I got my first pet when I was around 10. My parents had finally caved in to the incessant whining of the 4 of us girls begging for our own pets, animals we swore on our lives we’d feed and love and clean up after and whatever else it is you do with small rodents kept in a cage in the corner of your room. And while my sisters all picked out hamsters, I instead took a dare to be different approach and went with a gerbil that I creatively named Gerby. Then one day I was playing with Gerby and the ungrateful little fucker bit me with his little yellow rodent teeth and it pissed me off and I never picked him up again. And you know what happened to Gerby? Gerby kicked the bucket.
And before the grass even had a chance to regrow over the spot in the backyard where my dad buried him in a shoebox, I begged and I pleaded and I cried for another one. Because while my sisters’ hamsters were all thriving and making litter after litter of little hamster babies despite the fact that the pet store guy swore up and down to my dad that they were all male (ha! I vividly remember with the first litter Becky running down the stairs yelling, “There are little pink things coming out of Sugar’s butt!”), I somehow convinced my parents that I absolutely must have gotten a defective gerbil and I needed a new one. So once again, my parents gave in and on a trip to the pet store with my dad who was dropping off half a dozen hamster babies (oh yeah, pet store’s mistake=pet store’s problem), I got another gerbil. And after reaching deep down into the depths of the core of my creative childhood imagination, I named him Gerby II. And one day Gerby II started jumping uncontrollably in his cage, seizures of some sort I’m guessing, and it freaked me the fuck out and I never picked him up again.
R.I.P. Gerby II.
And now here I sit looking back at the whole experience through my new eyes as a mother knowing darn well that despite the 2 dogs that we already have, Summer will eventually ask me if she can have her very own pet to feed and love and clean up after and whatever else it is you do with a small animal when you can barely tie your own shoes. And I find myself asking if having my own pet at 10 years-old taught me love, responsibility, patience, and consequences as a little girl. And you know what? No. No, it did not. I didn’t learn that from a pet until I was 16 and our family dog fell down the basement stairs and broke his leg and hip and I was in charge because my parents were out of town and I ended up driving all over the freaking state with a panting doggie crying out in pain in my front seat who I honestly thought was going to die while I tried to find a 24-hour animal emergency center at 11:30pm on a school night. Now that is a lesson learned in responsibility. All Gerby taught me was that rodents have ugly little yellow teeth and they bite hard and have seizures. That, and if you ignore your problems long enough, they’ll eventually go away – a fact that was later reconfirmed by Gerby II, my dad and a shovel.
And this, my friends, is why I vow right here and right now that if Summer ever asks for a pet of her own, instead of taking her to the pet store and letting some little creature with a long stringy tail and beady eyes teach her the fun lessons in life, I’ll take her to Target with me when i choose to buy an 8 pack of new socks and underwear instead of doing laundry because I just don’t wanna. And I’ll teach her to put Pizza Hut on speed-dial because sometimes you just cant be bothered with grocery shopping even when you have an empty fridge and a hungry husband waiting at home. Then I’ll teach her how to coast in neutral past the gas station all the way home when the car’s gas light comes on because sometimes you just really want your pajamas and the couch and the gas station will still be there tomorrow. And I’ll teach her all of this without having to bury a dead rat in a shoebox in my backyard.
And then maybe I’ll buy her a plant.