“I have to tell you something.”
Oy. This was the second time in four days that my husband came to me with some kind of emergency. The first time, he told me that he found our remaining gerbil, Buzzy, dead in the tank.
As we have had a lot of pet deaths recently, we have become experts at grieving, and grieving quickly. So, that day, I left work early, picked up my 12 year old, and trekked to the pet store to get two new male gerbils. It was important to get gerbils of the same gender — our mandate was that they can’t breed — and boy gerbils typically get along with one another better than girls. Keeping in the “uzzy” theme, we named them Juzzy and Nuzzy.
Naturally, I assumed that one of the gerbils went to visit the big rodent in the sky. So I asked my husband, “Did one of the new guys die?”
“No, just the opposite,” he said. “We have babies. Six of them.”
I ran to the living room to assess the situation. It was pretty obvious that Nuzzy gave birth — this heretofore male gerbil had lost a lot of weight overnight, and was nursing six gerbils. When she was not feeding her babies, she was building a six-bedroom nest out of bedding (which is what you call the aspen shavings that line the tank).
Honestly, I was a bit intimidated by Nuzzy: She was doing this all on her own, without a doula, pain medication, wine, or moral support from a friend or her mom. Juzzy, on the other hand, seemed relaxed and calm — he just ran on the wheel and ate, like any old morning. Probably the father, I thought. If gerbils could watch television, Juzzy would have had a remote control in his little paws.
Realizing that Nuzzy was clearly a female, my son felt that she was named under false pretenses. So, we changed her name to Ruzzy — which is apparently more feminine sounding, at least to his 12-year-old ears.
We found ourselves Googling a lot about gerbils — and we learned, for example, that gerbils can mate immediately after giving birth. Wow, Ruzzy you are putting me to shame, I thought. At my six-week postpartum check-up, my doctor gave me the OK to have sex. But when I came home and my husband asked for the verdict, I told him, “Sorry, the doc said not yet.” (And I had a C-section.)
We called the pet store and told them that they made an obvious mistake in sexing the gerbils (and yes, that’s the correct way to say “determining the gender of a gerbil”). We were told no problem, we could give the pets back. And that’s what I really wanted to do — or, at least, “return” the girls — but apparently I was in the minority.
Prior to the arrival of the unexpected litter, my family was already outnumbered by furry four-legged creatures. Along with the gerbil tank, we have an ASPCA compliant 4 x 2 cage for two guinea pigs (Trevor and Remi). We also have a 30-gallon aquarium. While I never expected to have a home that could be featured in a magazine, I felt this was getting out of paw.
But my husband and — let me stress this here — only child were bonding with the babies. Fascinated by the gerbilettes, they sat by the tank in lieu of watching TV, smiling, laughing, and eating popcorn. My kid reported that his favorite after school activity was watching the baby gerbils play. He gave us reports of Ruzzy’s exemplary mothering: When one baby snuck out of the nest and was seemingly in danger, she picked him/her up and put it back. When this rebellious young one did it again, she took the troublemaker and placed him/her in the corner, on what I guessed was a timeout, apparently a universal mommy tool.
My husband and son made an offer: They agreed to throw out some toys and junk in order to make space for another tank. I felt I had already been a good sport about housing all these rodents and fish. And now there were six more? I would really like to have a nice home — or at least a basket of potpourri in the bathroom.
Then again, it seemed cruel (and let’s face it, in this political climate, very Trumpian) to separate the family. Also, having voiced my jealousy of Ruzzy, my motives were suspicious.
So, we made an agreement. To stop the gerbil population from climbing to Willard proportions, we would put the boys and girls in separate tanks. (If I could, I would have thrown birth control in the water bottle for good measure.) YouTube has plenty of videos on sexing the gerbils, and it would be a family project to watch together and become experts. (Who knows? This could be the basis for a future college essay.) While they would not be living together, at least the gerbils could see each other.
So while my home is certainly not the nicest on the block — and won’t be anytime soon — it is undoubtedly the most fun. Neighbors like to come over and visit the animals, especially all the little uzzys: Duzzy, Puzzy, Luzzy, Muzzy, Quzzy, and Trudzzy. Maybe someday I will have a home with more furniture and less animal habitats, but right now, it is more important to give my kid joy. Serendipity is one of my favorite words and sometimes you need to follow its path.
But, the next time, my husband approaches me in the morning with some kind of emergency, I am going to put on my headphones.