I cheer for mice in high-conflict situations.
I grew up, after all, tracking the likes of Mickey, Mighty, Stuart, Jerry, Maisy, Angelina, Ralph and his tiny motorcycle, Jaq and the evil stepmother—not to mention the country mouse, the town mouse, and the trio of blind mice.
I’ve giggled at the rodentia wit. I’ve sung along in a wee Disney falsetto. And, at all costs, in all forms of stories, I’ve urged them to stay alive—to avoid the traps, the cats, the flailing brooms, the knives, the poison, the tainted cheese. And the Humans.
But now I want them to die. By any means necessary.
In literature and film, the mouse is true and courageous—all in all, morally superior. He is the heroic underdog, his intelligence exceeding his diminutive dimensions. Take a fairly recent bewhiskered knight: Despereaux, a literate rebel who lampoons felines, triggers mousetraps for kicks, rescues a fetching princess, and overcomes an awkward physical disability.
All rather inspiring.
Then the vermin move into your house (or, more likely, an extended family of aunts and uncles and thrice-removed cousins set up a cozy crib). At first, we noticed only minute signs: tiny black droppings under the couch or behind the refrigerator. As long as the mice stayed hidden, I didn’t mind coexistence.
Then, a few months ago, one scurried across the kitchen. Another, nose twitching this way and that, padded across our well-lit living room while we sat on the couch watching TV.
“A MOUSE!” I shrieked and pointed, urging my husband to attack. He leaned forward, but his rump stayed behind.
“I don’t want to chase it toward you,” he offered.
“Can’t you at least jump up and shout “Oooga! Oooga!?”
He is as flummoxed as I am. We have two small children: How can you put out poison or mouse traps? What kind of toxic residue would an exterminator leave in his wake?
The night of the TV sighting, I declared a hygiene fatwa.
I swept away all tempting scraps of food (bits of stale oatmeal and pulverized Goldfish crackers). I sprayed clouds of Windex and 409 in the general direction of any previous mouse encounter. I drew battle lines of Soft Scrub in front of the stove and fridge and created a “Kills 99.9 percent of germs” moat around my children’s toy box. Then I mopped hardwoods and kitchen tiles with full-strength bleach.
A few days later, while on the phone with a friend in Florida, I heard a crackling in the oven. When I opened the door, I saw a mouse on a piece of aluminum foil, going for specks of pizza crust.
My husband and I had a strategy session over our morning orange juice.
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
“Put out poison,” he said.
A few weeks later, I flashbacked to my first mouse experience.
My father was walking around the back of our house in Rockville, Maryland, dressed in his summertime uniform of khaki shorts and a light blue button-down shirt. He was holding up a trap—a dead white furry creature hanging down, its snout bloodied.
I was four years old. The thing was HUGE. Two feet—at least.
“Look at the rat I caught,” Dad said. Then he laughed.
It really was two feet long.
It wasn’t a rat. It was a possum.
Later, I witnessed my father in true battle. I was 12. We had moved to rural Mt. Airy. One autumn day, a field mouse from a nearby farm found itself trapped in the basement stairwell. Dad tried scooping it out with a shovel. But the terrified thing darted all around the concrete, just out of my father’s reach.
He panicked—hacking at the animal, his gelled hair flying.
I watched his face: Dad hated his thrust-upon role as executioner. And I knew, for the first time, that my father could be undone.
The creature was two inches. At most.
We still have mice as far as I know.
My husband and I tried no-check-out motels, old-fashioned rat traps, poison packets, sonic disruptor plug-ins, and unappetizing green cubes guaranteed for pest control. We put most of our weaponry in the basement. They just bypassed the triggers and ate the peanut butter.
So, I’ll keep a cleaner house. I’ll still read classic mouse stories to my children and revisit tales like Ratatouille –in which we’ll watch hordes of gourmet rat chefs prepare four-course dinners in a fine Parisian restaurant—and root for them once again.