Perhaps for some of you the word “gerbil” brings to mind a somewhat hazy (and disturbing) rumor involving Richard Gere, an emergency room, and an unfortunate rodent. Even I experienced a vague sense of discomfort when, last week, the word started being bandied about our house casually and with some frequency.
But you must banish those unsavory images (which were solidly debunked as urban legend) from your imagination, just as I have. You must do this because, you see, the newest member of our family happens to be a gerbil, and I’d like you to welcome her with a clear heart and a pure mind.
Friends, meet Nibbles. Nibbles, meet my friends.
I never thought I’d be a gerbil owner. I actually never thought we’d have rodents of any kind in our house, even though as children, my sisters and I had guinea pigs and mice (and ducks and a chick and salamanders and a snapping turtle and two parakeets and a cat and two dogs).
My parents were very tolerant of pets, and owning pets seemed to teach us responsibility. Which is why I caved. (Who doesn’t want their kids to learn to care for an animal?)
Or at least it’s part of why I caved. Here’s the rest of the story:
Last year, Stella got in her head that we should have another baby. “Let’s get a baby,” she said at least once a week.
“Oh no,” I said each time, “we’re done having babies.”
But this explanation wasn’t satisfactory, so I was forced to go into more detail, explaining that me and pregnancy don’t really mix (to which she responded, “adopt one!”). I explained that we didn’t really have room in our house for another baby (to which she responded, “You can fit a bunk bed and a crib in our room! No problem!”)
But I just kept saying, “No sweetie, we’re not having another baby. I feel so happy and so lucky to have you two girls.”
Finally, she said, “Well then how about a dog?”
So we started talking about dogs—a lot. We talked about a timeline (after Zoë turns 3) and a plan for a non-shedding, hypoallergenic dog (so D’s not miserable). We talked and talked and talked about dogs, about breeds and sizes and possible names.
And then a few weeks ago, my sister adopted the nicest cocker spaniel from the Human Society. Patch is calm and adorable and great with kids. So when Rachel said they couldn’t take Patch on their vacation, we quickly agreed to take care of him. It was the perfect opportunity to see how we would do with a dog.
Well, Patch is perfect (except for his separation anxiety and penchant for shredding things when he’s anxious) and having him was great (except for the late-night and early morning walks and the fact that Zoë kept trying to ride him and smother him in blankets). He was perfect and overwhelming, and D and I quickly realized that if this sweet dog was too much for us, we definitely weren’t ready for a dog of our own.
So imagine my delight when, last week, Stella said, “I think I want a hamster instead of a dog. Can I get one for my birthday?”
“Great,” I said. “Done.”
But after research about the frequent biting and completely nocturnal habits of hamsters (not to mention the hamster salmonella outbreak I read about online), we decided a gerbil (a creature that is slightly less nocturnal and tends to be more social) would be a better pet.
Friday, September 3
2 p.m.—Stella and I visit PetSmart and look and hamsters and gerbils. The staff reinforces our decision about gerbils.
2:30 p.m.—The begging begins: “Please, please can we get it before my birthday? I need it. I need it.”
3:00 p.m.—Names are discussed: Peanut or Nibbles?
3:30—7:30 p.m.—The lobbying for a pre-birthday gerbil begins in earnest. We finally agree that sometime the next day, we will go get the gerbil.
Saturday, September 4
1:30 a.m.—Stella is awake, in our room: “Are you sure we can get the gerbil today? Do you promise?” Kate: “I promise. Go to sleep.”
4 a.m.—To D: “Do you promise we can go straightaway in the morning? Do you promise?” D: “Shh. Yes.” (He has no recollection of this conversation.)
6 – 11:45 a.m.—Many tears because “noon isn’t ‘straightaway.’” Me: “True, but deal with it.”
Noon—We all pile into the car, go to PetSmart, sign papers, see Nibbles, decide he is definitely a Nibbles, buy appropriate (and expensive) paraphernalia: cage (check), ball (check), food (check), treats (check), bedding (check), mineral licks (check), chew toys (check). D says I have a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face. I feel as if we’ve just purchased our first house.
1:30 p.m.— Nibbles is home and seems to be adjusting. The rule is this: no hands in her cage for four days (the salesperson recommended this so Nibbles could become acclimated.)
Sunday, September 5
Sometime in the morning while I am at the coffee shop writing—little hands go into the cage and try to hold Nibbles. Nibbles tries to escape. Tail fur comes off in said little hand. There are many tears. There are many different versions of the story.
12:30—I get home from the coffee shop and notice blood in Nibbles’ cage, blood on the exercise wheel, blood on the food dish, blood on the shredded toilet paper roll. I call PetSmart. The vet is at lunch. I am told they will call me back.
2:30—The vet is not a small animal vet. They recommend a different clinic.
3 p.m.—D takes Nibbles to a clinic in St. Paul. A shot is administered. Nibbles is sedated. An amputation of the “de-gloved” portion of her tail occurs.
3:30 p.m.—I get the whole story after I assuage my daughter’s fears (“But I’ll get in trouble! I didn’t listen!”) about telling the truth. Lessons about following directions are learned. Lessons about being honest are learned. Everyone feels better.
4 p.m.—D and Nibbles are sent home to recuperate. Nibbles is tired, but fine. I look at the vet bill and try not to cry. “We have the most expensive gerbil in town,” I say. D has a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. I pour myself a glass of wine.
The following days are spent cleaning up Nibbles’ droppings to prevent a tail infection. They are spent washing hands and trying to regain Nibbles’ trust. They are spent wondering whether a gerbil is truly less overwhelming than a dog, or even a baby.