. Why the blocks? They were the first thing we could find to make a ramp that would fit, allowing the crab to crawl out of the water while not escaping the bowl.

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We put the crab on the ramp in the bowl, and it promptly crashed into the water, moving in and out a bit wildly at first, crawling around, swimming a bit and finally resting under the water half on and half off the blocks. I took a few photos and even video of the little guy doing his thing, and while we reminded the boys that he might not survive, they went to bed happy. One son piped up "Even if he dies, his last hours will be more comfortable."

On Day Two, lo and behold, the crab lived! I checked throughout the day, and sure enough, when the boys came home, he was busy checking out his environment. Our boys decided that if he'd lived a day, he deserved a name. All this time, our Facebook friends were weighing in on salt-water content, crustacean care and all sorts of things. One friend suggested the name Pearl, since he'd been found in an oyster shell. The boys weren't so sure about Pearl; Johan preferred Shredder and Francois thought Ripjaw would be perfect. Did I mention that the crab is one centimeter long? In any case, to make it as fair as possible, we wrote down the three names and put them in a jar, then had my husband Simon draw. Pearl was the choice, though we decided to make the full name Pearl Ripjaw von Shredder. Big name for a little crab!

Tuesday was day three, and Pearl didn't seem to be as energetic as he'd been previously -- I mentioned this to the boys and they nodded, but were bustling out the door to catch their school buses, so didn't dwell on the possibility that the end was near. However, by the time school was out, he was barely moving. We gently aerated the water but told the boys we didn't hold out much hope. We began discussing what the plan would be if Pearl died.

By Wednesday morning, Pearl hadn't moved a bit, and we knew it was over. While getting ready for school, we told them that the first thing we needed to do as a family after they came home was to take care of Pearl. That afternoon, there was a bit of discussion over whether to bury or flush the crab. Simon favored a flush, the boys at first wanted to bury him or her, but in the end they decided that burying was more appropriate for a larger animal, as we'd done with our beloved cat, Madge. Flushing, they decided, was correct for a very small aquatic animal. The four of us stood around the commode as we gave Pearl the final send off.

What did we learn? You never know what you'll find in an oyster. Kids are insightful, and if led with love, are fully equipped to handle the life and death cycle. Granted, it was much easier with an unexpected pet to which they hadn't grown too attached. We got in a science lesson when creating the habitat, and the discussion over what constitutes an appropriate final resting place really touched me. The experience was bigger than our family, as it turns out. I hadn't yet updated Facebook with the news of Pearl's passing, but people posted and sent messages, asking for updates. Seems a centimeter-long crab, rescued from an oyster, made a pretty big impression in its 72-hour life on the outside! Farewell, Pearl Ripjaw von Shredder. Though only around a short time, you did a lot.