The tale of Ralph

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??”

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9 years ago

Well let me say this, you are the Mother of all Mother’s to allow a mouse in the house. Here’s to Sugar’s long and healthy life.

9 years ago

Lol! I loved this. 😀 And you have more nerve then I…. If it’s the size of a mouse, has ears like a mouse, squeaks, scurries and/or has gray coloring, it WILL not enter my home…. Lest my darlings see how well their mama can climb walls. In her socks. In 2 seconds flat. Sigh. Yes, mice and things that resemble them make me shiver… and more! Kudos to you.. And thanks again for the day-ending laugh. 😉

9 years ago

Shari, you’re a star! First of all you made me laugh for the first time today! Which says a lot for today! And you are way up there on the list of ‘wow’ mom’s! Thanks again! Keep writing! I totally enjoy it!:)

9 years ago

So…you didn’t say what happened to Ms. Ralph…? How does one “get rid of” a pet mouse? Put a trap in her smelly cage?

9 years ago

We have two carnivorous felines. Ahem.

9 years ago

“But WHAT ABOUT THAT MOUSE??” I kept the chuckles inside until that line and then I had to answer the “What??!” questions and read the whole thing aloud to the man on the couch! 😀

May he rest in peace. (The mouse, not the man.)

9 years ago

This is too funny! So glad it worked out in the long run!

9 years ago

Funny. We had a female rat and she was an angel. When she died, we bought two more and the pretty store clearly didn’t know how to sex them as they were both males.
They were messy, smelled horrible and fought so bad we had to device the cage. We figured female rodents the way to go. No more rodents though… Maybe when the kids get older and ask for a pet 🙂

9 years ago

Great story!!!! You’re brave to even go mouse shopping let alone allow one to live in your home.

I think I’ll like Sugar better than Ralph even if Ralph was the prince of mice.

mom coblentz
9 years ago

Grinning thru the whole story! You provide great entertainment! !
But I too wondered about the demise of ms mouse…. that another story comin’ up? ?

9 years ago

A pet mouse, wow!!! I am sure he was cute, but yes, that would take something to get used to!!!!! I like to watch them in the pet store, but I also like to leave them there!!!
We have a male parakeet that is truly the best natured, upbeat songster ever. Then we put a female in with him, and she was the sassiest, meanest bird you could imagine. So we had to get rid of her!!!!
Pets are so much fun, but they are work. Hopefully Kelly will be able to feed her own pets soon. ? 🙂

9 years ago

Ok, a MOUSE??? I killed 14 of them when we moved to our farm house a century ago. I kill mice, you buy them.
I admire you. Seriously. 🙂


9 years ago

Funny to read, but not so funny in real life. I’ve made late night trips out to Jojo’s cage this winter, fearing she was dying of neglect. Sugar seems cuddlier than Ralph.

9 years ago

Oh yes, you’re a great mom! I had gerbils when I was little, and they make great pets. When they escape they behave like any other rodent, but we shall hope that never happens to Sugar. Or you!

Lucinda J
9 years ago

Too funny!

Ruth Anna
9 years ago

The first pic makes me shudder. I HATE mice! Go you…for allowing one in your house. I also wondered what happened to Ms. Ralph, until I read the comments section. =) Cheers to the gerbil! =)

9 years ago

Had a similar incident involving goldfish. Only my daughter discovered the fish floating belly up. What do you tell a child when they ask if the fish are in heaven with Daddy? Sigh. I’m not sure what I said, but I am pretty sure I redirected her attention. 🙂

9 years ago

It’s really amazing how God has squeezed so much intelligence and personality into such tiny creatures. I’ve enjoyed several little rodent pets, and they always make me wonder at the creativity and humor of such a great Maker. A fabulous way to introduce children to many important life lessons. I wish you the best, and much fun!

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