The Guinea Pig Will Save Us

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The surest sign that I’ve lost my mind during this pandemic? I just bought my kids a guinea pig.

And before you say, “but you can’t have just one, guinea pigs are social and need to be in pairs,” allow me to point out that there is, in fact, a RODENT SHORTAGE at this time.

That’s right, a rodent shortage. (I got the last guinea pig in a 25-mile radius from my home after calling four pet stores; and we only got him because he was mistakenly ‘not transferred to the sales floor’ upon arrival, which made me feel super gross about buying something from a place that treats living creatures like department store merchandise, but these are desperate times.)

So maybe the surest sign we’ve ALL lost our minds is that parents everywhere are shelling out substantial dollars in order to welcome small, furry creatures into their homes; creatures that will stink up our children’s rooms, party all night, drive our existing pets nuts and poop everywhere. I’m not sure who decided guinea pigs were cute and mice were vermin, but it seems pretty arbitrary to me. Mice must be like ‘what the actual s#!t?’ right now.

But I digress.

So how did a house that already has two kids, two dogs, two cats and countless lizards ‘saved’ from outside come to decide it needed another pet? In my defense I am smart enough to stay out of pet stores since the last time my children and I all went together (unsupervised by any voice of reason, aka their father) and returned home with a betta fish, a crab, and a rescue kitten.

No joke.

But apparently you can’t stop kids from meeting their friends’ pets (there ought to be a law). So when my girls ran into someone who’d just adopted his own GP, their full-court press began.

To buy myself some time, and hoping they’d forget about it, I implemented all the requisite responsibility checks before I would even entertain the idea of a guinea pig. I said things like, “prove to me you can handle the responsibility, prove to me you know how to care for it, prove to me you won’t gag cleaning out the cage”, etc. etc. (The last one was tough to gauge, I admit).

But once they nailed those challenges and I realized they weren’t giving up, all they needed to do was answer a simple skill-testing question designed by the Math department at MIT and we were good to go. Okay the last part didn’t happen, but it should have.

To be honest, I half-assed the whole ‘prove to me’ thing. I was tired. (We’re all tired.) But I also started to really get into the idea of a new pet. I started to believe a guinea pig could save us from going completely over the edge during the dumpster fire that is 2020. Maybe a GP was just what we needed, a welcome distraction from everything else. THE GUINEA PIG WOULD BE THE CHANGE. (T-shirts pending).

Let’s face it, the past six months have sucked for everyone, especially kids, and I really wanted to do something fun for them, something appropriate for house-arrest, something that might make up for the fact they’ve barely seen their friends in six months. Side bonus: guinea pigs are relatively inexpensive compared to the other crap they’re dying for, like motorized skateboards, iPhone XXVIs, and Ugg (Ugh) boots.

Yup, this was starting to look like a pretty good plan. And that was before I realized the GP could also be used as leverage. Every good parent knows this is the best reason to give your kids something they want.

Now I can say, "finish that essay on the solar system, THEN you can play with the guinea pig." Or, “empty the dishwasher, THEN you can play with the guinea pig.” So instead of Target, we went back to school shopping at Petsmart and everyone came out a winner. $175 (!!!) later we had a cage, food pellets, hay, toys, a water bottle, special vitamins, bedding and an adorable beige, brown and white guinea pig whose latest name is Cookie. He’s soft and snuggly and makes really cute noises that I am choosing to interpret as contentment. We love him.

Now we all gather around in a circle on the floor and play with Cookie, the same way pioneer families might have played with small livestock before eating them. Sometimes we light candles and listen to the radio to complete the throwback vibe. It’s very wholesome and my kids are into it. And weirdly, it is working. Cookie is making us all feel better about the chaos and uncertainty that sometimes feels overwhelming. How will online learning work? When can we see our friends? When can we go back to school? Why do we have to stay home and wear masks on the rare occasion we get to go out? Who cares! We have a guinea pig!

I’m being a bit facetious of course but truthfully, focusing on something so small, delightful and new has reminded us to be a little more gentle and sweet with each other. Cookie has reminded us that there are things to be excited about, things we can still feel good about. He’s brought my kids together and given them something they can share willingly and happily after months of forced togetherness and hours spent staring at separate devices.

And what happens when he’s no longer the shiny new penny everyone wants to play with? That’s easy, I’m hiring a mouse.  

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Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at wineandsmarties.com.

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