There Are Rats In My House

There are two rats in my house. Two. Long tails, beady eyes, and twitchy whiskers. They skitter around, sniff the air, steal food and can climb anywhere.

I can see your face right now. Like you simultaneously sucked a sour lemon and saw your parents naked.   A horrified-disgusted-I-could-puke-and-turn-to-stone look.

“Oh dear Lord, how did they get in your house?” you sputter.  As a person who is slightly control freaky, hates bad smells and is sort of tidy (my husband may debate this), the answer still surprises me.

I bought them.

Hello, I'm a rat. In your house.

Hello, I’m a rat. In your house.

Yep, I bought two pet rats. Or rather, I adopted them. From some guy I never met off of Craig’s List. I’m not sure you can utter “pet rats” and “Craig’s list” in the same sentence without automatically getting the bubonic plague. But I’ve clearly taken my 2015 resolution to “loosen up a bit” to a new level. And opened our home to the next stage of pet beyond fish, but just short of dog.

Our oldest, Caroline, had been begging for a puppy. But her brother and I have some pretty nasty allergies to dogs. Plus, I finally got a new sectional and carpet in my living room after 11 years of baby spit up, toddler tricycle traffic and a few too many red wine parties. I was feeling a bit selfish and not ready to commit to the cleaning and allergy shots.  So, she started researching small pets. Hamsters? They bite. Gerbils? Them too. Bunnies?

“They’re so cute!” she squealed.

Then I had a heart to heart with her about what bunny pee smells like. Not so cute. Parakeet? I had two of them when I was twelve. They all hated me and refused to come out of the cage and perch on my shoulder. Mice? Good luck catching them if they ever escape. What about rats, she asked. Hmmm. My sister, Cara, had one in college. It would sit on her shoulder and came running when she called its name. It would even lick her hand, like a dog.

So Caroline did some rat research and found out rats don’t bite, are very intelligent and you can teach them tricks. And you should keep them in pairs.  Which led to random surfing on Craig’s List for someone giving away rats on a cold night in January. I blame this entirely on my other sister Patrice, who recently adopted a bunny for her daughter from someone on Craig’s List. (She and I don’t agree on how offensive bunny pee is)

A few emails exchanged and $20 later, we have two rattie sisters living in our house. We surprised Caroline as an early birthday present – you probably heard the glass-shattering scream when she saw them – and made sure she knew that the rats were now her responsibility. Cage cleaning and all.

So far, Oreo and Angel seem to like hanging out with our family. There is no shortage of people walking by and talking to them. Or sneaking them bits of fruit and crackers. They like to run around, hide under towels and pop up on your lap.

Whenever I walk by, I say “Hello girlies” and they come to the cage door as if to say – “Hey crazy lady, we’d like to walk on your shoulder and perhaps poop a bit on the floor. We know you’re good with that.”

Rat Love

Rat Love

The best part though, is watching my daughter Caroline turn into a responsible rat mother. She has a certain confidence about her and thrives on the responsibility of caring for and loving these little things. The ratties are starting to come when she calls their names. Oreo even licked her hand yesterday.

Our 5-year-old said solemnly the other day, “Daddy, we are lucky we have rats.”

Indeed. Well, not everyone would agree.

“Twinkle” to Top 40: A Music Revolution

“I’m going to the basement,” my just turned 4-year-old daughter declared.

“Sure,” I said while trying to de-clutter the kitchen.

A few minutes later I heard loud music coming from the karaoke machine and a little voice belt into the microphone:


I froze.

And proceeded to hear my tiny child sing the song “Domino” – (by Jesse J, if you’ve never had the pleasure) complete with lyrics:

Dancing in the moonlight… Take me down like I’m a Domino… Oh baby baby got me feelin’ so right…

The karaoke machine that started it all

The karaoke machine that started it all

I felt sure that a 4-year-old proclaiming her sexiness into a microphone cranked on high would bring protective services to my door in a matter of minutes.   So I went charging downstairs.  And turned the music off.

“I’m singing,” my child protested.

“I know,” I said.  “That’s the problem.”

This is the third child who cannot remember to put away the pile of naked Barbies strewn around her room, but yet has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to lyrics.  She can perform “Moves Like Jagger,” “Dynamite” and “Single Ladies”.  Not to mention multiple Lady Gaga tunes and “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

It’s my fault, I know I know I know.   Reason #324 why I will not receive the ‘Mother of the Year’ award.

She listens to music with her older sister.  A little Taylor Swift here, a little Katy Perry there.  I thought it was pretty harmless.  But after eight years of listening to nursery rhymes, toddler tunes and the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, we’re finally listening to the radio when we’re all together in the van (I now know too  much about Radio Disney).  While I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old, I seem to have forgotten I still have a 4-year-old sitting in the back. With a really good memory.

As tried to figure out just when I lost all control of the proper upbringing of my child, I had flashbacks of my own history with risqué tunes at a young age.  I could sing Rod Stewart  (If you want my body and you think I’m sexy..) “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band was in my 45’s collection.   Who let me listen to that??

My mother.  Aha!  The same mother who let me  sing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon from the back of our station wagon.  She also let me listen to the soundtrack of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and a lot of Neil Diamond.  So perhaps it all balanced out.

I vowed to find better song selections to prevent my sweet child from turning in Honey Boo Boo’s best friend.   Perhaps some 80’s easy listening.  So on our way to Target (I’m always going to Target) I flipped the stations.  She heard a snippet of one song.

“Go back!”  she yelled.  “I like this one!”


Maybe Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be so bad for a little while longer.

3 Days + 3 Fish = 0 Pets

What started out as a great idea for a gift for my daughter’s 8th birthday has turned into a disastrous lesson in death, fish care and lying.  And has made my father laugh really hard.

My last blog detailed the big decision to get a fish.  The first pet for our family.  And the FEAR I had that the fish would die.  Eventually.   But little did I know that the fish we got for Caroline, would die 10 HOURS AFTER WE GOT IT.  Oh, and the two replacement fish?  Take a wild guess.

On Sunday, Caroline’s birthday, we presented her with a two and a half-gallon fish tank with pretty blue rocks and a plant.  The water was treated and all ready with whatever you needed for a fish tank.

“Oh!” she yelled.  “A fish!  I’m getting a fish!  A pet of my own!  I knew this was going to be the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”

Caroline and Shimmer #1

Yes, we told her we were going to the pet store that afternoon so she could pick out the fish herself.   It was a huge outing for the whole family.  After watching the crowded goldfish tank, Caroline spotted the one.  The fish of her dreams.  She was so excited, she threw her arms around me, saying “thank you, mommy!”  She was growing up, getting her very own pet and ready for responsibility.  My eyes got watery.  Probably from the toxic smell of the ferrets nearby.

We took our new fish home, and she/he was promptly named “Shimmer”.  Shimmer seemed to like being perched on top of Caroline’s book shelf.  She had adoring fans that peered into her tank and tapped on the glass.  My husband and I looked at each other as if to say, see?  We got a fish. Life is good.

No, it isn’t.

Monday morning when I went into Caroline’s room, she was standing at the tank.

“Shimmer isn’t really moving, Mom.”

Shimmer was hanging out under the filter, nose down.  Clearly DOA.  My worst goldfish fears confirmed. The thing can’t even live ONE DAY? With barely a thought – the lying began.

“I think Shimmer is still adjusting to the tank and her new environment,” I say smoothly.  “She’ll be okay by the time you come home from school.”  Lie, lie, lie.

“I’m kind of worried,” Caroline says.

“She’ll be fine,” I reassure.

Caroline goes to school.  And Operation Shimmer #2 begins.  The idea?  Make sure the tank is working, the water isn’t contaminated and get a fish that looks EXACTLY like Shimmer for the swap.  Jamie takes the lifeless fish and a sample of the water back to the pet store.  Water?  Fine, says the store guy.  Must have been a bad fish.  So we get the Deuce.  Caroline comes home from school and sees the Deuce (Shimmer) and is happy. She feeds it, does homework and goes to dance class.  My parents stop over and check in on the fish.

“Hate to tell you this,” my dad says with a chuckle.  “But your fish isn’t doing so well.”


I run upstairs, and it is true.  The Deuce looks like a drunk, listlessly floating toward the filter. It’s still alive, but barely.  And later that night, after Caroline falls asleep, it dies.  Now I’m good and mad.  I didn’t know that it would be so darn difficult to keep a goldfish alive for at least a day.   Then I wonder, is there some kind of secret killer chemical in the air?  In my water?  Are we all going to grow a third eyeball and this is the first sign?

So Tuesday morning, yet another lie.  There is something wrong with the tank, I say, and daddy had to take it (along with Shimmer) to the pet store to fix it.  Caroline heads off to school.

The mastermind at the pet store tells us that the fish we had are too big for the tank.  Our lovely, two and a half-gallon tank is not big enough for one stinking goldfish.  Really? Again, we had multiple fish in a bowl when I was little – no filter, no water treatment and they survived (Alas, goldfish rearing, much like parenting, has become a lot more complicated in the last 20 years). Now we have to get a smaller goldfish and cross our fingers.  We came up with the genius story of “Shimmer was too big for the tank, so we took her back to the store and got a new, smaller one.”

Believe me, I’m not a fan of parental lying (as I’ve blogged about before), and yes, I guess I should have told the truth. I panicked.  Of course Caroline will have to deal with the death of a goldfish some day.  But COME ON, not 10 hours after she gets it.

We presented Caroline with “Shimmer” the third (or Trey).

“No,” she said wisely.  “This isn’t Shimmer.  Shimmer was a special name for my first special fish.  And since Shimmer is back at the pet store, I’ll call this one Goldy.”  Perhaps the curse of Shimmer is over.  We watched Goldy all day for signs of impending death and felt confident the third fish was the charm.


Wednesday morning, Caroline was standing at the tank yet again.  Goldy?  DEAD.  And stuck to the side of the filter.  No getting around this one.

“Caroline, I’m so sorry, but Goldy is dead.”

She starts to cry.  “Is it my fault?  Did I feed it too much?”

I reassure her that it is NOT her fault, that sometimes fish have a tough time getting used to a new tank.  Where did we go wrong?? Three fish in three days.  It makes you want to swear off pets forever.  We’re not even sure if we should GET another fish.  My father tells me we’re going to laugh at this some day.  Sigh.

A pet rock is looking pretty good right now.

Shoes, Star Wars and the Third Child

My 7-year-old daughter stared at me in disbelief.

“You got Kitty light up shoes?” Caroline was incredulous as she watched her two-year old sister jump up and down, setting off lights on the sides of her Disney Princess shoes.

Shoes for the 3rd child

“You said we could NEVER have light up shoes!” Now the tone was a bit angrier.  “Why did SHE get light up shoes?!”

You know the shoes I’m talking about.  Sneakers that light up every time you walk on them.  You can see them in a dark movie theater, they always come with some annoying cartoon character plastered on them and usually cost double.

When Caroline was old enough to see how cool light up shoes were, I put my non-lit up foot down. Nope.  No one needs his or her feet to light up with every step.  When Josh came along, it was his dream to have Thomas the train shoes or Toy Story or whatever light up shoes.  There was begging.  I held firm, because of course, I had set a stupid parent rule in my head.  No swearing, hitting or light up shoes.

But here comes the third child.  She picked out Princess shoes at the store.  Ok, I say.  Princess sneakers are fine.  She put them on.

“Oh!” Kitty squealed. “My shoeses lighted up!!”

Sigh.  I was in trouble.  Trouble if I took them off her feet.  And trouble if I came home with them.

After years of law and order, I caved under the pressure of the third child.  By number three I’ve realized:

1. Parental patience is thin

2. Parental perfection is unrealistic

3. The third will cry if not included

When my first was born, she played with educational toys, only watched Sesame Street and didn’t eat candy.  I was determined to do this parent thing right.  Then came number two.  Things were a little more lax, but they didn’t know who Sponge Bob was, rarely ate at McDonald’s and had no idea how to play video games.

The third one came, and it all went to hell.  Frazzled from meeting the needs of three children at different ages, my standards have dropped. Significantly.  In turn, I have a two-year old who can play “Pac Man”, sings songs from “High School Musical” and wants an American Girl Doll.  She manipulates tiny Legos and has taken an unnatural interest in “Star Wars.” She recently dazzled a crowd at the hair salon singing Darth Vader’s theme song with a lollipop hanging out of her mouth.   She snuck up on her sister the other day and said, breathing heavily in sister’s ear, “Luke, I am your daddy.”

I find myself just watching her and shaking my head.  Like, whose child is this? And when is her mother going to do something?  One person who takes great glee in this, is my mother.

“That’s what happens,” she said recently.  “The third becomes a lot smarter a lot quicker.”

She ought to know.  I was the third child.  Boy, am I in trouble.

Your Wedding Toast Makes Me Uncomfortable

You know you have thought it.  At least once.  Sitting at a table for ten, in formal clothes, drinking a watery Tom Collins, hoping for a good meal (or at least a plentiful bread basket) and it starts.

Here's to... a good wedding toast

The wedding toast.

Weepy toasts.  Silly toasts.  Supposed-to-be-deep-but-really-aren’t toasts.   Drunk toasts.  Inappropriate toasts.  Twenty-minutes-too-long toasts.  Evasive toasts.  Pointless toasts.  Jealous toasts.  Unprepared toasts. Rhyming toasts.  Bragging toasts. Sorority toasts.  I-forgot-where-I-was-in-the-three-page toast toasts.

At one point you inwardly cringe, squirm and mutter, “this toast makes me uncomfortable.”   (and I will remember in detail to tell my friends later)

I have always loved toasts, though, because I love people watching.  And nothing is more raw than making someone who is not used to public speaking address a crowd during an emotional occasion.  It could be used as some kind of CIA torture.  (It is the number one fear people have) But don’t get me wrong.  Not all toasts are bad.  I have been known to get a little weepy at toasts, (I also get weepy at babies and Extreme Home Makeover)  because the sentiment was sweet and you could tell there was thought and true emotion behind it.

But other toasts?  Just train wrecks of unprepared content, bad jokes and hidden agendas.

Like one wedding where a toast started, ten minutes into it I went to the ladies room, five minutes later I came back and it was still going on.  For a grand total of 23 minutes.  At another wedding, the groom hijacked the toasting mic, and then spoke for close to a half hour about a crazy road trip he and a friend took once.  Never mentioned the bride.  Another favorite toast I witnessed, was an angry bridesmaid who took veiled shots at the bride’s ex-boyfriend.  Who was in attendance. At my table.

It’s been easy for me to be a toast critic because, well, I’ve never had to give a toast at a wedding. Been a bridesmaid many times, but have never given THE toast.

But that has all changed.

Sisters McDonald

The last of four McDonald sisters is finally getting married.  My little sister Kathleen has excitedly chosen all of her (old) sisters to stand up for her.  (You should have seen us figure out what dress and shoes to wear.  A blog in itself)   And I was honored when she asked me to give the toast.  Between the four of us, it’s all kind of worked out, toast wise.  When Patrice got married, Cara gave a toast.  When I got married, both Patrice and Cara gave toasts.  When Cara got married, Kathleen gave a toast.  Now, I’m on deck. And coming from a family of writers, occasional over-reactors and opinion-givers, I figure I’d get some good pointers.  But the McDonald clan has been strangely advice-free on the toast.

Except for the Father of the Bride, aka “The Checkbook”( as he refers to himself at this point in the wedding process).  “Keep it to the point,” he reminded me. He is a career PR guy, after all.

Bottom line: It’s not about me.  It’s about the bride and groom. And the more I remember that, the better the toast will turn out.

But secretly I am petrified that I will become a toast “don’t”.  And someone will call their friend that night and say, “You’ll never guess WHAT happened!  This old bridesmaid got all weepy and forgot what she was saying!  And she spoke for forty minutes!”

Me and the bride

So… bonus question:  What was the worst wedding toast you ever experienced?

Thou Shalt Defend Your Brother (Even If He’s a Pain)

We call them “Frenemies” or “The Bickersons”.  Like an old married couple, my 7-year-old Caroline and her 5-year-old brother Josh love each other intensely. But boy do they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons.

Sibling love at first sight

When Caroline came first, I was slightly relieved. Aha, a girl.  I am one of four sisters.  I know the sisterly bonds of singing show tunes, making fun of haircuts, and taking in a Lifetime movie together on a snowy afternoon.   When Josh arrived two years later, I was overjoyed – but instantly terrified.  What did I know about boys? Only that you had to change their diapers quickly, or you would be the victim of wee wee target practice.

My biggest concern, though, would my children have the same close relationship as siblings who are all the same gender?  I have that sisterly bond – is it different between a brother and sister? Can they ever be close?

They got along pretty well.  Probably because there wasn’t anyone else around to play with.  But the baby learned from the big sister, who was the show and teller, entertainer and leader.  Josh was content to sit there, drool, unmotivated to crawl, while big sister Caroline gave him every toy he desired.  As they grew up, Josh asserted himself, no longer content to let Caroline decide everything for him.  There were a few biting incidents.  “You CANNOT bite your sister. EVER.” (Followed by me wailing “Where did I go wrong..”)  As they got older, the biting stopped, and they started actually playing together.  Some games of CandyLand (I call it “CheaterLand”) still ended with fighting, but most of the time they enjoyed being with each other.  Josh runs to his window to watch Caroline walk through the backyard to school and constantly (!) asks when she’ll be home.  I’ll find the two of them in Caroline’s room, while she’s reading Thomas the Train stories out loud.  They’ll walk through the parking lot holding hands.  He’ll pinch her if she doesn’t listen.  She’ll ignore him if he cries to get his way.

Through countless dinners, I would remind the two that they are brother and sister, they would always be together.  They would always be family.  Usually at that point Josh would ask if that meant he had to give Caroline some of his dessert.  So, not sure the point totally sunk in.

Until yesterday.

Both Caroline and Josh were playing a game at our swim club with a bunch of other children at a variety of ages.  During the course of the game, someone told another kid to “shut up”.

Josh said “that’s a bad word!” (Which it is, in my house)

The shut up offender then taunted Josh, saying, “Are you gonna tell on me?”

So big sister stepped in and said “Hey!  He’s only 5! Don’t talk to him like that!”

Somewhere the choir of angels started singing, and…. the kid proceeded to taunt Caroline.  (You didn’t think this was going to end like an after school special, did you?)  No, the kid didn’t see the error of his ways and stop telling kids to shut up. But Caroline ignored him, kept playing, and it was eventually time to go home.

They walked away from the game, Caroline with her arm around Josh’s shoulder.  They both told me what happened.  Mind you, this wasn’t some huge dilemma.  Nothing terrible happened.  And it’s not a crime to say “shut up”. But for the first time, I saw lessons I’ve tried to teach in action. First off, it’s important to speak to people the way you’d like to be spoken to.  And secondly, stick up for your sibling.   It was one of those moments of “Yes!  They get it!”  I looked at the two and felt they had reached a new bond.

The Bickersons

Until they started fighting over who would get in the car first.