About two months ago I purchased a lovely pet rat for my classroom. I was told that she might be with child; and that if that proved to be true, I could return the babies to the pet shop. Well sure enough, two weeks ago fourteen little baby rats showed up one morning tucked under mom. Now rats get a bum rap from a lot of people who shrink back, and readily express their dislike. I found myself a little hurt at the responses I got when I announced the happy births. We might have something to learn if we spent some time observing the mother and babies as I have these past few weeks.
Mom’s life was no longer her own. She seemed as surprised as I was by the babies. She has spent most of her time running to receive food; stuffing herself, and then racing downstairs in her cage to nurse. Sometimes she lay on top of the babies to nurse. At times she separated them into two groups and handled each separately. Occasionally I would find her sprawled out taking a “cat nap” while the satiated babies slept. If I had to describe her behavior during the past few weeks, it would be frantic and focused. What a great mother she has been. I wonder who taught her how to be a mother. She was too young to have learned by watching a peer.
I thought about how I react when I am suddenly saddled with an “unexpected” responsibility. Most of my initial energy is spent in feeling sorry for myself about what has just landed in my lap. I falter, and come up far short when I compare myself to this devoted little creature. Now I try to prepare myself for letting go of this handsome brood of ratlings. Their eyes have opened and I have grown fond of their little rumble each morning as I bring them apple slices and cheese.