Tuesday, June 16, 2009

. . .snips and snails and puppy dog tails . . .

Okay, I've known from the beginning that boys are different from girls. I tried to be a gender-neutral parent, and when my boys were toddlers they used their dolls for weapons and their play cooking tools for 'rhythmic instruments' (i.e., noisemakers). I cope by taking neighbors' girls to movies and malls, and I let husband 2.0 teach them to play "Dodgeball In The Dark" and other games of mass destruction. But sometimes a girl just has to draw the line - or so I thought.

My boys have always been animal lovers. They've had hamsters, and a lizard, and various other small caged pets at various times. I said okay when the boys' godfathers wanted to give them tropical fish (and now that the weird-looking algae-eater keeps the tank walls clean, I actually enjoy them). And of course I was more than happy to get the dog (who, by the way, is a total girly girl, and refuses to do 'Sit' or 'Lie Down' unless she's on a soft surface). But for years Ben has begged for pet rats - and I refused to discuss the matter.

It's not just the basic idea of a rat. I lived in New York City for 5 years, and I saw subway rats the size of german shepherds, and I even had rats in my apartment. One night I woke up to an odd sound coming from the box of Rice Krispies on my make-shift shelf (created out of salvaged milk crates, painted green & nailed to the wall of my studio apartment). I turned on the light and noticed that the box was moving, with a large, brown tail coming out of the top and extending down the side. I did what any independent, Cosmo-girl Living In The City would do - shrieked, grabbed an industrial strength garbage bag and thick rubber gloves, and sent the cereal box & its inhabitant down the incinerator shaft. But it was as close as I ever needed to come to any of that species.

Ben pleaded, he showed me internet articles about how smart and trainable rats are, but it didn't matter how many times I agreed that the character in Ratatouille was cute, I wasn't sold. Until I needed a good 'hurdle helper' (a.k.a. bribe) to get him to keep his room clean, and I'd also run out of good chanukah present ideas for a kid who was too old for Bionicles and too young to appreciate clothing as a gift.

So Ben is now the proud owner two very cute, clean, white rats with subtle markings of caramel (which he named Peanut) and brown (Mocha). I actually enjoy feeding them, watching them take a nut into their tiny paws that look surprisingly human, seeing how daintily they nibble, how sweetly they nestle and groom each other. But I still don't like to hold them - it's too hard to ignore the tails, which still are awfully reminiscent of the Rice Krispies incident.

These days, I go to Petsmart for an assortment of rat food, dog toys, and aquarium filters, and I feel like the owner of a menagerie - but then again, that's what having a house full of boys feels like anyhow. (And at least the boys will go shopping with me when it's to the pet store - not exactly what I had in mind, but it's something!)

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