Through the looking glass: Pigs ‘n things

 In my forty-two years of existence on this planet, I have done everything from animal research to running a 911 center with some Children’s Services and pet therapy thrown in for color. Before you extrapolate that I am a materialistic, slacker, disenfranchised stereotype of Gen X who just can’t seem to find her niche, however accurate that might be, these are all a lot more related than you might think. More impressive than anything else I have accomplished or failed at in my life, I have also been a parent for over nineteen years. That in itself has taken as much of my life as it has given. I don’t believe you have to be a parent to understand that.

Education and training prepared me for each career step I took. Mr. Rogers, my sisters and Discovery Channel prepared me for the rest. I think I was better prepared by the latter. Well, for childbirth at least; everything after that has been plagued with trips to the emergency room and principals office, occasionally followed by a visit to the bank. In that order.

One of my most profound moments came when I realized that we parent our own children based on, or in spite of, our own parents. Take a moment to ponder that. I took several.

As parents we often endeavor to teach our children the basic principles of life emulating, or abandoning, the methods our own parents adopted. One such method is through various small pets that we relent to allow in our homes. Care for these creatures ultimately falls on the shoulders of the children, teaching them the vital lesson of reciprocity; the care they provide is evident in the health of the particular rodent, fish, reptile or other critter of choice. How affectionate the pet becomes is a testament of their love and devotion. In the end, if the critter dies of solitude or starvation it rests on the shoulders of a neglectful 8-yr-old and we stand back shrugging our shoulders and giving a ‘I told you so’ look. As parents we are chastised by peers (and Barbara Colorosso) by saying those words, fortunately as teens we perfect our non-verbal communication and use it well thereafter. As our children stand weeping over their beloved critter we are comforted by a few things: 1) We no longer have frantic trips to the pet store wondering how long the critter has been out of food. 2) We no longer have to play find the fish/rodent/reptile/bug through the mess of their habitat that hasn’t been cleaned in a month. 3) And here’s where we see the truth behind our parent’s lessons; We really had no emotional attachment whatsoever to this critter so we get to adopt a Sam Elliot demeanor, teaching a life lesson in the harshest of situations. “Boy, get the gun. It’s time to be a man.”

In a brief moment of altruism, more likely a failed attempt to keep up with Johnny’s family who was populating the next Arc, we agreed to allow a small pet. We took our then 6-yr-old, Sarah, to the pet store and she picked out a guinea pig. It’s important to note, he was the ugliest pig I’d ever seen. She brought home this homely creature and loved him… abundantly. He was constantly in her arms. We brought him for show and tell. He went to the grocery store with us, had her friend ‘pig-sit’ when we went to Disneyworld. He was accepted to be Sarah’s pig! To help compensate for the obvious void the other children felt, and to further our cause in competing with Johnny, we then got Alice. Alice was a bit of a demon. The only person she didn’t blatantly chew on was then 14-yr-old Abby. She hated Josh, 16 at the time. She once tried to rip out his jugular with her teeth. His words, not mine.

So we now had two Guinea pigs named Mojo and Alice. Their sexes were ascertained after the first litter. Despite Mojo’s lack of aesthetics, he went on to successfully procreate… ugly babies. So ugly, in fact, that the pet store refused to take them! The second litter confirmed Alice’s rampant fertility. It might be interesting to note that, according to Wiccapedia Mojo would have had to… well, get busy the very same day the first litter was born to allow for the gestation of the second litter. Moment of silence for all the violated female cavies in the world. Moment of thanks that I am not a Guinea Pig.

Fearing we were actually a prime contender in the race to populate the arc, we decided to get Mojo neutered. Yes, you can indeed neuter a Guinea Pig. Astounding when you consider that in Peru they’re a delicacy! I mean, I wouldn’t dream of neutering a chicken. That’s just weird.

So, about a month later, Mojo sneezed. Apparently that was a critical clue. Quipping “bless you” was not only counterproductive but bordering on neglect and sadomasochism. Honestly, who knew? I did notice that their bin was amazingly clean and I didn’t need to refill their water everyday. I admit I was relieved to not be woken at night by the constant banging of that damn bottle against the side of their bin, but it honestly didn’t occur to me that it may not have been a silent blessing from the sandman to allow me to sleep. When I pulled Mojo’s lifeless body out of the bin on a few days later, I immediately knew something was wrong. I believe it was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

Alice appeared to be pining for her beloved and refused to eat. In my meager attempt to placate my guilt, I brought home a new littermate last night. My attempts were in vain as Alice succumbed to her respiratory infection three days later. Apparently much more lethal than a broken heart. I administered antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications (obtained by the vet I promise) but helplessly watched her die slowly in front of me.

So we are now stuck with the ‘guilt’ pig, named Mickey. I found it very interesting watching how each child reacted to these morbid events in our home. Did I mention my sadomasochism tendencies?

With the death of these cavie icons, I braced for of tears, perhaps a little snot and some heartfelt eulogies. I was mistaken. No Sam Elliot. No guns. Sarah shrugged and sported a ‘shit happens’ kind of face and dutifully went back to Sponge Bob or Scooby Doo. Maggie, eight at the time, acknowledged it by making some comment to the effect of “awe, poor piggies” and that pretty much concluded her grief. My son. All six-foot-two at the time. Tearful and broken, dug holes for these two rodents. Yelling profanities at the circling hawks and owls that were eyeballing these easy meals, he lovingly carved crosses, etched their names beside ‘Old Yeller’, and buried them side by side under a tree overlooking the field.

Abby was inconsolable. Often quoting Shakespeare and Gone with the Wind. I’m pretty sure the hamburgers that she so lovingly mushed together and shaped for me where seasoned with salted saline and snot. What an interesting dynamic. Not naive to the power of his daughter’s tears, Dion promised to take Abby shopping for a new cavie and Josh has already bonded with Mickey. All I could do was sit back and marvel over the drama that had unfolded.

To answer your potential train of thought, besides our dogs we had no other pets. We had fish. They died. We had frogs. Also died. Had crabs, gave them to a gal in the city. That’s a bit of a long story, and not nearly as interesting as you might think! So that’s it. Dogs and Guinea pigs. Until such time as Dion allows us to have a reptile, which he is currently holding fast to his guns on. Really, rodents are better than reptiles? I don’t get it.

Dion quite effectively avoided all this personal growth by sitting nightly in a hotel room in Edmonton. Now, before you chide him for shirking his familial responsibility, he really would have preferred to be home. He didn’t just run for cover when piggies started to fall! He was on a week long course with RCMP to learn how to do investigative interviewing. Can it be much more complicated than playing ‘good cop, bad cop’? Apparently a week’s training worth! Who knew?

Upon completion of this course he could incorporate all his new knowledge at home deciphering the greatest mysteries of our household like who really poured hot candlewax in the sink. It would be years before the truth of that cold case would come to light, having sufficiently convinced my teenage daughter that there is no longer a threat of repercussion and that I am a cool mom able to roll with it. Again proving that while training and education are an imperative tool in society, they are no match for Mr. Rogers, my sisters or Discovery Channel.


Jennifer Barry is a writer for the Spectator Tribune.
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