Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How I've learned to tolerate my children's pets

I didn’t begin life with a love of animals. We had a dog for a short time period growing up, but I never felt a longing to have a pet. Somehow 2 of my 3 children were born with a different attitude toward animals, and I have come to tolerate their pets.

I could tell from the time Chelsea was a baby that she loved animals. When I would read to her at 6 months old, she would kick her little legs excitedly when she would see animals in a book. Everyone in our family characterize Chelsea from her handling of the animals. She’s caught tadpoles, frogs, turtles, lizards, stray cats, and even a tarantula she found on the street. While volunteering at a pet store, Chelsea was given a rat by the owner, because Chelsea had handled it so much it had become tame. The owner didn’t feel right selling it as snake food since it had been treated as a pet. Chelsea is not only a horse whisperer, but can truly talk to cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, snakes, any animal without exclusion.

My son Jacob is the biggest animal activist I know. He’s 13 and has been a vegetarian for 3 years. He would never hurt an animal much less eat one. I have had trouble convincing him the animals are okay in their cages. He likes to let the bird fly around the house, he thinks the rats should roam the laundry room, and while we taught the rabbits to use the litter box they have left unwelcome presents in the house when they have been allowed to jump around freely.
At many different times in my chidren’s lives we have had over 8 animals. You have not lived until you wake up in the middle of the night hearing noises and find out your son’s snake is chasing the hamster. One time I was going up stairs about 6 a.m. to wake up my husband to go on a walk and the snake was coming down the stairs. I screamed for my husband, Paul, and then I screamed for my son, Jacob. No one was waking up. I took my cell phone, to call my home phone, to get someone awake to get the snake! I have many stories about the snake, the hamsters, the pet rats, the rabbits, but how did I come to love them…

When I started taking the animals to my classroom I would either have my daughter, Chelsea come hold the animal or my son, Jacob. Just this past year, I didn’t have Jacob or Chelsea at my school. The first time I took the snake to my classroom, I brought in a 3rd grader to hold the snake, but later while discussing the pattern on the snake I had to get it out to show the students. I tried to separate myself from the situation, pick it up, and not act afraid. I succeeded. I wasn’t happy, but I got the job done. Later when I took my daughter’s pet rats to school, I again did not want to handle them, but took them out, and even kind of liked their little hands as they grasp my finger.

In a unit on life cycles, I ordered a frog from the science center. The frog jumped from my hands, and the girls stood on their desks screaming. I think this is when I started yelling, “It’s a frog, and it can’t hurt you!” I knew this is what my daughter has told me about her tarantula, and many other of her pets that have scared me. I knew if I was going to keep having pets in my home and in my classroom, I was going to have to face the reality of when it is okay to handle the animals and not let it scare me.

Chelsea enjoys volunteering because of taking her rabbits around for Easter pictures or to preschool classes. Jacob’s love of animals has been fostured by letting him have animals in our house. I have never been, and I don’t think I ever will be an animal lover. I have learned to tolerate the animals for the greater good of my youngest two children. I have to tolerate the animals for the experiences my students can have with them. I also acknowledge a feeling of accomplishment that I can handle the pets successfully. This is a milestone. After 10 years of pets, I can finally live with them in peace.

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