Thereby hangs a tail, or three
500 Words: Personal Challenge
I haven’t always been musophobic. In fact, I used to love mice. That is until a few mice and rat related incidents occurred during my high school years, which left me vulnerable to a phobia. Volunteering to take home an excess white mouse from the Science Department was fine until the slippery little sucker did a Houdini and disappeared from his cage. Following mouse poo trails for days to no avail resulted in mum insisting on a mousetrap…and you can work out the ending to that tale. I got another excess white mouse a year later, which I didn’t look after properly during the long, hot summer holidays. Finding him dead in his cage, stiffly contorted, was traumatising (and guilt- inducing) to say the least. Dissecting half-thawed rats in Year 8 biology probably caused my musophobia to truly take hold. At my all-girl school, watching scalpel-crazed teens laugh hysterically as they plunged blunt blades into limp, bloated rat bodies, sent me scurrying onto the side benches as I tried to stop dry retching. When the girls took sadistic pleasure in pulling out the large intestines and using them as mini skipping ropes in the lab, my fear of mice was confirmed. Rats and mice… and me…no way! So when as a parent, many years later, my kids were looking for a pet that was cute and cuddly and easy to care for, a trip to the local pet shop saw my daughter and two sons swooning over multicoloured mice which just happened to be ready for new and loving homes. And, the pets shop owner assured me, my children could each have a mouse at a reduced price because we would be buying in bulk. Pets were so good for kids, teaching them responsibility and how to care for living things…you know the spiel. As my children jumped up and down, oohing and aahing over the superior qualities of each mouse, their individual colourings and markings, I started to remember my not so happy encounters with these creatures in the past. The droppings, the dirty cage, the sour urine smell, the escapees, all came flooding back to me. “Mum, they can be friends! We’ll get all boys so we don’t get babies. They can play together while we’re at school. Please mum! Please? And we’ll look after them, we promise!” My fear of mice was right there staring me in the face. Should I really let this silliness stand in the way of what could be a happy childhood experience for my children? Should I accept the personal challenge now before me, face my fear, and let my kids bond with the vermin of their choice? In our own home? When I uttered a somewhat strangled “Yes,” I was hugged and kissed and assailed by squeals of delight. We bought a deluxe mouse cage, complete with gymnasium, and big enough for three, and the kids got to each choose their very own furry friend. Things went well until my youngest son’s mouse began working out, day and night. “I can hear him all night mum,” my daughter wailed. “He’s running on his wheel all the time!” So my youngest son’s mouse grew bigger and stronger and became the alpha male. When my daughter found her mouse dead soon after, there was much wailing and finger pointing. Alpha male then set about worrying my middle son’s mouse to death. Finding the small stiff body in the bottom of the cage again caused much angst for alpha male’s owner. Soon after, with no other males to monster, alpha male carked it as well, much to my youngest son’s horror. When the kids began pleading for replacement mice, females this time, I decided that my last attempt at stepping outside my musophobia comfort zone was enough. I suggested that perhaps goldfish would make good pets.