(Originally posted 2015. Still accurate but for kid ages.)
I believe it could be argued that my thirteen year old son is trying to get me to kill him. He is certainly giving it the old college try. More than once (okay, more than ten times) this week, I have told him that I am not obligated to like him, and at this point, I do not. I am, on an almost cellular level, obliged to love him, but I do not have to like him. Again, right now, I do not. Not even a little.
Any one of my children will tell you they have heard me say at some time, “it is at this moment that I understand why some animals eat their young.”
I stand corrected. Almost.
My older daughter has a pet snake. This snake is just over a foot long for the time being, but I’m told this python…yes…python…will grow another five…yes…feet…in her snake life. Therefore, this snake requires a weekly meal of “mouse à la carte.” This means there is also a “feeder cage.” The “feeder cage” is designed to raise the mice for the snake so an individual helping of mouse does not have to be purchased from the local pet store each week. There were two female mice and one male in this “feeder cage,” which, given their ability to reproduce even more frequently than I, should have supplied a healthy food source for the aforementioned snake. In other words, there were also pet mice to care for, and for anyone who doesn’t know, they are really really stinky and really really loud at night. Awesome. Stinky, loud food for a snake that may eventually try to eat a human. Please note the use of past tense in my reference to the “feeder cage.”
Mice do make more babies more quickly than I do, but there is a window when the process is first started that is just stinky and loud. When the females (the girls named them, Chocolate and Sugar…tell me they’re not pets) began to look even rounder than normal, I thought this could be the light at the end of the – squeaky wheel which rotated from about midnight until 5 am – tunnel. I had no idea I would witness the most horrific docu-drama of my life as a result of these pregnancies.
It was a cold, blustery day (adding to the dramatic air) when I noticed that the male (Gumdrop) had met his maker. He was belly up by the wheel, and I assumed his short life of mating and running had simply pushed his ticker to the end of the line. Not a bad life, I figured, and I squeamishly removed him from the cage with an inside-out grocery sack. Thankfully, the girls had gone shopping with their grandmother, so they did not witness the poor stiff, and my unlikeable teenager was sequestered to his room.
It was then that I noticed the females acting strangely. They had built a little bunker in the paper shavings and were scurrying about much more than the daylight hours ever saw them move.
One of them had given birth to little pink, hairless, terribly ugly, tiny creatures. I am still exclusively nursing my baby, so my hormones instructed me to see past their homely appearance, and I felt a kind of kinship with the tiny mother (whichever one she was). I filled the water dispenser and gave them some more food pellets…and even put in a couple of pieces of carrot. I marveled at the way the two gals pulled together and appeared to be sharing the duties of the new babies, in spite of the death of the father. Maybe they were best friends. Maybe they were lesbian mice who used him for his man-juice. I was cool with both scenarios.
Then the bitches went crazy.
At first, it seemed like they were both busy cleaning the little things. I only briefly caught a glimpse of them when both “moms” accidentally left the little bunker to eat and drink at the same time. I feel I need to clarify for those mouse-breeding experts: I did not hover and pester the mice. I understand that can stress them out and they are supposed to be left alone during this time. I witnessed this episode in the periphery as I cleaned up the bedroom and put away my daughters’ clothes. So they’re fussing over the new babies and I’m cleaning the room, and all of a sudden my Mom Radar goes on high alert and I look over at the cage – and they’re eating. In the bunker. There was no food in the bunker. There are babies in the bunker.
The bitches were eating the babies.
It was as if I chose to run upstairs as the killer chased me. You never run upstairs – everyone knows that. You also should never approach the cage of an animal you know is eating its babies. That shit never leaves you. In her tiny mouse hands, she held the body of a tiny pink mouse baby.
With. No. Head.
I felt betrayed. Forget for the moment that the only reason those mice live in my house is to eventually take their babies to feed to a snake that may someday try to eat my babies – we had bonded. Well, I had bonded. I had thought of us as cross-species bosom buddies, bringing life into the world, running on the wheel that goes nowhere…eating our babies.
Whaaaaat the faaaaaack…
They ate them all. Actually, they ate parts of all of them. It was a freaking massacre. There were carcasses everywhere. Perhaps that is a mild exaggeration, as I’m pretty sure there were only four babies born that day, but it was horrific. To top it off, the mouse I now assume birthed the little pink sacrifices, put on her own tragic death show. As I watched, trying to figure out how I was going to pluck out baby parts from the shredded paper, she began skittishly running about. Over here, over there, in the little plastic dome, out of the dome she ran and stopped and ran again. She flipped on her back and to her belly like a Mexican jumping bean. And then she stopped, twitched one little murderous mouse paw, and died.
Maybe it was the guilt that killed her. Maybe Karma bested the beast. I am a Google whore, so just like any other time I don’t quite understand something, I Googled.
“Why did my mouse eat her babies and then die?”
Google did not provide the psychological explanation I was seeking, rather it appears more likely that one of the babies might have been stuck inside her and she knew she would die. Mice, like many animals, “cull” the litter if they feel there is no chance the babies will otherwise survive. The other possibility is that it’s just because they usually eat the first litter because they’re not quite sure about this motherhood thing.
Wait, what?! That’s an option?! Is that a legal defense if you wait thirteen years to follow through? You see where I’m going here…
My son does not actually want me to “cull” him, and most of the time I really don’t want to do it, either. He found some redemption that night when he volunteered to remove the dead mother and remaining baby parts because he could tell I was upset about the whole scenario. I think the most disturbing thing that came from this crazy day was the tiny part of me who understood her thought process. How different would my life be without my kids? What if I just got a do-over? What if I could pee without a baby on the boob and three more kids walking in on me?
I have five more years (at least) that I have to resist the urge to cull the first of my litter. Some days are easier than others, but on the tough days I will remember the pictures that are now burned into my mind of the tiny body parts and the death throes of the mother who, so riddled with grief, could not go on without her tiny ugly babies. That she ate. Because mice are fucking monsters.
And today at least, I’m trying to be less monster and more mom.