You guys. Ellis the Cheetah died. It has been a few weeks since he passed on to Cheetah heaven. But we are still talking about it. Mostly at night when it is quiet and Hank is alone with his thoughts. He suddenly remembers the empty cage at the zoo and sadly reminds us all that Ellis the cheetah is in fact dead.
It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We had just returned from vacation. Like we were still unpacking and Hank announced that he missed the animals so he would like to go to the zoo. And we are easily influenced by toddlers, so we went. Hank typically has a plan when we go to the zoo. It typically changes weekly. But it always involves an Icee. Today he had decided the cheetah was his target. Naturally the cheetah cage is all the way on the other side of the zoo.
We schlepped all the way across the zoo, anxiously anticipating the viewing of Ellis. Then I saw it. The sign that announced Ellis had passed on to a better place. Hank and John were still trying to spot him when I said “John, look.” John made that “yikes” face as he read the sign. And then Hank said “What does it say?” Long pause. “Hank, the cheetah died.”
“Where is he though?
“He died honey.”
“I want to see him.”
“No, he is gone. He is buried in the ground.” (I have no idea what they do with Cheetah bodies, but this seemed appropriate.)
And then he sat on the bench overlooking his friend’s empty cage. It was like a scene from the “Lion King.” Very sad. He sat there for a while. Kids walked by and looked for Ellis. Parents read the sign and shuffled the kids away with the distraction of the tortoise next door. I was concerned why none of these children could read the sign. John was concerned why none of these children wanted to read the sign. (That is why we work as a couple…I am worried about skill while he is worried about desire.)
As we sat, reflecting on the life of Ellis, I had one of those parenting moments. You see, I didn’t tell Hank that Ellis died to help him understand death. Or because I don’t lie to my kid. (God knows I lie to him a lot. If he asks, the store is all out of suckers and Mc Donald’s has very limited hours). I told him about the death of Ellis because I know my child. I know Hank gets obsessed with things for a very short amount of time. I know if I told him Ellis was just gone that day, we would look for him Every. Single. Time we went back to the zoo (which is almost weekly). I know that if I didn’t tell him then, I was going to tell him in 6 weeks because I was sick of making up stories about where he was. And now that Hank knows, I assure you he will be done talking about it in a week or two.
I did not judge those other parents for sweeping their children to the next animal or the other parents who said Ellis must be on vacation. As far as I know, the death of Ellis may have ruined their little girl’s day or sent their son into a full blown melt down. They know their kids. I hope when they heard us tell our child the Cheetah was dead, they didn’t think “Those people are nuts.” I hope they thought, “Those people know their child.”
Above is my favorite series of pictures from the zoo. My favorite part of it all is Gus’s annoyance, as if saying “If you are going to tease a monkey with your snack, this is going to happen to you.”
*I realize there are no pictures of Ellis. A cheetah hiding on the back fence under a tree doesn’t make for a great photo op.