Confession: My daughter got a pet mouse for Christmas. She’d been begging for one for months.
I said “Honey, are you sure you don’t want a dolly?”
No, she was sure. A live mouse that she could keep and hold in her hand.
Deep breath from Mommy. Already then.
We bought his cage and food and things ahead of time, which she unwrapped on Christmas morning to the tune of a delighted shriek and a huge grin. A day or two later we took her to the pet store and she picked out Ralph, a rather darling black mouse with a white star on his forehead. (Kelly insisted it was a heart, not a star.)
She held him often in the next few weeks. He was a sweet mouse, if there is such a thing—nice and slow. If he got away, he was easy to catch. We filled his food dishes once a week when we cleaned out his cage. He stayed clean, and didn’t bite, and got used to Kelly and his new home. He never ran the exercise wheel, just moseyed up and down his little purple ramps.
“Ralph is living a long time, Mommy,” Kelly would say happily.
Then came March, my wild month of tasks, and one week in particular when I kept thinking I needed to clean the mouse cage but it wasn’t too bad and I was so busy… I’d do it tomorrow… or the next day… Ralph seemed to be doing alright until the night I found him unmoving on his cage floor, with his food dishes empty. There may have been moments in my mothering career when I felt like a greater heel, but I don’t remember any.
“Ryan,” I said. “I starved Ralph to death. What do I do?!?”
I tried desperately to think of any way to avoid telling Kelly. May I insert a disclaimer here? I am not the kind of mother who shields her kids from the realities of life most of the time. But oh, the realities of life in the country! If it’s not a goat getting chewed up by a passing predator, it’s a darling chipmunk caught by the cats and found too late to be rescued. Entrails on our doormat. Cats always tangling with traps and vehicles. Six precious puppies all heartlessly sold to new owners despite her tears. The purpose of Ralph was to be Kelly’s very own—not to be given, mutilated, or sold, so help me God.
I decided what I would do.
The next day I made an emergency run to the pet store and found they had a single black mouse in a cage full of white ones. He was missing the star, and I thought briefly of doctoring him with Wite-Out, but otherwise—he looked just like Ralph. “I’ll take him,” I said. I hustled home, slipped him into the cage (clean cage) (freshly filled with food cage), and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But I had not reckoned on one thing: mouse personality. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
First of all, he wasn’t a he. He was a she, and she was a wildcat. She had more energy than ten Ralphs, nosing about her cage, climbing up the wire walls, scurrying about. That first night as we sat eating supper, she started running her exercise wheel. Kelly went over to watch. He learned!! The rest of us all got a case of the dry grins and tried not to show it. Having learned how, Ms. Ralph kept that wheel running, boys—day and night. I think she had a nervous disorder. Little vixen.
And then her odor!
The following day, from that new mouse in her pristine second-day cage there arose to my nostrils such a stench—(Am I getting carried away? Yes, I am.) In short, she reeked. I couldn’t enter the house without smelling her in the next room.
I hadn’t realized Ralph was such a prince among mice. Now I felt even worse.
I sat down with my daughter and said “Honey, I need to talk to you.” I didn’t exactly say how Ralph died, but I said all the rest, including “Sweetie, I just can’t live with this mouse. Can we get rid of her and let you pick out a new animal at the pet store? A hamster? A gerbil? A new mouse?” She laughed a lot and cried a little and looked at me with those beautiful wide eyes… and agreed.
The result is an adorable baby gerbil, no bigger than a mouse, named Sugar. He’s a boy—I’m not taking any more chances with girl rodents. He is very sweet. He has no discernible odor. He will spill his food all over the cage digging for the best bits, but it may have something to do with the fact that I’m feeding him every day.
All’s well that ends well. But I am sure I’m going to get to heaven and God is going to say “Well, dear, you visited the fatherless and widows in their affliction and kept yourself unspotted from the world—but WHAT ABOUT THAT MOUSE??”