I often preach that my home boasts more species of animal life than Noah’s Ark, but I have never promised that I’m totally at ease with all of them. Yes, this is the same mom who, a few weeks ago, bragged that she could cultivate her daughter’s sense of compassion by teaching her to name spiders after her favorite princesses. But spiders are not Emma–our large-toothed pet rat.
Emma is a sweet little girl. She sits calmly for both Maria and my husband and eagerly scampers out of her cage and into their hands. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, she gives me the willies. Maybe because I know she chewed through the plastic base of her cage a few weeks ago and was running around the perimeter of our basement terrorizing the rabbit. Perhaps because I’ve been nipped by a different rat with an admittedly different temperament, and the psychological wounds took a lot longer to heal than the bite marks on my flesh. Probably because my 5-year-old daughter laughs at me more than she does the Wiggles when she watches me trying to scoop Emma out of her cage so I can clean it.
This effort–which requires considerable skill–entails me attempting to lure the rat out the cage door and into an awaiting carrier case. That, however, is the simple version of events. What usually occurs is me offering Emma tidbits of very expensive baby Swiss and doing everything short of the Macarena to coax her into making an appearance. Ten to 20 minutes later (when I’ve still experienced zero success), I typically don my gardening gloves and get a bit bolder. Since Emma obviously senses my apprehension and responds with equal hesitation, I almost always have to reach in and grab my squealing, screaming fur baby before she decides to wiggle, writhe, and bolt to the basement.
Once she’s locked safely in the carrier, I break a sweat cleaning out a network of half-chewed socks, perfectly rounded poopies, and bell-filled balls that she holds dear to her little rodent heart. Oh, and I also nervously peruse her halfway house every few minutes to make sure that Emma isn’t pulling a Harry Houdini while I scoop up Hanes socks. Naturally, the cherry on top comes when my husband gets home at night, and Maria informs him how I screeched, occasionally shuddered, and inevitably spilled rat poop on the floor while I did my zookeeper routine.
Of course, I do feel a bit ridiculous as the sad facts come pouring forth from my kindergartener’s mouth, and Carl asks yet again exactly what about Emma causes me to act like I’m transporting Hannibal Lecter. I can’t give him a decent answer, especially when my daughter snuggles with Little Miss “My teeth resemble Medieval daggers.” But I can use my ridiculous skittishness to show Maria that, given my weekly maid services, I continue to do my utmost to conquer my fears for the greater good of the human-animal bond. I also use my “Emma-phobia” to prove to my kids that, though I don’t adore every little thing about her, I do, in fact, love her as a unique pet and a member of our family. (This is an especially important lesson to impart to little people who will one day undoubtedly hate my rules, dislike some of my cookie recipes, and feel absolute mortification at a few of my Christmas sweater choices when I pick them up from school.) After all, there aren’t many people in my life that I’d sacrifice my favorite gardening gloves to handle their smelly socks or equally smelly poop.
–Katie Marsico has written for Tails since 1999. In addition to contributing feature stories to the magazine, she now writes a weekly blog post for Tattle Tails, giving us a glimpse into her often funny and always chaotic life as mother, pet guardian, and writer.