A “family” had invaded our garage. I’d spotted half a dozen holes—entrances, exits—and I could visualize the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the concrete where our soccer van rested. The walls were stacked to the ceiling with boxes, a smorgasbord for mice—not so much the cardboard, but the glue sealing the flaps.
I think it was my youngest son, Sean’s, idea. The “Live Trap.” Both Sean, then seven, and his older brother Jamie, nine, were Montessori trained; push in your chair, self-discovery spelling; accepting, we-are-the-world, spiritual, inclusive view on…vermin.
In a bright red star on the trap-box my wife bought, the box letters screamed out: “Humane” and “Guaranteed.” I wasn’t sure which part was guaranteed, the humanity or the trap itself, which was a rectangular plastic black box, like a miniature coffin. The directions explained the three steps in broken English:
Easy than brushing your teeth, the intro paragraph announced. Somewhere in the final three lines it alluded to a “Mouse Hotel.”
Just before daylight, Sean was up as if it were Christmas, his little knuckles rapping on the door.
“Dad, dad, let’s check the trap.”
The Mouse Hotel was vibrating as if it were stuffed with partying mice. A series of high -pitched squeaks, like nails being crowbarred out of pine, shot out of the cracks, the entrance door tripped shut.
Sean squatted like a catcher next to the trap, stared up at me with a what now look.
I picked up the hotel, held it at arm’s length and flipped open the door. A grayish flash of head, eyes bulging, lurched, then recoiled as if on a string.
“Whoa, shit.” I dropped the box.
“Dad!” Sean jumped up.
I reached down and grabbed the box. The mouse was alive, but its back feet were trapped in glue. Per the directions, you could slide out the glue floor, “empty the hotel” and “re-use.”
I slid the floor out, with the mouse gyrating, front paws shooting skyward like a drunken dancer. The back feet were mired in glue. The squeaks were incessant, timed on the second, its teeth flashing in between. I started for the door.
“ Dad, what are you doing?”
“ I’m.., I’m going to.., bury it.”
I froze. The “hotel” balancing on my palm, the mouse like a bobble-head, squeaking, writhing.
“We have to let it go.” He was standing in his pajamas, palms upturned, eyes imploring.
And so, twenty minutes later, after I’d looked up how to extract the mouse feet from the glue—baby oil—we were driving to the local park, Sean and I. He was still in his pajamas. He carried the mouse on his lap in the front seat, rigid, hands at the ready should the trap slide off his lap.
In my Dad-head I scanned the menu of life-lessons-to-be learned. When I was Sean’s age, we had no Higher-Level-Zen-Respect-All-Life Montessori models. We were merely instructed to “tie your shoes” and “get out of the house”. The lessons of Nature included stuffing wasps and caterpillars into red ant hills, then blowing up those ant hills with M-80s. Mice were rodents, vermin, and we’d set those cheap pine traps with the deadly snap-spring, then collect the traps the next day, bug-eyed mice, necks neatly snapped, staring into infinity.
So, I was teaching Sean, what? Respect for life? Compassions? Empathy? These conflicted thoughts swirled in my head as I stared at my son, mouse squeaking on his lap, his hands forming a human defense shield as he continued to talk soothingly to the trapped critter.
“It’s ok, we’ll get you out. You’ll be fine.” A mantra repeated in a voice I’d never heard from him before. Who was teaching whom?
We walked to the creek. I now held the mouse, exhausted from struggling, like a beaten wrestler, only exerting a half-hearted burst to pull its legs free, the bottle of baby oil in my back pocket. At the creek’s edge, holding the hotel floor in one hand, I pulled free the bottle of baby oil, squirted a stream onto the glue.
The mouse squawked, squirmed; I dropped the bottle, pinched the mouse behind the head, pulled. The legs stretched like taffy, comically. I could feel the tension, kept pulling…those little tendons had to give. I scooped at the glue with my other finger. The mouse jumped, legs splayed at a crazy angle. He ( I had a strange affinity for it now, had to be a dad) landed on my chest. I dropped the trap, heard a shriek and realized it was coming from me.
Instinctively, I plucked it from my chest, felt the tiny claws clinging to my shirt, tugged it free and l flung it, an extra shot of adrenaline fueling the motion. It flew through the air in a grey arc, landed at least twenty yards away at the top of the creek bank. Dead? He was curled like a letter C, then suddenly, he zagged left, right, then crawled in a broken line toward the water.
“ Let’s go.” I grabbed Sean’s hand.
“ Dad, let’s see if it—“
“Let’s GO!” I yelled, grabbing his hands. I tugged him to the car, the sensation of glue grabbing and binding my feet. I could feel little claws in my chest, could smell the cheese, could sense the tension of the trap, that metal bar, just out of sight, fearing my next dad move might snap it.
In this case, I hope it was the only one.