Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Of Gerbils & Georgia


Last night Jonah begged to have the gerbils "sleep over" in his room so we moved the tank in there. Georgia went in to say goodnite to Cotton and she shouted, "Mom, mom, Cotton fell asleep in my hand! Isn't that sweet?" I got the knot in my stomach as I approached them.

Cotton had seemed rather subdued yesterday, and frankly, she's always seemed a touch Tiny Tim but I just attributed that to her being the runt. I looked at her and though she was still breathing, this was not a well critter. We put her back and as the implications dawned on Georgie, she collapsed into sobs. Millie, in true sister solidarity, joined her in the crying.

I told Georgia I'd take Cotton back to the pet shop so she could be with her mama, and we'd get her another of the sisters. "But I don't want another sister, I want Cotton, she's the only white one. What if the other sister looks too much like Millie's and then we can't tell them apart? (wail)" Next, "Is she gonna die?" How do you respond when the answer is yes, but that's only going to accelerate the meltdown? "If you take her back to her mom and she's okay can she come back to us?" Tricky one. What I was trying to do, chicken that I am, is somehow have my cake and eat it too, convince Georgia that Cotton could be okay if she returned to her mom, but somehow not okay enough to return to us. So I reminded her about Timothy P. in our ward, a sweet baby born with lots of complications who is doing great, but may always need to be cared for by a parent. That sort of helped. Until Millie started saying, "Every time I see something white, I can only think of Cotton. The pillow is white--Cotton! That blanket is white--Cotton! That webkinz is white--Cotton!" Wailing all around.

Meanwhile, Jonah kept coming in trying to report encouraging things. "She just drank a drop of water" or "She's just moved," and then made a really awful imitation of jerking limp paws. He pulled me aside and broke my heart when he said, "The trick is to never get attached, never let yourself care too much and then you can't get hurt." What a sad, sad thing for a kid to say! After Sticky II's demise, I offered to let him try again and he said no, it was too hard to lose them. My jaded 11 year old.

Finally I had to separate the girls to get them to calm down enough to fall asleep. But I coudn't. First I did some internet searches and figured out that she most likely had a respiratory infection. If I can just get her thru the night, I reasoned, I can go to a pet shop and get some Ornocylene (bird antibiotics) and start treating her. It'll be hard, but we can do it I told myself. And I prayed, wanting this to work out so that when Georgia's faith in a merciful God wavers I could say, "Remember that time Cotton was sick but we prayed and then she got better?" So I kept vigil, checking on little Cotton every few hours using a flashlight. At 3:30 she was still breathing, but her sister Minky had left her alone which I took as a bad sign. By 6 she was gone.

When the pet shop opened I called and Loretta was very kind, saying the white ones tend to be more fragile and that she'd happily give us another one. Though Dave had promised Georgia she could pick one out, I decided I needed to. What would Georgia say when she saw the cage with the mom and kids but no Cotton? The truth is I can't handle that. I started to cry and called Sande who loves pets and knows my history with them. As I'm crying to her I say, "What is wrong with me that I am losing it over a gerbil we had for 3 days!" Sande, ever wise, kindly reminded me that there are a lot of layers going on. Losing the two Stickys coincided with me losing babies. I truly felt I could not keep anything alive and channelled a lot of my sadness into the gecko's death. And my daddy grief is just under the surface, waiting to bubble over. My sister is in the same state. She attended a concert Saturday nite and when the soprano sang "Danny Boy" (which was sung at my dad Dan's funeral) she lost it big time.

I gently wrapped Cotton in some tissue and buried her in the backyard under the rosebush Shelly H. gave me when I lost that last baby and thought about all the things that die that we love, pets and babies and parents, and sang some Danny Boy in my head: "But come ye back when summer's in the meadow, Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow, 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so."

I dried my eyes and went to the pet shop, with a lie for Georgia freshly formed in my head to explain why I didn't wait for her to pick one out: "There was only one sister left so I got her." And the lie turned out to be wonderfully true and Loretta boxed the final sister, frisky and healthy. Driving home, I remembered that Georgia's class was on a walking fieldtrip and on impulse I drove to what I thought their route would be. As if on cue, Georgia's class crossed the street and approached the corner where I had just pulled up. I rolled down the passenger window and shouted, "Hey little girl, wanna pet my gerbil?" No, no, I didn't say that. Instead I hollared to her teacher that I needed to see Georgia for just one second and as she ran over and saw a small cardboard box, her face lit up and she screamed, "My new gerbil!!!" I let her peak in the box and then shooed her back to her class. I don't know who was more excited by the new sister, Georgia, or Minky who literally jumped and chased and had the happiest of gerbil-sister reunions.

I've decided that if Georgia asks where Cotton is, I'll tell her I returned her to her mother [earth]. If she pushes for more, I'll tell her, but if she's content to leave it at that, so am I.


Georgia & "Emma"

11 comments:

EmilyCC said...

This has to be one of my most favorite posts on a blog. Ever.

Heather said...

Thank you. I am waiting for Georgia to come home so I can take a picture of the human sisters with the rodent sisters and put that up.

belmomma said...

oh man, that is so sad! Hopefully things will work out with this little lady. And dear sweet Jonah trying to boost their spirits.
Great post Heather.

stephanie said...

this one had me crying.

PS. Eloise saw the picture of you and Bea and said, "I love Aunt Mama."

Dava said...

Why am I crying over a simple gerbil story? Oh - maybe it's because it's not so simple and it's not so much about gerbils. Darn good post! (As usual.)

mskaz said...

Hi, I'm Belmomma's favourite (notice the CDN spelling) SIL. For some sick reason, Jim sent the link to this for me to read saying he thought I'd like it. I'm not sure if he thinks I like crying first thing in the morning or if it's a subtle hint that I should prepare myself for my sweet dog's demise or that he knows I cry at the song Danny Boy. Gosh.

Anyhow, that was sweet post. You are a pretty good momma to get your kids RODENTS in the first place!

aisy said...

mskaz told me to read this (and I'm actually belmomma's favourite SIL)...

this was a really beautiful post. thank you.

Mary and Jared said...

I love this life story. I am glad that your rosebush has company.

Rebecca said...

Oh Heather. I love you to death. Who else can make me laugh and cry in the same darn post. Seriously, who else?

Stefawn Von Gordon said...

Remember Fred the toad, who died during a downpour on Christmas Eve... and got to spend the next 6 months in a coffee can in the freezer?

Stefawn Von Gordon said...

Oh, by the way, if Georgia discovers your blog, you're busted...BIG TIME.