It’s amazing what you can learn when mice move in with you. Two months ago I was out and about town with no more on my mind than doing some light shopping. I found a parking spot near the pet shop and, since my three Boyz were with me for the weekend, we decided to go in and take a look around.
Since I have an apartment I can’t have a dog and I really don’t care for cats. (Other than the brief moments of joy spent frustrating and confusing them.) But as we passed by the feeder mice I thought to myself, “I could use a couple mice around the place to keep me company, watch out for burglars and stuff.. and if I don’t take some home they’ll be a snake-snack within the week.” So I asked the attendant to outfit me with a home for them. Next thing I knew I was getting a terrarium, bowl, aerobic wheel, food, shavings, salt stone, Lysol, water bottle.. oh, and mice. I let each of the Boyz pick out a mouse and thus Oreo, Honey (both males) and Dot (the one female) moved in with me.
Living alone has it’s advantages, but having my new, little roommates actually did make a positive difference. (The only negative difference could be handled by changing their cage regularly and spritzing with the Lysol.) When I come home first thing I do is walk in the door and check on my little buddies. It was the very first night that I realized I had to turn their exercise wheel on it’s side before I’d get any sleep with that squeaking sound it made.
Now, life in the ‘Mouse House’ had it’s own sense of politics and karma. It’s much like observing a small biosphere of life on spaceship-Earth. Oreo was definitely the aggressive, dominant male of the ‘house’. He was faster, just a little bigger and exerted his power by stealing food from Honey. Honey was more of a laid back, intelligent mouse. If Oreo stole his food, he knew where to get more.. plenty for all. As for Dot she was the lady in demand. Oreo busted his move first and hardly gave Honey a chance to even get aquainted with Dot. She was getting so much “attention” from Oreo she had to watch her back anytime she stopped to eat or sleep.
After about a week I noticed two things. Oreo had finally had ‘enough’ of Dot and now made eating and lying around his main goal in life. Eat and sleep, maybe a bored attempt at the old wheel just for kicks once in a while. Meanwhile, Honey “knew” he was in a terrarium. He was constantly trying to find a way to make an escape. I still don’t know how he’s able to get eight inches up and cling upside down from wire mesh since there’s no way he can climb glass walls. But he’s pretty clever. I put an empty toilet-paper tube in with them to see what their reaction would be. Oreo sniffed it and went to the other side of the cage. I guess he figured if he couldn’t eat it or mate it, then it served no purpose to him. But Honey walked right up to it and then walked through the passage, turned around and walked through it again.
Dot came by and checked out the cardboard tube. Sniffed it and proceeded to start shredding it. Hmm. She has been getting pretty big lately. Sure enough, once she had it shredded she began building a nest for the little ones. Now I was worried. Just how many babies can a mouse have at once? Maybe just 3? As many as 25? Well, too late for birth control… there would soon be additions to the ‘Mouse House’ thanks to Oreo’s diligence. Meanwhile, Oreo just ate and ate, and ate until he just about doubled in size. It were as though Marlon Brando had given him a vision in the night or something.
Well, a little more time passed and I came home from work, checked on the mice as usual. There was Honey getting a drink of water and there was Dot, panting with that “When are these things gonna come out!” look on her face. And Oreo, silly guy, there he was buried completely under a pile of shavings with only his nose pointing out. He never did that before. Then I noticed his nose wasn’t twitching. I looked at Honey and he looked at me. I looked back at Oreo and Honey went to put some more shavings on Oreo. I went to the kitchen and got out a fresh pair of chopsticks from the cupboard. Setting the shavings aside I gave Oreo a gentle poke. No response. I came back again with a sandwich bag and a white napkin.. Oreo had eaten just one sunflower seed too many. I wrapped him up and put him in the freezer until the Boyz and I could give him a proper burial the next week. Now it was just Honey and the expecting Momma to be.
The very next morning I woke up and there, in the nest fashioned from the paper roll were two tiny little baby mice! Dot was breast-feeding them and Honey was walking around kinda confused. (I think it took him by surprise.) As the babies got bigger day by day I noticed that every time Dot had to leave to get a drink of water, eat or just spend some time on the aerobics wheel.. Honey would go and lay by the babies to keep them warm. Once the babies got their fur it became obvious that one of them was marked exactly like Oreo and the other was just like Honey! (I guess Honey snuck over one night after all.) I named Oreo’s baby ‘Nick’ and Honey’s baby ‘Nack’.. both males.
Pretty soon they had a routine going, Honey made a pretty good Father. I couldn’t help but wish some people were as considerate as he was. He kept Nick just as warm as his own son, Nack. He was there right on cue whenever Dot needed to just ‘get away’ from the babies for a little while. Meanwhile, he never gave up his one hobby of trying to figure out a way to find an escape route and explore new horizons.
Nick and Nack are almost adult now and not so long ago Dot had six more babies! Unfortunately only one survived. Gideon, the smallest runt of the runts was born tiny and feeble.. I really hated to seem him pass away since he actually survived the longest of those that didn’t make it. The first four died so quickly, before I could even give them names. As for their brother, the one I named ‘Bumper’ because he would have these spasm and suddenly run around literally bouncing from one wall to another.. he lasted second only to Gideon. Of the six, only ‘Smudge’ made it through. Smudge has an even mixture of his Momma’s black fur mixed with Honey’s golden coat.
Dot is expecting again. Throughout all the turmoil and loss, life goes on. Honey takes it all one day at a time and just takes it for granted that the “Big-Hand that brings us our daily food” will just keep on providing. If the next litter has better luck surviving I may decide to get a bigger terrarium. In relaying some of this to a fellow co-worker he responded in his tense, ‘William Shatner’ voice.. “They’re mice, dammit! They’re just damn mice!!” Perhaps. That day at the pet shop that’s all they were, just mice with no names. But it’s when we bring them, or people, into our lives and actually spend time getting to know them.. observing them, caring about them that our thoughts and views are affected in a very real way. We can learn from almost anyone, or perhaps anything. Especially when we give even a little of ourselves to the concern of others. That’s what giving does, it changes us and those we take time to give to.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.