I just read an old column by one of my favorite columnists Dave Berry. If you haven’t read his work you simply must. He’s brilliantly hilarious. The piece was about pets and had me in stitches because I can relate painfully well.
My pet history stems from being aware of my limitations. I’m aware that if I intend to be a halfway decent mother, I can’t also be the owner of a pet. It’s not that I don’t enjoy having a fluffy feline asleep on my book as I try to read. Or having a sweet puppy sniff my crotch every time I enter the room. It’s just, I know creatures require work and attention. And quite frankly, all my energy is being spread all over creation as it is.
But I’m not cold-hearted, by any means, so I’ve allowed my kids numerous pets. The only caveat – they had to fit in an aquarium. The pets, that is. Not my kids.
We started with mice. Three adorable fuzzy little guys. One brown, one black, and a white one named Snowball. Obviously. Mice have a short shelf life so we made various trips to the pet store for “replacements”. Of course we waited the appropriate grieving period after the backyard burial before the replacement.
By far the finest mouse we ever had was “defective”. I kid you not. The saleswoman at the pet store, who knew far too much about mice in my opinion, asked us, very seriously, mind you, if we would consider adopting a defective mouse. Dizzy became the best mouse we ever owned. Named because she ran in mad circles, like a dog chasing its tail, for hours on end.
After our mice ownership days we graduated to a rat named Daisy. Now, I actually did my research on Daisy. Having moved to the Seattle area I was bombarded with conscientious pet purchasing practices. Say that three times fast. I shopped around for quite awhile. Seriously. For a rat.
After Daisy came our hamster, Lilly. If you’re going to have rodents as pets apparently naming them after flowers makes it more acceptable. Lilly was cute and fun for a while. Until the kids found her one morning cold and hard. Quite possibly from lack of water. Or food. Or general attention. It was all pretty horrific, honestly. My youngest fell to the floor in a torrent of tears. It was a reaction unequal to her attachment to the hamster. I think perhaps she was wracked with guilt.
There’s a funny thing that happens after you give birth to a baby. You forget about the nausea and sciatic nerve pain and horrific pain of child-birth, and you decide to have more children. Pet ownership is a little like that. Even after all the drama with Lilly I decided to get the kids another pet. We upgraded again- to a guinea pig. Guinea pigs are known to be adorable, and friendly, and snuggly. And you can take them for walks! On little tiny leashes! I should have known better. Needless to say, the guinea pig didn’t live up to its dazzling reputation. Did you know that every day guinea pigs eat their weight in food? And then they poop their weight? And their urine smells like ammonia? Why didn’t anyone tell me this?? The guinea pig needed its nails trimmed. Routinely. And there never were those leisurely walks we had been promised.
You would think by this time I would have learned my lesson. But oh no. Not me. After we parted with the stinky little pig I got a wild hair to return to mice ownership. I had nothing but fond memories of those little guys. And we still had an aquarium. My youngest will be so happy, I pondered. I picked out two fuzzy adorable little guys and brought them home. I lovingly placed them in their well-appointed home filled with biodegradable padding and the most adorable two-story wooden house two mice could ever wish for. My oldest daughter was disgusted that I had brought mice home (despite her love for them several years prior). My son was indifferent. My youngest daughter was mildly excited. She held them and talked to them. We named them Snow White and Betty White.
Until the day she came running to me and said that one of them had attacked her finger. I thought it was surely a fluke. I had to test it out myself. So I slipped my hand past the running wheel, down next to the two-story rambler. Before I knew what hit me, Betty White shot out like a crazed bat out of hell with a strange gleam in her eye and bit me right on the tip of my finger. True story.
I wish there was some great moral to this story. I wish I could tell you that I have forever learned my lesson (although what that lesson is, I’m not even sure). Maybe there’s something to be said about responsibility or sacrifice or pet ownership. I have no idea. There’s no such thing as a perfect pet. Trust me, I would know. I do know we do crazy things for our kids because we love them. I do know that pet ownership, like life, is messy and complicated.
But perhaps the greater lesson to be learned here is this – never, under any circumstances, name a mouse Betty White.