Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lessons I've Learned From A Guinea Pig

#1 - A guinea pig is an R.O.U.S.  

For those of  you who may not be Princess Bride aficionados, that means Rodents of Unusual Size.  By my estimate, two thirds of their unusual size must be comprised of bladder, because they tinkle all day long.   

#2 - They also shed.  A lot.  They shed like a middle aged, hormonal woman who has recently given birth and who heavily colors her hair.  I'm pretty sure they even shed while they pee, which is All. Day. Long.

#3 - This means keeping a guinea pig cage clean is really hard.  The smell permeates everything.  For this reason, I may have once or twice wished that our guinea pig would "just go away".  Worse, I may have wondered what a used pig would fetch in a garage sale.  I'm not particularly proud of these moments, but I'm just saying, I do love a fresh, clean smelling house.
#4 - Guinea pigs are cute.  They do not have long, naked tails, which puts them in an entirely more attractive category than rats or mice.  They do have short legs, wide noses, and buck teeth, which puts them in a category with Uncle Fester.  Cute, in a homely sort of way.  If it weren't for the relentless stink factor, they could fall dangerously close to adorable.

#5 - Hayden carries a brightly burning guinea pig torch.  He got his first pig, Clementine, just before kindergarten.  She lived one year and died while we were on vacation.  My Mom was here housesitting and had to deal with it, which I am now sure I greatly underestimated at the time.  Our second pig, Penelope, only lived three days.  She was evidently sick when we brought her home from the pet store.  Hubby found her one morning before he left for work and took care of her for me.  Our third pig, Daffodil, has been a fixture in our playroom for the past four years.  You might think, after five years in the pig business, that Hayden would lose interest in shoveling pig poop.  To the contrary, the funny little friendship that existed between boy and bug eyed rodent just grew deeper by the year, and Hayden's little torch burns brighter today than ever.

#6 - For a boy who randomly remembers to do things like brush his teeth or pick up his clothes, pet ownership proved to be quite a character building experience.  Regardless of how crazy our schedule got, Hayden would check on Daff every single night before bed.  He wouldn't go to sleep until he was satisfied that her food and water bowl were clean and full.  Sure, it may have been a stall tactic, but their nighttime routine was mutually beneficial.  :)  He got to go to bed five minutes late every single night and she got a fresh snack right before gearing up to root around in her cage all night long.

#7 - Guinea pigs, who are extremely low energy and basically just sit still and wiggle their noses, apparently provide a level of companionship that is very satisfying to certain little boys.  Hayden would grab Daffodil from her cage in an "I'm bored!" kind of day, and she would keep him busy.  He created mazes for her, crammed her in the back of toy trucks for rides through the house, and plopped her in his lap while he read.  Even though she didn't do much, he found her fun, and it was his precious sense of satisfaction with her that made me not mind the shedding and the smell quite so much.  She was upstairs, out of my way, but right in the center of Hayden's little world.  It worked well for all of us.

#8 - There is never a good day for a guinea pig to die.  Not when the pig has become a comfortable part of your daily routine and you aren't tired of her or ready to see her go.  And not when you have a list of important things to do to prepare for an appointment at 1:00.  

Yesterday was a very sad day.

Hayden headed upstairs just like every other Friday...with a trash bag, a roll of paper towels, and a bag of shredded bedding.  Then there was great sadness.  I just hate that he was the one to find her.

#9 - There is never a good day for a pet to die.  Especially not when hubby is already at work and my mother isn't slated to come pet sit.  There are very, very few moments when I really dread being a Mom.  Dealing with an expired R.O.U.S. really makes the short list.

#10 - There is never a good day to drive a pet to Nana and Papa's farm to bury it in the pet cemetery.  Especially not when Papa has plans to be gone for the day.  But, because he is a gem, Papa agreed to go to the pet cemetery and dig a hole for me so it would be ready when I got there.  He left us a shovel and a little cup of Lyme.  (You have to sprinkle Lyme in the grave so the wild animals won't try to dig it up.  Really, this is quite a list of things I've learned from guinea pig ownership.)  I mentioned to Papa that the pig was in a shoe box.  Certainly Papa was thinking about my gigantic size 10 feet and the whopping boxes my shoes must come in when he dug that hole.  I could have buried a refrigerator box.  :)  However, I am extremely thankful I didn't have to shroud a creature that could have fit into a box that size in one of my hand towels and chauffeur him to the family farm in the back of my mini van.

#11 - I have never felt as helpless as a Mom as I did looking in the rear view mirror at my son, his arm resting on the stride rite shoebox sitting next to him.  There was a lot of friendship represented in that box.  And a lot of good memories too.  Nine is a tricky age.  Hayden is maturing so fast and is growing into young manhood in so many ways.  And yet, nine is still a little boy too.  Daffodil made me see and appreciate these "middle years" so clearly yesterday.  I so badly wanted to wipe away his tears and cheer him right up.  But I knew that wouldn't be the fair thing to do.  Saying good-bye is a tough part of life, and it is hard but necessary to stumble with feelings of loss and learn that they hurt.

#12 - We got to the farm, and Nana was waiting with a great big hug.  Hayden and I drove the golf cart out to the back of the property, where he immediately commented on the "cup of sugar" that Papa had left for us on the mound of dirt.  (The lyme.)  He shrugged his shoulders, but didn't ask any questions about it.  He just set to work, doing the best job ever.  I just sat and let him do his thing.  He shoveled so hard, stopping occasionally to wipe the sweat....and the tears.  He asked me to help him make a little mound of dirt for the popsicle stick grave marker we had made.  I asked him if he wanted to say a little prayer to God before we left.

"What would I pray about?"

"I'm not sure.  Anything that's on your heart.  Would you like to thank God for guinea pigs and tell Him your favorite thing about Daffodil??"

He didn't need to hesitate much.  He bowed his sweaty little head into his dirty little hands.

"Dear God,

My favorite thing about Daffodil is that she was all mine and I could call her my own.


#13 - It's a very good thing in life to have things we can call our own.  They can teach us a lot and help us to grow. 

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