I’ve settled on the Texas Sabal Palm, a sharp-branched, pointy-leafed shrub that might as well be a box of Bics stuck to a stick.
Do not be confused. We’re not talking about the matron saint of all evil yard brush – the vaunted Sago Palm, which landscapers planted across our neighborhoods a generation ago because the old K-Mart must have had a spring sale on the worst plants in the history of the seed.
The Sago Palm will cut you if you look at it wrong. The kinder, gentler Texas Sabal Palm only slices your wrist if you rub it wrong.
If you live in Texas and have these stealth Sabal Palms canvassing your yard, there’s a good chance you’ve brushed up against them a time or two. Maybe you’ve walked by with a lawnmower, accidentally scraped a branch and thought your cheek was under attack by a wasp.
What most of you have not done, and what I find myself doing each evening for one tortuous hour, is standing smack in the middle of them, leaning branches, bowing to my oldest son’s demands.
Do you have any idea why Hank, my 4-year-old, would force me into this den of a thousand paper cuts? Do you know why he wantonly emasculates me after work each day?
Look, I know it’s not proper to say “emasculates” anymore – apparently, being masculine became a bad thing last week. But let me tell you something: When you’re standing face-to-face with a green lizard the size of a sawed-off pencil, with your first-born clinging all hope on your ability to catch this anole, I can’t find a better word than “emasculate” when the wretched reptile slips from my grasp because I flinched at the last second.
As my weekly readers know, I waste a column every couple of months to tell you what a horrible parent I am. The purpose of these columns, obviously, is to warn you of parenting’s imminent danger. I also hope you laugh.
But the one time you will never laugh at being a parent is when you skittishly reach for a lizard and end up grabbing the stem of a Texas Sabal Palm. You might as well take a hammer to your windshield and immediately pick up the shards and rub them together for 37 seconds.
I don’t know when it happened, why it happened, or when it will stop, but one hallowed day a few months ago, Hank turned into Jack Hannah. If he doesn’t have some sort of creature within grasp, life loses its purpose.
The compulsive search for lizards began about two months ago. Each day, after work, I’d take two steps out of my car and Hank would appear from behind a wall in near seizures.
“Can we catch some today?” he’d sweetly beg.
Being the father who can accomplish any given thing on any given day, I agree to the mission. One day, a few weeks ago, I spent 40 minutes chasing lizards around our back yard. I missed six of them, so I moved to the one location where I knew I’d succeed – the driveway, where one of our Texas Sabal Palms doubles as a sun-soaked hammock for these feisty foes.
As I stood there staring for the right angle of attack, my neighbor, Warren, and his 5-year-old daughter, approached in bewilderment.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
I told him and, obviously, he knew exactly why I had blood dripping from my arms. He has a son and daughter and he’s ridden this rodeo before.
Within minutes, both Warren and I are standing inside the prickly brush, trying to corner a particularly slippery beast. He’s moving branches one way, I’m ducking under others, intent on being the hunters our caveman forefathers required.
And as you might imagine, we failed. Warren and I walked away from that plant in utter shame, our children staring at us like we had just put the beloved family dog to sleep.
Thankfully, my son has moved on from lizards – at least for the week. My wife’s parents live on a beautiful plot of land north of the city, and there’s an old pond at the foot of a rolling hill. That pond must have 10,000 bullfrogs in the dead of summer, so I took Hank (with a net) and promised we’d catch some bullfrogs. What we would do with them after, I had no idea.
One scoop into this pond and we raked out five tadpoles larger than those lizards we hunted earlier in the week. We brought them home, threw them in an aquarium, and Hank proceeded to take them out and play with them. He literally plays with tadpoles.
That’s safer than the crawfish he played with the week before, when some friends and I boiled 30 pounds of them. Hank asked to keep some, and I let him have five mini-lobsters as pets. At least for one day, when we released them in a creek behind our church.
We’ve been on missions to find worms, butterflies, beetles, lady bugs, and we’ve caught them all. We’ve housed four lizards on our kitchen table. We’ve had a baby frog die on the playroom floor. We watch documentaries on reptiles and amphibians rather than mindless cartoons.
It’s exhausting, this search for anything that moves. I also know that, in 30 years from now, when Hank has his first-born son, he’ll be the first to stand in the midst of his own Texas Sabal Palms, chasing creatures for his kids. Meanwhile, if you drive by my home and see me lying below our shrubs, you can keep driving. We’re fine.