Vans and Rats

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We bought our van a year ago next month. Growing children and a small beat up Honda Accord were becoming increasingly difficult. Every time we had company I had to squeeze in the back between both children because I was the only one that could successfully fit. Sticking my husband back there wasn’t an option. In order to fit, he had to wedge himself in sideways between the seats and let those long spider legs hang through the little passage between the front seats so he could practically help the driver. After getting in and out from back there after a weekend of company, my thighs looked like they were used for punching bags rather than a trip to the grocery store.

But the final straw, the final push to convince my husband to purchase our van was that wedding season was only a month away and we had to have a vehicle that could transport large wedding cakes to venues. And oh what a difference it has made!!!

We ended up with a Toyota Sienna and it just happened to be a lovely green. Jonah’s favorite. It had everything we’d been praying for for the past two years and more. The kids named him ‘Vanney’ and he has become part of the family. He dings at you if you take off your seat belt expressing that he’s mad at you. He opens his door for you only when the he’s stopped because he cares about you and he turns off the front passenger air bag so that Jonah can ride to school in the front seat because he likes to have him there. It is so cute how my children have given this van a personality.

This winter was cold. Record breaking cold. The kind of cold that killed off our bushes cold and the kind of booger sticking to the inside of your nose cold.

This cold drove many little critters into the walls of our bathrooms and our garage and in the early spring we started to notice that things in the garage had been chewed. Mid-winter we actually began to smell that smell that means only one thing… death. And after a lot of searching we found it. A bloated, rancid, maggot filled rat behind the washing machine!!! I made my husband clean that up with about 4 bottles of bleach. Still creeps me out.

Then the inevitable. There was a rat in the van! And I found it out in the worst way. I had a box of cookies in the back of the van overnight. When I got in to drive the next morning the rat had drug a cookie all the way up from the back to the gas pedal and ate what it could. It was a 4 inch round cookie!

After close inspection, we discovered the rat had been chewing up various things in the glove compartment, carpet under the seats and had built some sizable nests in the air filters. That explained the strange smell I’d been detecting all winter.

My husband loves Vanney. He treasures the thing. He cleans it out often. Spends lots of time taking care of it. I think he’s in love with the fact that it simply makes life so. much. easier. And that it has bells and whistles.

You should have seen his reaction to a rat chewing up his beloved Vanney. A glaze of hatred and disgust came over his face when he realized the horror that this little rodent was doing to his van!

We immediately took a trip to the co-op for rat traps and within a few days we caught her and her friends. Every time the kids begged to play with the dead rats. Disgusting! True love is blind? Something weird like that.

For now the wild rat problem is gone. I haven’t heard them in the walls for a while now and although I know they are still roaming about outside, I’ve seen no evidence of them in the garage. Whew. What a mess, but it’s under control right?

Jonah has been asking for some time now to get a snake. A Ball Python to be exact. I have no opposition to snakes. Well, the ones with no venom. I don’t do rattlesnakes. I almost adopted a Ball Python years ago when volunteering at Wildlife Images.

We told Jonah that he would wait until he was 8 to adopt his snake. It gave me a little time to research them and figure out how to successfully keep a reptile like this alive and well. Of course we got the opportunity to adopt one much sooner than planned and we are now the proud owners of a beautiful 3 year old male Ball Python whom Jonah named Skip. I can go into more detail about Skip later, but I will say that it has helped improve Jonah’s behavior in very positive ways. It is similar to the effect of a child getting his first dog. There’s a special connection there between the two that I don’t really understand because… it’s a snake. It’s not affectionate. It’s. a. snake. But for some reason it works for Jonah and he’s head over heals in love with this snake and he’s doing better in school. Go figure.

So, this snake eats mice. We’re told it eats two mice once a week. I decided to buy it a rat for it’s first meal. Fatten him up and make him happy. We get him this expensive feeder rat and he doesn’t want to eat it. Maybe he was too nervous being in a new place? Maybe the rat was too big? Whatever the reason, the rat didn’t get eaten. Instead, my friend Melissa comes over and starts loving on the rat. And that was it. The rat is now ‘my’ pet! I named her Nibbles and I LOVE her!

In the mean time we bought Skip two stupid dark mice (we were told she likes the dark ones). I put them in a tall box overnight because Skip wouldn’t eat them either. They stank and were ugly enough not to become beloved pets. Overnight, they escaped into the garage!!! Hadn’t we just had this problem a month ago with the rats?? The following day, I see that our cat Jazz has caught one of the mice and consumed it. A few days after that Jonah found the other one looking for food in the driveway! Domesticated mice are not smart. Lucky snake got to eat that one.

So I decided my precious rat needed a better cage and a friend. I found a great rat condo on craigslist and when I went to buy it the guy gave me a really cute baby white rat with black eyes. Yay. My husband was just thrilled with that. Little did he know I had plans for one more. I’d already set up a time to meet with the lady and she was also bringing me farm fresh eggs. No way I could turn that down. So yes, one more rat. A little dumbo baby and it was oh so cute!!!

We kept that one a secret for a little while. My husband found out when he told me ‘only 2 right’ and I just looked at him. Then I told him to look in the cage and count the rats. Yep… he LOVED the little dumbo. Ha!!

That’s it. No more. NO more drama. I got multiple rats to stop my kids from fighting over my Nibbles and they still fight over them all. There’s just no winning. I get an expensive, beautiful, exotic snake and the kids fight over it’s food. You just can’t win! It’s just like buying an expensive toy so they can play with the box.

So there are still rats in the garage. They have just changed from vermin to pet status and are now cute and cuddly and not destined for rat traps because they live in a rat condo. We are slowly growing into a petting zoo. What can I say? I have loved animals from the time I was born and my daughter has taken on the same adoration for them. The next step is to move to a hobby farm!

As for the van? The air filters have been replaced and the only bad smells inside of it are related to congealed milk cups hiding under the seats or from wet clothes forgotten in the back. Normal kid smells, not bad animal smells 😉 And as we quickly approach a year with our Vanney I often think about those long trips in that little Honda and am amazed how we ever coped. Our van is a true blessing as are our new additions to our household. Life is a journey. You might as well fill it with what you enjoy and for us that means lots of animals and frequent trips away from those animals!!!


Let them eat cake

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A few weeks ago I had a cake consult with a couple who brought their children with them. We gladly accepted having the kids there and also knew that any time kids have to come to boring meetings it can be trying on everyone. I really did not mind and it was important for the oldest to be there because he was trying our gluten free cake.

The children ages were under a year, 3 years and 8 I believe. We met the couple at the door and as they walked up the stairs I could tell that the father was not a happy man. He grumbled at the crying baby, yelled at the middle child and really lit into his oldest, who was obviously not his biological son.

The mother explained that her oldest was recently diagnosed with ADHD and that they had switched him to a gluten free diet to try to reduce some of his symptoms. She also said she’d seen no difference.

The boy was much better behaved than my son would have ever been in most situations. He knew he was coming for cake… something sweet that he’d not had in a few months due to his diet restriction. Yet all he carried was an excited grin and expecting body language. He sat quietly on the couch while we adults talked about the boring wedding and the design of the cake.

When he was finally called over to eat his anxiously awaited cake, his ‘father’ began to yell and belittle him and the boy shut down. He told the boy to stop fidgeting, calm down, keep his hands to himself (he was nothing compared to Jonah). Then when the boy was finally allowed to eat the cake the ‘father’ criticized him for eating the frosting first and I felt so bad for the poor kid that I helped him get a scoop of cake and frosting to quiet the man.

We brought the boy 2 samples for him to try. His parents let him eat one. Boundaries are good and I respect that, but his younger brother got away with at least 4 samples while the oldest child patiently carried his final sample in his anxious little hand, but dared not eat it.

Both parents saw what was happening and neither of them intervened or praised the boy who was containing himself so well while his little brother gobbled up sample after sample. Instead, the ‘father’ continued to throw insults at both children and most of them hit very hard on the oldest boy.

It was so discouraging to sit though. Many times I praised the little ADHD boy who sat and played as quietly as possible with his brother amongst the attacks by his father. Both Melissa and I nearly called the whole thing off on account that we could not stand the abuse any longer. I so badly wanted to rip that little boy away from his family and take him home with me.

I understand children like this little boy. I saw his pain and he was so far gone. So far swallowed up by the abuse that not even my praise made a dent into his body language. He would not make eye contact with me, would not respond to my questions or praise, hardly had enough courage to acknowledge that he was in a room with anyone other than his brother and disapproving father.

As the consult finished up the boy told his mom that he really, really wanted to eat his second bit of cake. The mom told him that he should wait and eat it at the baby shower they were headed to because they wouldn’t have anything there he could eat. Or he could choose to eat it then and have nothing at the shower. Of course he choose to eat it then, but the ‘father’ intervened and insulted the boy for making such a decision and refused to let him eat it. Of course we heard the father fuming all the way down the stairs and Melissa and I just looked at each other with crazed, upset looks of frustration.

If my child had a diet restriction, I’d sure as hell provide some sort of delicious option for him at any function we were attending. In fact, I’d make sure my children were well fed before the event so that I knew they could handle themselves through a boring cake consult and a 3 hour baby shower! I’d also make sure that my child with diet restrictions had just as many food options as his brothers even if that meant putting them all of the same diet restrictions. What child wants to be pegged out as the ‘weird kid’ who can’t eat what everyone else eats?! If your whole family chooses to eat the same way, then at least your family and you are weird together.

What hit me the hardest that day was the lack of respect that I saw. It was a lack of respect toward a child with disabilities, but also a lack of respect to a human being. Four human beings if you count the mom and the other children.

I do not understand where adults got the idea that children were made to sit and listen and be quiet in all situations. That’s just never been something I could grasp. Why is it that a child reaches this invisible threshold of acceptance at a certain age where their thoughts and ideas and words finally mean something? Where they reach an age that makes them suddenly worthy human beings and adults suddenly accept them into the ‘privileged adult thinking’ club.

Although my children were created by me (by God thorough me) they were not created for me.

And sometimes I truly do think that I was more so created for them.

A baby is born a blank slate. Ready to grow and learn and innocent to anything good or bad in this world. As an adult, I have grown into that knowledge. As my children grow, I choose to relay the realities and pleasures of life to them and grow and mold them for their future. Children truly do need a guide, an example and a support system of rewards and consequences which includes discipline. I as a parent am the lucky one who gets to figure out the right balance of all of these things.

But a major roll of being a parent and being an adult is showing respect. When I look at my child I see him as 7, but I also see him as 15 and 20 and 25 and on and on. Because if there were no time constraints, he would be all of those ages at once and to me he is all of those ages. He’s only a part of who he will be in 10 years, but who he is now is a portion of who he will be in the future. We simply build to our depth as we grow older, but that 7 year old boy will still be a part of my son when he is 35. He might even still act like a 7 year old when he’s an adult because men really never do fully grow up 😉

That is why it is hard for me to understand why children magically pass this acceptance threshold with adults when they reach a certain age and then become worthy of respect. Shouldn’t respect for one another be something that’s taught from birth?! I respected that my baby needed to wake up 20 times during the night while she was weaning and scream and drive me crazy and I respect that my little boy needs to hide in the corner when he feels embarrassed and I respect that he tells me ‘I’m mad at you and I don’t like you’re ideas,’ when I’m putting him in time-out.

And I will continue to respect their actions and ideas as they get older and more advanced in their thinking. Why? Because I have those same actions and ideas and frustrations. I continually ask myself, ‘how would I feel if I was told that those ideas and feelings were wrong and needed to be silenced?’ It personally would be horrid to be shut down and disrespected over and over again. After a while I would withdraw, give up and hide who I really was.

I will not silence my children. I will discipline of course and give consequences and direction and healthy correction, but I will not silence them.

I want to hear their plans, ideas, how they understand their world, what makes them mad, why they cry, who frustrates them, what they want and when they want it. Sometimes I will simply listen and when necessary, I will correct their delivery and direct their ideas and give instruction in a loving manner and always in a way that shows them respect. And in turn I will teach them to respect those around them including adults, fellow classmates, babies, animals and their planet.

And I will always teach them that just because you’re tiny doesn’t make you less of a person. Little people can do huge things.

If anything, the incident at the consult made me appreciate my family in a deeper way. It really made me appreciate my husband and his caring manner as a father. I told him about what had happened and he hugged Jonah and told him right away how proud of him he was.

It is good to be reminded often to value each other. To humble yourself and recognize your mistakes. And to apologize often to those who need an apology. I strive for transparency in my life and every attempt of my parenting comes from my belief that respect is not earned, but that it is an essential act of human awareness.