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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

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About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to the share the good times and discuss the challenges of...  (More)

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The life of Zarf

Uploaded: Jul 27, 2014
Are you considering acquiring a tadpole to introduce your young child to the wonders of developmental and marine biology? Consider the possible consequences of such a purchase!

My daughter's friend, Laura, received an African dwarf tadpole for her birthday in first grade. She named her new pet Zarf. As anticipated, Zarf sprouted legs and lost his tail over the next few weeks in a fascinating transition to his adult frog form. With an average life expectancy of five years, Zarf was not expected to survive to see Laura graduate from elementary school, and yet, this year, it is very likely Zarf will still be with us when Laura graduates from college and starts her adult life. Zarf just celebrated his 15th birthday.

Not only has Zarf lived an exceptionally long life (for a frog), he has lived a life of drama, including three close brushes with death, two involving cats. Once, the family was actually in the process of giving Zarf a respectable burial when he twitched. Upon being returned to his tank, he perked up and carried on. It is difficult to tell whether Zarf is dead or alive because he often goes hours without moving at all, lifelessly floating at the water's surface. The family has implemented a two-day rule. No burying Zarf until he has gone more than two days without moving.

Because of Zarf's predilection for appearing dead, it is not easy to find pet sitters for Zarf. We were entrusted with him for a week. He is very low maintenance, a weekly sprinkle of frog food is all he requires, but after a few days it got a little tiresome having every visitor to our home ask why we had a dead frog in our family room, so he was relocated to a less conspicuous location, my daughter's bedroom. She found his lifeless companionship a bit creepy, so he was relegated to the bathroom.

Laura was at our home recently when she received an urgent call from her panicked family. Laura's family consists of the most accomplished, capable and educated people we know. They are intellectual, pragmatic, world travelers who take on life's challenges and crises with admirable composure, wisdom and competence, except when the crisis involves Zarf. Laura was informed that Zarf had trapped his back leg behind a rock that a well-meaning pet sitter (not us) had purchased for Zarf's amusement, and he was drowning. The family demanded Laura return home immediately to rescue him. Laura remained remarkably level-headed, reasoning that if Zarf were drowning, the situation was dire, and he could not wait for her to drive home. In a moment of brilliance, the family repurposed a pair of chopsticks to dislodge Zarf's foot, and reported he was freed but still motionless, unquestionably dead. Sadness descended over us all. The immortal Zarf was no more? Suddenly a burst of cheering and applause emanated from the phone, he twitched! Zarf lives on!

If you decide to acquire a tadpole, make sure you have plans in place for its care for many years to come, as your child may well move out before the frog departs!


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jul 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm


Amanda has informed us that she wants a frog after her Betta dies. I thought the fish would only last a few weeks. Much to my chagrin, it has been with us for almost a year. Finding a dog sitter is 100 times easier than finding a fish sitter!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 27, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Erin,
I am impressed that your family has kept a fish alive for a year! We were traumatized when our neighbor's fish died while in our care. I ran out to the pet store to try and replace it (unsuccessfully).

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jul 27, 2014 at 5:22 pm

We named him with the suffix "The First" knowing full-well that there will be a Second. ;)

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 27, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

What foresight!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Jul 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Fun piece, Sally! At least Zarf is portable and survives in others\' care. I have heard parrots live 75 years and are particular about their caregivers and environment.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 28, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

And I hear there are some tortoises who can live 150+ years, although they seem less particular about their caregivers. One family in our community inherited a tortoise with their house. They discovered him hanging around the yard after they moved in and the neighbors informed them that he came with the house. Hopefully folks who choose parrots and tortoises as pets know what a commitment they are making!

Posted by PR, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 8:50 am

Hilarious and Amazing! I love it! Thank you, Sally!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 29, 2014 at 8:56 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, PR, for reading and commenting!

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

You sound like best possible family Zarf could imagine, should frogs have imaginations, and anyone who has read Wind in the Willows knows this to be true. May he be around for a long time to come.

I hope the tortoise who "came with the house" will be happy with the new occupants. Do they feed him, I wonder, or does he forage outside?

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Nora Charles,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Zarf does seem lost in his thoughts! The tortoise seems quite content with the new homeowners. He roams and forages for most of the year, but they bring him inside and feed him in the winter months.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Aug 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

That's good to know the new owners are keeping an eye on the tortoise. I worry about critters!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

I know what you mean. The raccoons around town are enormous, and the tortoise could be a slow moving snack. I guess the raccoons haven't yet figured out how to break open the shell!

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