A Mouse Divided

How can you not love me?

I’ve written a great deal on this blog about how much I like cute little rodents. Over the course of my life, I’ve owned three gerbils, one fancy rat, one sewer rat, and an adorably blorpy guinea pig named Pig.

I also sometimes run a mouse hotel.

This has led Jilanne Hoffmann – one of my more smart-alecky blog followers – to suggest that my pro rodent (“prodent”) views must be the result of some sort childhood trauma.

Well, Jilanne, you’re right. Thanks so much for forcing me to dredge up my past. I hope you’re happy!

Sigh. Well, I might as well tell all of you what happened.


My story takes place in the summer of 1979. I was eight.

When I was young, I loved to sleep over at my maternal grandparents’ house. In retrospect this is kind of strange thing for me to love. Yes, both Grandma and Grandpa were very nice to me (and neither thought twice about plying me with ice cream) but there was also a lot of tension in that house. My grandparents didn’t have a marriage that one would describe as “happy.”

Actual dialogue between my grandparents:

(Entering the kitchen:)
So! What’s for dinner?


I usually stayed overnight at their house by myself, but on this occasion, my six-year-old cousin, Jason, was there, too. This was great, for it was the middle of summer and my grandparents’ pool was always more fun when there was someone else to swim with.

Shortly after my Mom dropped me off, Jason and I were taking turns doing cannonballs off the diving board when I came up with my brilliant idea: I had noticed that the pool’s water level was about ten inches below the topmost edge. To my eight-year-old brain this was kind of a bummer.

“I got an idea!” I shouted to Jason. “Let’s fill up the pool to the very, very top!”

My plan was simple. We would get some buckets and go into the house. We would fill the buckets up in the bathroom sink, go back outside, and dump the water into the pool. We would then repeat these actions until the pool was completely full. Easy peasy mac ‘n’ cheesy.

There were a couple of problems with the plan, of course – the first of which is that all pools have pumps to regulate water levels. But even if that machinery didn’t exist, it would have still taken a few thousand gallons to raise a pool’s water level 10 inches. That’s a lot of trips to Grandma’s bathroom.

I had no grasp of these problems. The only problem I could discern was that there was only one bucket in the dilapidated shed that held the pool toys. But this didn’t faze me. I handed my cousin a toy tugboat. It had small holes in the top which allowed it to be filled with water. It was no bucket, but it would still help the pool-filling cause.

Happily wielding our water receptacles, we went into the house, leaving wet footprints in our wake. I filled up my bucket and turned to leave, expecting Jason to be a few steps behind me. Instead, he screamed like a banshee.

This was not part of the plan.

Little did either of us know, a mouse was living inside of the toy tugboat – and this mouse didn’t take too kindly to drowning. So, once water started gushing in it’s home, it leapt onto Jason’s shoulder just long enough to give a kid a coronary. Then the mouse scrambled into the kitchen and under the refrigerator.

Grandma was on the scene in an instant. She spotted me first. When she was agitated, she would mix up her grandchildren’s names. Without fail, she would start to call me Jason before switching gears in mid-word.

“Ja-Michael! What happened?”

But all I could do was shrug. I hadn’t seen the drama unfold.

She ran into the bathroom. I followed. There we found a paralyzed Jason – who was not quite paralyzed enough to not rat me out.

Grandma learned of my pool-filling idea. More importantly, she learned that because of my pool filling idea there was now a mouse hiding in her spotless kitchen.

To my surprise, she took the news in stride. Then she did something that was even more surprising, something I had never seen her do before or since: she sought out Grandpa.

As I mentioned earlier, Grandma and Grandpa did not get along. I learned just about every  curse word on the planet from Grandma; she used those words to describe Grandpa. I had grown up believing that those two old people had absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing in common.

But I was wrong. When it came to rodents, my grandparents were of one mind: the deader the better.

Grandpa, normally a pretty excitable fellow, was also shockingly sanguine upon hearing the news. He just nodded, hopped into his livingroom-on-wheels of a car, and glided down the street.

Ten minutes later he was back bearing mousetraps. I had never seen traps like these before. The traps my father used in our house were called “Hav-a-Hearts.” They kept the mice secure in a cage until they could be released into the wild.

My dad had this! This is a good trap.
My dad had this. This is a good trap.

Grandpa’s trap didn’t have a cage.

Grandpa gathered Jason and me to his side. “Let me show you boys how these work.” He was in Mr. Wizard mode.

With some effort he pulled back the metal bar and clicked it into place. He laid the trap flat on the kitchen table. Then he handed me a wooden spoon.

“See that spot?” he said, pointing to the trigger.

I nodded.

“I’m gonna put peanut butter there for our little friend. Now touch that with the spoon.”

I did.

And THWACK! The bar slammed down with such force it left a dent in the spoon. Grandpa smiled, I suppose he was expecting me to be delighted.

Grandpa had this. This is a bad trap.
Grandpa had this. This is a bad trap.

But I wasn’t delighted. I was shocked. Then I was furious.

“You’re not using that,” I said.

“Of course I’m using that,” he replied, a little bewildered. “You let a mouse into the house and we have to get rid of it.”

It was at about that point I became unglued. “No, no, no!”

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Settle down.”

“You can’t use that trap! You gotta use the other kind! The kind with the cage! The kind daddy uses!”

Then Grandma joined the conversation. “Knock it off, Ja-Michael! We’re not going to keep that thing in a cage!”

I could not believe my ears. Grandma was taking Grandpa’s side? Grandma never took Grandpa’s side! How could she take his side when less than an hour before she called him s***head? Had the world gone topsy turvy?

I was dumbstruck. My grandparents had joined forces to oppose me and I was powerless to stop them.

And it was all my fault! If it wasn’t for my stupid pool filling idea, that mouse would’ve lived his entire cute little life in a cute little toy tugboat. My God, he was like the main character in a picture book and my grandparents wanted to snap his spine in two!

So I did the only thing I could do under these terrible circumstances: I waved an accusing finger at them both. “If you use that, I’m going home!”

“Oh, stop it,” said Grandma. “Get an ice cream.”

“I mean it!” I screamed.

And I did mean it. I carried on like this until Grandma called Mom and told her to pick me up. My overnight trip to Grandma’s was no longer than two hours.

I didn’t say much on the car ride home. I was sick to my stomach; I was afraid of what Mom was going to do to me. Mom was the one who laid down the law in our house. I had stupidly brought a mouse into her parents’ house and then, when they attempted to deal with the problem, I screamed at them like a maniac. Maybe I had the math wrong, but I was pretty sure that was grounds for justifiable homicide.

I sat in the shadowy-est corner of the backseat. I tried to become invisible. Mom and I were quiet for a very, very long time.

She spoke first.

“What you did,” Mom said finally, “was very principled.”

That was it. As far as Mom was concerned, nothing more needed to be said. She knew how much I loved my pet gerbils. She got it.

My grandmother, on the other hand, didn’t get it. She never really got over it, either. For the rest of her life, she told that mouse story to anyone who would listen. The takeaway of the story was, “My grandson is nuts.”

But I never minded. In fact, when Grandma told the story, it filled me with a weird sense of pride. No, I wasn’t able to save that mouse. But that little guy didn’t die in vain. He radicalized my prodent beliefs — and for that I am forever grateful.

80 Replies to “A Mouse Divided”

      1. Oh, the cruelty to fluffy monkeys is going to be ringing your doorbell! Monkey munching is not appreciated by all your readers (as I’m sureyou’ll discover soon)

  1. This is a delightful story. As much as I don’t like mice, I cannot imagine using one of those awful contraptions. I’m a grown woman. I called my mother from out of town to come and solve the problem. 😮

  2. Super, fun story, Mike! However, I’m not pro-dent. I’m very much in the anti camp. We recently found a mouse in our kitchen. Need I say anything more. He found the peanut butter (your grandparents were right–much better than cheese), and then he had the nerve to try to get out of the trap. My son, dog and I hid in a bedroom while my husband dealt with the dirty deed. (One day we’ll need to get a real dog.) 🙂

      1. I hope so, but I have an awful secret. My husband owns a snake 😦 it breaks my heart every time he feeds it. I remember as a kid going to the vivarium and urging my mom to help me purchase and rescue all the little pinkies :/ and now we buy their larger kin for feeding purposes 😦

        Enough sad thoughts though, what’s your opinion on Guinea Pigs?

      2. I never understood the love of reptiles. Their eyes are so soulless. (That said, I do have a soft spot for turtles — and have rescued more than a couple of box turtles from oncoming traffic.)

        Funny you should mention guinea pigs. If I had a favorite rodent, it would be the guinea pig. They are the sweetest, most affectionate little buggers on earth. They require lots of care and attention, but they are more than worth it.

      3. Turtles and frogs are AOK in my book. Sometimes lizards. But snakes? Why do the better animals live such short lives and snakes live forever?

        I’m glad to hear we are in accord on the hot topic of Guinea Pigs 🙂

      4. I also like the Galapagos iguanas. They look so simple.

        No disrespect to your significant other, but snakes? Pure evil.

        I think my dream job would be “Guinea Pig Shepherd.” I wouldn’t be shepherding them for food, mind you, just for cuddling. Does such a job exist?

      5. My heart just exploded at that job title! I’m in San Francisco and our zoo has a Guinea Pig farm. It’s a tiny plot of land, with a red barn and small picket fence for them to all hang out in. Who needs fancy Tamarin monkeys when you’ve got Guinea Pigs!!

  3. Awesome, Mike! Yes, you should turn this into a PB. I can see the little mouse outwitting Grandma and Grandpa in the end. The little guy goes to live at your house in a lovely rodent hotel. Everyone lives happily ever after. Cue the water music. There won’t be a dry eye in the house. And yes, you are very principled. I like it.

  4. I’m on the fence here. If I could get rid of my unwanted house guests in the most humane way possible, I would. But the live traps are no match for the non-rent-paying house guests. If it comes down to the safety of my wiring or them…..I don’t want to say which way I’d go for fear of offending Ja-Michael.

    1. Ja-Michael has proven time and again that peanut butter will lure any mouse to any trap. So you might as well lure your mouse to a humane one!

      If you need me to swing by your house and give the little buggers a good home once you catch them just say the word!

  5. Aw…great story. I’m glad I never saw a rat/mouse killed in one of them, though I do remember seeing them around the house. I’m with you…rodents deserve to live too. In fact, it was a rodent that made me feel safe enough to go back to bed when I had woken in terror, certain there was a tarantula in my bed…darned Brady Bunch episode of a tarantula crawling up Peter…scaring me to death. After stripping my bed and searching high and low, my parents decreed that the soft fuzzy sensation I had crawling up my leg must have been a mouse. And believe me, a mouse was way better than a tarantula and they are kinda cute…and we did have mice in the house, at least I’d seen mouse poop behind the cushions. Sounded pretty plausible to me. So as I drifted off to sleep I dreamed of cute little mice curling up next to me. 😀

    1. Aw! He wanted to cuddle!

      But yeah, mice poop everywhere. That is perhaps the only reason I bother to catch them at all. If I could get them to use a litter box they could stay for as long as they liked. I’d even provide dinner!

      1. I’d bet that you were a fan of The King, the Mice and the Cheese. I have to admit…I loved that book!

  6. I just love this story Mike! And I love that your Mum got it. Principled is an excellent word for it, and any child willing to take a stand on anything with that much of the stuff, should be mightily encouraged in my book. I was 11 when I decided to turn vegetarian after a TV program called Jungle Burger,. details of which I won’t go into on this family friendly blog. My Mum’s response, ‘OK sure, but then you have to help cook your own meals.’ Hugs, H xxx

    1. Becoming a vegetarian at 11 is principled!

      I have never head of Jungle Burger — and I think I’m glad for that. I’ll just trust your view that the program is more than capable of turning a person away from meat.

  7. Dude. I am in awe.

    As the childhood-owner of many, many (many, many) gerbils, often at the same time (my parents are educated people, but have no skills in determining the gender of small rodents before the pregnancy of the subject renders the question moot), the successful college-smuggler of a Chinese hamster of which I was extremely fond, and the parent of a child who might be receiving her own Rodent Of Small Size this Christmas (if she cleans her room), I am staunchly on your side when it comes to traps.

    We may own cats, but those have only (and inadvertently) been used as a preventative measure (along the Scared Straight lines) for small wildlife creatures who might desire to winter uninvited in our house—never punitive. If a mouse is found, the cat gets shut in another room until we can safely relocate our visitor.

    We have a garage, a woodpile near the bird feeder, and a couple of Have-a-Hearts in my MIL’s lower level apartment, where the cat isn’t allowed. I draw the line at negotiating with the Squirrel Mafia on their behalf, but I’m not good at that, anyway.

    1. Wow. An (inadvertent) gerbil breeder!

      Gerbils are wonderful creates, aren’t they? They’re smart, clean, friendly, and cute as a button. A gerbil was my first pet — and will be Alex’s first pet, too.

      As you have probably guessed by now, despite my bluster, I don’t have a real problem with cats. My problem lies with cat owners who allow their cats to live their lives as free range, reckless killing machines. I am delighted — though not at all surprised — to hear that, catwise, you are awesomesauce. You, my friend get the Official Mike Allegra Rodent Respecter Lifetime Achievement Award (OMARRLAA).It is well deserved.

  8. You can really turn a great story. I snorted coffee out of my nose (“poison”) and shook with fear (“Justifiable homicide.”) I love the parenting lesson here too. Every once in awhile our parents really surprised us, and we can do the same for our kids.

  9. Unfortunately, one of my more recent rodent stories is a sad one – my sister’s cat caught a mouse the other night, and had broken its spine before I could rescue it and get it outdoors. But I did still put it outside to die in peace in a leaf pile somewhere, rather than being tormented further by the cat.

    Otherwise, we have voles living in the backyard by the chicken pen, and I have a big, fat brown field mouse living happily off the old tomatoes in my garden. Those guys can stay. They aren’t in my walls and trying to break inside.

  10. This story is just so…so… well the word is PERFECT. You have the kid, you have the kid scheme (filling up a pool – priceless), you have the characters (loving grandparents who hate each other – priceless), you have the crisis (mouse in boat – screams – murder plans) and you have a young boy who learns about sticking to his principles, no matter what. You’re going to say I’m being too nice, but really, writerfellow, this needs to be a children’s book. Truly.

    1. You’re being too nice! 😉

      But you might be onto something with the children’s book idea. As soon as I get this NaNo stuff behind me (and spend a few more months rewriting and editing the mess I’m banging out), I’m going to give this some careful consideration.

  11. Dude…this is such a well told story! I was entertained from start to finish. And of course, secretly rooting for the mouse the whole time. Your Grandma/Grandpa visits sound like my quality time with my crazy grandmother and aunt, who lived together even though they made each other even crazier.

    As a young lassie, I learned all of my bad language from these two old southern ladies. Since I grew up in Southern California, I had very different views on race, politics, religion, and animal rights. I spent entire summers with them and I believe this is where I truly blossomed as a writer. I imagined myself escaping every day. 🙂

  12. Oh.

    This post put a smile on my face. Not all people see the greatness in small rodents…but they should! They don’t want to tear your face off like most other animals!

    Thank you for sharing the post, it made my day 🙂

  13. Mike Allegra! I love your blog! I’m so happy to have found your jam today, this is a bright spot in cyber world! 🙂

    Thank you for this hilarious story – I cry-laughed over the “livingroom-on-wheels of a car” scene.

    I shall stick around in the hopes that one day you’ll tell the story of a pig. I think they are really sweet. 🙂 🙂

    Wishing you much peace and joy today,


    1. My earliest memory of a mouse in a house: sitting in the mud room putting on shoes to go outside and a little critter ran right over my hand. I freaked, my brother freaked because I freaked, my mom came to check on the ruckus and lept onto a chair, which seemed like an astute move. By the time my dad showed up on the scene we were all on chairs screaming. Ah the birth of a child’s phobia…

      No more screaming about mice these days, though there is a tired sigh when I find the poop. I am prodent, but I prefer the pet variety!

    2. Maybe he’ll tell us about the pig owner he wrote about as a journalist…
      It’s a great story complete with cute pigs and a pig owner ready to take on city hall!

  14. This is a great story and you really were quite principled. I wish I could tell you I was that principled but a couple of years ago we had an intolerable mouse infestation. We tried everything to get rid of them humanely. Nothing worked. By the time I broke down and called the professionals I was a nervous wreck and hadn’t slept in days. Again, I insisted they get rid of them humanely. Again, the mice one and their numbers grew. In the end all my furniture was destroyed and most of my appliances were chewed through and I moved. I don’t know if the owner of the house ever got rid of them but I still have nightmares of them crawling over me in my sleep.

    1. Holy cow! Mice drove you from your house?! I’ve never had a mice situation anything like that.

      I would say that you are the principled one, Michelle. Even with all that destruction you insisted on humane removal. You are amazing.

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