To arrive at a new place you must first leave where you are.”- Christopher J. Stubbs
Most boys ask for a puppy. But true to his “march-to-the-beat-of-my-own-maracas” personality, my son announces over Cheerios his intention to adopt a less common pet. “The tegu,” he explains absentmindedly rolling his tongue piercing with his teeth “is a reptile indigenous to Argentina, known for its remarkably large size, affection and capacity to eat anything.” It’s the first and last that have me most concerned, and the second that has me dubious. I’ve seen Lake Placid and remember the brief career Bridget Fonda built off those killer crocodile-induced screams of terror.
“Like a lizard?” I ask, my mind racing with scenes of Godzilla (the original Toho films, not the Mathew Broderick remake. Even in moments of panicked anxiety I like to think I maintain a minimum of critical taste.)
When it arrives, having travelled by plane in his own seat, (God forbid he should be mistaken for a Styrofoam crate of frozen Nova Scotian lobster in cargo…) I am pleasantly surprised to meet this tiny beady-eyed critter, barely the size of my palm.
Except I had forgotten the “remarkably large” part. Tegus apparently reach their remarkable size remarkably quickly. Every month it sheds its skin in a long scaly sheath, up-sizing as he comes into his own. Google “sheds” some light:
For reptiles, Ecdysis– the process of shedding the old skin or casting off the outer cuticle is a critical but vulnerable time. I find myself at once grossed and engrossed by the process.
How does it feel to peel off a layer and leave it behind? Does it hurt? And that moment just before the casing breaks, is he aware that it has outgrown its usefulness? Does he struggle to breathe in the increasingly constricting cutaneous cardigan of his former self?
I try to relate, remembering last weekend when I fought unsuccessfully to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans I meant to drop off at Good Will last summer (Ok, maybe a few summers ago). Sometimes it takes a while to accept our own expansion. That we’re not same person; that even humans need to molt to keep in motion.
He makes it look effortless, shedding things you’ve outgrown; casting loose the relationship that had its time and place but does little more now than drain your energy and remind you of paths diverged. Dis-anchoring the job that no longer inspires us but feels too secure to leave. Exfoliating obligations that serve only to dilute our attention and blur the focus of our intention.
I watch him in awe (not quite admiration, I mean it really is pretty gross as far as biological processes go.) It’s never a smooth transition. More like a gradual sloughing of cells and when he finally breaks free there’s always that one piece of dead dermis that clings stubbornly to his shoulder. Does he feel the itchy discomfort of hanging onto something he knows he needs to let go of but can’t find the strength to wriggle away from? Is he tempted to let it drag along with him in a moment of indecision, the future seeming scarier than he feels ready for? Maybe it just hurts to let go of something he used to be so attached to. He seems grateful when friendly hands take charge and dislodge the last remnants, freeing him to breathe easily again in his new slightly tender but stronger self.
And soon the crumpled husk of scales dries up in the corner of his terrarium, seeming no more significant than the rocks and dirt on which he now stretches in new found pride, before curling contentedly under his warming lamp having finished his transformation. Having grown.
About the author: Maia Aziz P.S.W., C.L.Y.L. writes and speaks on living a life of love and laughter. President-Elect of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), Maia hosts a weekly talk radio show Morning Moments With Maia…Conversations of Love and Laughter, Sundays at 9am EST on blogtalkradio where she speaks with an eclectic lineup of guests who live their lives with positive intention. www.withloveandlaughter.ca