I was coerced into this gerbil adventure. I want to make that clear. I was talked into it.
The Pet Store Lady said they do best in pairs. Of course. We should buy two, she said. I agreed, but only if she could assure me they were both males or both females. I didn’t want to get involved with raising another family. The current one consisting of three young human females was challenging enough.
The pet store lady picked up two of the little things, one in each hand, turned them over and felt them up with her thumbs. “Both males,” she said.
So I bought two gerbils, soon to be known as Bert and Ernie. I also bought a glass cage, which was a terrarium-look-alike thing with a screen covering the top. (Could these little critters leap out?) I bought gerbil food, a gerbil water bottle, gerbil litter for the bottom of the cage, a wheel so they could keep themselves in tip-top physical shape, gerbil toys and gerbil treats. Don’t get me started on why tiny rats need toys and treats.
Things went smoothly for a month or so. I got used to them. The girls would take them out of their cage and play with them on their bedroom floors. Not so bad. Not as bad as I thought.
One morning we heard little squeeky noises coming from the terrarium. OMG the damn things had just given birth to six babies. Two males my foot! I felt like asking the Pet Store Lady for my money back, but the girls loved them -- all of them. I rationalized. It’s a teaching moment, I thought.
The damn things had more babies, then still more babies. Pretty soon I had to buy another terrarium, more gerbil litter, more gerbil food, another gerbil water bottle, more gerbil treats and toys.
Gerbil mishaps were frequent. One unlucky guy leaped over an upstairs stairway railing while the girls were playing with him and landed on a tile floor below. He lived, but apparently had a closed-head injury because he walked with his head cocked at kind of a 45-degree angle for the rest of his life.
Another one lost a body part when somebody tried to pick him up by the tip of the tail. She was left with only his tail between forefinger and thumb. He lived, too.
I’m not even going to go into detail about the gerbil who bit my youngest daughter on the finger. It scared her so much, she fainted.
As they died – and some of them did die – we had to bury them in the garden, occasionally with homespun eulogies and prayers. One of my daughters kept digging them up to see if she could see their bones yet. Another teaching moment.
We finally drew the line and decided it was time to wrap up the gerbil adventure when, one day, we counted a dozen babies in one of the cages. The next day, there were considerably fewer babies; the next day, even fewer.
The Pet Store Lady said when living conditions get overcrowded, the frightful little creatures eat their babies.
That did it for all four of us.
In those days, the girls were constantly getting invited to birthday parties. Sometimes, with three daughters, I was buying two or three birthday presents a month. We started putting baby gerbils in boxes, punching holes in the lids, wrapping them up and giving them as birthday gifts.
We got a dog, named her Jingle. She turned out to be a much better adventure.
P.S. I was kidding about the birthday gifts. I wouldn’t do that to another mother. I don’t remember how we finally got rid of the disgusting little cannibals.