My attitude about rodents has changed since we owned our first set of guinea pigs. Those were cute, and I liked them. However, a few run-ins since then have made me more leery of rodents. I’m not afraid of them, exactly, but I just don’t really want them near me.
Between sets of guinea pigs, somehow, I let the Goose talk me into a hamster. She was going to buy it with her own money. It was going to live in her room, and she was going to take care of it. I talked to her about the fact that she would have to change the cage by herself, because I knew a squirmy little hamster was out of my comfort zone of things to touch and hold. She agreed. She was prepared. She knew what to do. In fact, she even read a book from the library about the care and keeping of hamsters, so we were all set.
Before we left for the pet store, the Beetle started being nice to the Goose. I should have known something was up. Over an hour of being extra sweet to her, he talked her into letting him mooch off her. He had enough money for a hamster but not for all the supplies. He talked the Goose into letting him buy a hamster and keep it in her cage and use her bedding and food. Smart boy.
All the way to the pet store, I talked to the kids about the fact that these were their animals. I did not want to hold them or have to take care of them. They said they understood. I said they would have to buy the food and supplies, and they said they knew. We got to the store, and they picked out their pets. They held them and giggled and loved them. It was great. And then we left the store.
On the way home, the Goose said she wasn’t sure if she could sleep with the hamsters in her room since they were nocturnal. I reminded her that we had discussed this and they were sleeping in her room. She said she wasn’t sure she wanted them near her. I said we had discussed this. The Beetle said he didn’t want them in his room. The Goose asked if they could sleep in my room. I told her we had discussed this.
When we got home, we set up the cage in the Goose’s room. We got the bedding placed in it and put food in the bowl and water in the bottle. The new home was ready for the hamsters. They were packed in separate cardboard boxes with little air holes. I told the Goose to put her hamster in the cage, and she said she didn’t think she could. I knew I was in trouble. I told the Beetle to put his hamster in the cage, and he said, “Can’t you do it for me?” It was all downhill from there. After several minutes of me lecturing them about the fact that I didn’t want these rats in the first place, I did not talk them into touching the new pets.
I figured out that if we opened the flaps of the box and pressed the box up against the cage, the hamster would have to go in. This was my approach. We put the Goose’s rodent in first. By the time we actually got the hamster in the cage, it was so completely worked up and scared. As soon as he jumped (fell?) into the cage, he started climbing the bars of the cage. At this point, my children were screaming and running around the house in circles. Then, the unthinkable happened. The hamster squeezed right through the bars of his little jail and was FREE (!!!). He looked and me, and I looked at him. I knew only one of us could live in the house. I quickly grabbed the box he had come from and put it over him. Over the next few minutes, with lots of screaming at the mouse and at my kids, I managed to get the hamster to go back in the box. The Beetle ran and got packing tape, and I taped that box up good enough to keep an elephant inside.
We loaded the cage, the opened bedding, the opened food and both boxes holding the rodents back in the car. We put them in the trunk for safe measure and headed back to the pet store. When I got there, I immediately asked to speak to the manager. I explained to him that the cage that was designed to contain the rodent had not worked and that I could not have rodents running loose in my house. He immediately gave me a full refund, even for the open bedding and food. I’m pretty sure it was because of the wild look in my eyes, but the manager did not question the refund at all. He just did it. (By the way, major points for Petsmart and the way they handled the situation. It could’ve been ugly.)
As we left the store, I told my kids that we would not ever own rodents again, and they agreed. A year later, we got the second set of guinea pigs. So much for consistent parenting.
While we already owned the new rodents at this point, any hope of me wanting to touch the guinea pigs went right out the door last year at camp. We were at Bible camp, and we got there a few days early to get the cabins ready for the campers to arrive. I was rearranging furniture in the nurse’s cabin, which was the cabin where I would be sleeping for the week. As I moved a piece of poster board, something scurried over my foot. I didn’t see it, but I knew what it was. A mouse had touched my skin. (EEKK!) Out of instinct, I tried to jump on top of a set of bunk beds. Unfortunately, my foot slipped through the bars under the mattress, and I fell onto my arm, leaving a huge, ugly bruise. I ran out of the cabin and pledged not to return until the mouse that had attacked me was captured and executed.
The men at camp did not find this situation nearly as life threatening as I did. In fact, they had the nerve to laugh at me. They said they would try to catch the mouse, at some point. On the other hand, Mr. Everything realized the seriousness of the situation. He knew good and well that I was serious about not going back into that cabin, and unless he wanted me to leave camp and never come back, he better catch the mouse. Mouse traps were set. Within 24 hours, the men said they had caught the mouse. They didn’t actually show me the mouse, but I chose to believe they were being honest with me.
The cook started teasing me that mice always travelled in pairs. He used Mickey and Minnie as his proof of that. I don’t actually know if that’s true or not, but it made sense to me, given the whole Disney example. So, then, I began worrying about where the other mouse was. (This is how fears turn into phobias, you know.) Before the week of camp actually started, the men told me they had trapped the second mouse. I made them promise they were telling the truth and that they weren’t just saying that to get me to go in the cabin. They promised. Mr. Everything wouldn’t promise, because he said he didn’t know for sure (and, come to think of it, he wouldn't look me in the eyes, either...). For my sanity’s sake, I chose to believe that these Christian men weren’t lying to me.
Every night for three nights in the nurse’s cabin, I would lie there in bed and worry. I could picture the mouse climbing the wall right beside me (shutter). (This is the problem with having a vivid imagination.) It would take me hours to go to sleep because I was so worried about a stupid mouse. Then, I would tell myself that I was being stupid, and I would go to sleep. As the days progressed, it became easier to fall asleep. Since nothing had chewed on my toes or pooped on me in the night, I began to feel safer. I had all but forgotten about the mouse when, one evening, I headed to take a shower. I walked in and put my towel and clothes on top of the toilet. I turned and closed the door and found myself face to face with a mouse. I let out an little “EEK!” and slowly opened the door. The camp nurse and a few girls were sitting in the medical office right in front of me, and they looked at me. I just stood as still as I could and began to sing, “M. I. C. K. E. Y……M. O. U. S. E.” They started laughing. I tried to be very still because I didn’t want to scare the little critter and make him run into the rest of the cabin where he would be lost forever.
At that exact moment, a teenaged boy came walking up to the door of the nurse’s office. I said, “You! How are you with mice?” He said, “Fine?” I said, “Come here. I have a job for you.” The boy obediently came in, and I told him to catch the mouse. I left the room, because I did not need any more visual aids to add to my imagination. He grabbed a hand towel, scooped up the mouse and took him outside. The boy may not have come to the door expecting to be a hero, but when duty called, he answered. I declared him my hero, and he beamed from the compliment. (As a side note, we threw the towel away.)
After that, I relaxed a little more at camp. I’m not sure if it was because I knew the mouse had been captured or if it was because the mouse looked so sweet and innocent. He wasn’t nearly as bad as my imagination had made him. Either way, my fear did not turn into a real phobia, but it did make me never want to touch a rodent again. -Al