F is for Frog

Every day he wanted to be the first to arrive in his classroom so he could feed the tadpoles.

He would drop in a piece of lettuce for them to nibble. He would linger there, where sunlight fell through the small tank. He liked to be alone with them in a way he didn't like to be alone with himself.

The way he didn't like being alone out on the playground, wishing someone wanted to play pretend wizards and dragons with him rather than always kicking a football around.
The way he'd felt alone when his best friend wouldn't let him play football and said, "you think you're cool, but you're not."

The way he felt when he looked in the mirror at home and didn't like his own face.

Every day after school, he couldn't wait to tell his mother the latest about the tadpoles. He wasn't always sure she was listening, as some days there was an impatience about her; she would get phone calls from his ailing grandmother who had trouble now even opening a plastic container of a precooked chicken; she would tell him to go pick up his Legos, just as he was going to tell her about the tadpoles having begun to sprout their legs.

When she did listen to him, was when he wasn't sure he wanted her to – when he'd actually told her about what his best friend had said, about him not being "cool." He was in bed, and she lay down beside him, ready to stroke his hair, but he had buried his head under his pillow. He didn't want to hear what she had to say, something about how one day he'd understand that being cool wasn't important. Which mean to him that she didn't think he was cool either.

He'd hid his head under his pillow, just as he had covered his ears when she'd come up behind him in the mirror and told him he was a "beautiful, beautiful boy."

The tank began to turn green from sitting in the sun for weeks, but the teacher left there so the frogs would be warm. It was magic – how one day they were fish and then the next, frogs. Frogs were magical. Like wizards. And dragons.

And he wanted one. So when it came time for the lottery as to who would get to take one home, his mother let him enter it. maybe because he knew that she worried he didn't seem to like himself very much.

He won a frog, and they brought him home in a tupperware container and poured him into an old beta fish bowl.

They had no gravel. Nothing. Mr. Frog swam frantically around.

"He needs a place to hide," his mother said.

"He didn't have a place to hide in the school tank..."

"Everyone needs a place to hide. Even the beta fish, remember? He had that cave. And even you. Like when you hide your head under your pillow. Or cover your ears."

He felt like covering his ears now. And she knew it, saying, "Lets go get some rocks outside for him."

And then she was boiling the rocks to get rid of any parasites. He wondered how she knew to do this. She shrugged. "I don't. I used to have to boil your baby bottles."

She stirred the rocks. Then she laughed. "Rocks for dinner?"

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