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Night Talks and Gerbils

My husband has had the honors of putting Luc to bed at night for quite some time now. Apparently, Daddy is a much better reader than I am. Every once in a while though, while ...

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My husband has had the honors of putting Luc to bed at night for quite some time now. Apparently, Daddy is a much better reader than I am. Every once in a while though, while I sit on the couch in the living room, I hear a pair of little feet coming to the foot of the stairs. "Mommy? Can you come lay with me?" Something's on Luc's mind and he wants to talk about it.

One night we started talking about his friends Alex and Jason. He told me about how much fun he had playing with them, toys they had, and the pets they had. Alex and Jason had two gerbils. He told me that if HE had two gerbils one would have to be black and he would name one Woody and one Buzz. My son, at the age of four, has figured out Mom's a soft touch. I bought two gerbils the next morning.

Luc has always been incredibly specific about everything. Luc also manages to be specific about things that are difficult to find. Just try and find a blue stuffed bunny, cement mixer, long and skinny tanker truck, black shiny shoes with tassels, or a black gerbil.

All About Gerbils

I was a little surprised when I went to the pet store. I thought gerbils would be bigger for some reason. Gerbils are small, about the size of a chipmunk. They are a social animal and should be kept in pairs. It's a good idea to get the same sex but the pet store wasn't able to tell and assured me that if baby gerbils appeared that they would take them at the store. Gerbils are relatively cheap to own. Each gerbil is about $5.00. Cage, wheel, food dish, water bottle, bedding and first bag of food will run about $50.00.

Some Gerbil Facts

  • Gerbils are social animals and should be kept in pairs

  • They like to keep their food fresh and bury it right after you put food in their cage

  • Don't use cedar or pine bedding for Gerbils

  • When you get gerbils, get them young and preferably two that were already sharing a cage

  • Save all the cardboard in your house-especially paper towel and toilet paper rolls

Buzz and Woody

While Luc was at preschool, I called several pet stores until I found a black one. I bought two gerbils; one black, one tan with white stripes, and all the necessary accoutrement. The salesgirl picked each gerbil up by their tails and put them in a small cardboard box. While driving home I could hear the gerbils scratching and gnawing at the box walls. Home, I hurriedly put the cage together, dumped a little gerbil bedding in, and set up the food and water. I got my garden gloves on and reaching into the bag pulled out the first box. As I lowered it into the cage the first gerbil popped out. He had chewed his way through the box and would have been loose in the house had I not put him into the cage quick enough. I shrieked and grabbed gerbil number two and plopped him in as well. I quickly put the screened top on the cages and hoped they couldn't jump up and push it off. (I was nervous and not thinking rationally.)

Luc loved his gerbils. He named the tan one Woody and the black one Buzz. A few weeks went by and I was starting to relax. Each morning after Luc went to preschool I would check on the gerbils making sure they had cardboard, food, and water. Peering into the cage one morning I see Woody running on the wheel but Buzz is still and covered in bedding. It was at that moment that I felt the blood drain from my face. Buzz was dead.

Houston, We Have a Problem

I immediately went into damage-control mode. How was I going to handle this? First, I had to dispose of the body. Second, what on earth would I tell my son? I called my husband in a panic. Then I called a friend who suggested a formal burial in the yard with an explanation to Luc on what happened. And suddenly it dawned on me, "Why tell Luc anything? Get him another gerbil!" I just wish it hadn't been the black.

I made a call to my sitter Alison who was picking Luc up from preschool and told her to stall. Take the long way home, find a park, go to McDonalds, anything--just don't come home until I have a replacement.

It was nothing short of a miracle that I found another black one. As I raced out of the house passing my confused husband I yelled, "bury that shoebox!" This time, I brought a heavy duty plastic container with me for the ride home. The "new" Buzz was definitely bigger than the last one. I had that story covered: Buzz grew overnight just like Clifford the Big Red Dog. Luc came upstairs just as we plopped Buzz into the tank. David and I looked at each other and winked. Yes, we are the best-we were able to trick a four year old. We decided to treat ourselves to lunch; after all, it had been a stressful morning.

When we returned from lunch I checked on the gerbils. I yelled to David, "Wow... they seem to be talking or something. They are very chatty." I smiled and thought, "Oh how sweet." Just then, Buzz pounced on Woody and all I could see was a ball of fur flailing around the cage. I screamed to David. When we separated the gerbils, we saw that Woody had been badly mangled. The whole time we were toasting ourselves to a job well done, Woody was getting his ass kicked.

Some MORE Gerbil Facts

  • Gerbils are aggressive and can have very nasty fights

  • When Gerbils seem to be "talking" they are actually being aggressive and getting ready to fight

  • If they fight once, they will fight again

  • Even incredibly injured Gerbils have the ability to take care of themselves so that they can heal

So now, the gerbils have to be separated. The pet store says, "Bring him back." David and I think of a story to tell Luc, "Well, you see, Buzz got too big for the cage so we have to take him back to the pet store." Somehow that sounded really good to the two of us idiots but when we repeated it back to Luc his lower lip started to quiver and he said, "when he gets small again can he come back?" I don't know what came over me, maybe it was that incredibly sad face of my baby, but I just blurted out, "Or we could get Buzz his own cage!" David, obviously a soft touch himself, chimed in, "We could do that!" Fifty dollars later, Buzz, and Woody now have side-by-side cages-Condos if you will. Woody lived, much to my surprise. Daily doses of bactine and lots of quiet time helped him to heal and a few weeks later he was running on the wheel again.

Some say I should have just fessed up and told Luc the truth in the first place. I don't know. If I had to do it over again, I would do it the exact same way. Except I'd find out about introducing new gerbils into an existing cage first.

2002 Copyright, Claudine M. Jalajas