When my husband, my daughter, J, and I stepped in our front door after soccer practice, my neighbor Susie followed holding bags and a cage in her arms.
She said, “I bought J a rat for her birthday.”
I said, “Funny.”
She said, “I asked J what she wanted for her birthday, and she told me that she wanted a rat because they make great pets.”
Susie pointed to a cage that contained a gray and white baby rat with a snake-like tail and an anteater nose. The rat disgusted me.
I told Susie that I thought that she should have asked me first. However, though I was angry, I wouldn’t jeopardize our friendship over a stupid mistake.
The rat stayed and J was ecstatic. She named her new pet Oreo.
J kept Oreo in an aquarium in her room. His tail and four yellow jagged front teeth repulsed me and I worried that if he escaped, I might have to capture him.
Daily, I entered my daughter’s room, and I forced myself to touch Oreo’s back with my index finger. Within two weeks I held him, though he still revolted me.
My daughter quickly bonded with Oreo and walked him on a leash ensuring that anyone who saw her questioned her parents’ sanity. She also dressed him in a silky-short-sleeved-pink top and mesh-tutu-doll outfit and transformed him into a transvestite ballerina.
One day, Oreo struggled to breathe and seemed in pain, and we took him to a vet. While we were in the waiting room, a woman approached my daughter and asked if she had a kitten in the bag.
My daughter said, “No, it’s a rat!”
The woman’s eyes widened and she loudly sucked in her breath, then she pivoted and hurried to the opposite side of the room.
We saw the vet and he sent us home with antibiotics and soap because Oreo was also losing his hair. Can you imagine the neighborhood gossip if we allowed J to walk a bald rat?
J treated Oreo by sliding an eyedropper filled with antibiotics into the corner of his mouth, and he accepted it. Though it nauseated me, Oreo also allowed J to bathe him, and his health improved.
One day, as we cleaned Oreo’s cage, he escaped. I called his name, and he ran from under a cabinet and allowed J to pick him up. He was smarter than I thought and became a good pet.
The day he went to the big cheese, J and I cried while my husband gleefully ran to get the shovel. Though I bonded with the rat, the experience confirmed that a live animal or rodent should never be an impulse gift.
When, Susie’s daughter’s birthday arrived, I called Susie and said that I had her daughter’s gift. I told her it was an anaconda with a year’s supply of food.
I put a lot of thought into this, and I never said that a reptile wasn’t a great gift.