I’m traveling for work (and meeting Quiet Dreams!). Holding my place this week is guest poster* Melissa Nilsen, mom, birthmom and stay-at-home writer.
Melissa blogs about open adoption and motherhood at BirthMomGuide. “I am a lucky birthmom. I live in the same state as my nine-year-old birthdaughter and her wonderful family. Her mother and I enjoy getting lost in conversation, remembering the past, the start of our relationship. And swapping notes about parenthood and marriage.”
Our baby mouse died in the palm of my hand on Friday. My four year old daughter, Twila had been pining for a pet for weeks and could not understand why I kept telling her we have to wait until the baby is sleeping through the night and Minnesota is warm again before we can start thinking about getting a dog. Though a mouse was not the pet any of us had at the top of our list, sometimes pets choose their owners and not the other way around.
Seven days earlier when Twila came running into the baby’s room—as I was attempting to lay baby Jada down for a nap—whispering loudly and gesticulating wildly to try and extract me from the nursery and drag me outside, I couldn’t have known that the tiny infant mouse she had found laying helplessly on the engine of our lawn-mower, would turn our house upside down for the next week. Insane as it may seem to invest any effort into the life of a mouse, infant or otherwise, as soon as I saw his tiny, helpless body, I knew we had to try and help him.
After a quick bit of on-line research about wild baby mouse care (yes there are pages and pages written on rescuing wild, baby mice) we rushed off to the local pet store for kitten formula. After a bit of delicate coordination, Twila and I figured out how to dropper a few drips of milk into the tiny opening of a mouth under our little mouse’s nose without completely submerging him in a deluge from the too-large formula bottle. We read that baby mice needed to be cleaned with damp Q-tips; we read that they need to be fed often; we read that the odds were long. Because baby mice need to be fed every two hours, starting that night I got up twice a night (between my own infant’s feedings) to warm up kitten formula and drip a couple of drops into his mouth.
After a few days of this, Moses, as we had dubbed him because he was an underdog, was up on his feet, crawling from Twila’s hand to mine and all around in circles blindly exploring our hands. He began taking an active interest in feeding time, waking up every two hours and pawing his way to the top of the mesh, circling and rooting around for his miniscule bottle of milk. He had grown so active in the seven days we had him that Twila and I were convinced we would soon see him opening his eyes and eating seeds and fruit and other grown-up mouse treats. His playful energy gave us hope. We went out and bought a small mouse cage and some woodchips.
He was beginning to sleep longer than two hours between feedings but it had been almost four hours, I noted as my husband was bathing our daughters last Friday night, and I decided it was time to wake him up. As soon as I peeled back the final layer of blanket I knew something was wrong. He didn’t get up, crawl onto my hand, or sniff around for food. He lay almost completely still, taking a breath every few seconds.
After a few moments of deliberation, I decided Twila had a right to know what was happening. I carried his tiny body into the bathroom and told her I thought Moses was dying. She looked at the water, at her sister playing next to her, and around at her toys, avoiding my eyes. “It’s okay to be sad,” I said softly as Ryan reached for her towel.
The hours of delicately feeding him by bottle and cleaning him with warm-water moistened Q-tips had bonded both Twila and me with the little guy and we both sobbed as we sat on the floor watching him breathe, knowing we didn’t have much more time with him, knowing our hopes of seeing his eyes open for the first time were finished.
As we sat watching Moses in the final moments of his life, I thought, not for the first time, that any bystander would think this effort insane. Maybe it is crazy to try and save a mouse. The odds of survival were less than fifty percent, besides it’s not like I’ve ever been above setting a mouse trap if there is evidence of an intruding rodent in the house. Why then would I invest so much time and emotional energy in this mouse? It’s hard to explain the kind of responsibility that is bred from discovering the most vulnerable of beings: a tiny, unseeing, infant mouse. As soon as he was in my daughter’s possession, he was ours; ours to protect or abandon.
Something in my daughter’s bright face and hopeful grin; something in her tone of affection for the tiny animal, made it impossible to turn away from him. Twila’s hope reminded me what it was like to be a little girl with boundless optimism and courage. She didn’t see a pest; she saw a creature in need. I saw myself on her face, that part of me that found magic in cottonwood snowing down from the trees in spring; the part of me who searched for orphan pets to bring home and nurse back to health; I saw that part of my youthful self who found hope in the underdog winning. I could no more have turned my back on Moses than told my daughter Santa Claus isn’t real.
As Moses took his last breath, Twila and I held each other and cried, looking at his still, tiny body. Before bed we wrapped him in one of his tiny blankets and buried him out in the garden. Twila decorated his shallow grave with rocks. That night she said, “I’m glad we found Moses, even though he died, because at least he knew we loved him.” I told her I agreed. Then she said, “You wanna know the good news mom?” I said I did and she said quite brightly, “Now we can still get a puppy!”
* The views and opinions of a guest writer are solely those of the guest writer.