The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 13, 2013

Murray column:Parenting can be a dirty job


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Why does this stuff always happen to me?

Whether it’s dealing with dead pets or catching puke with my shirt, being a dad can be messy work. Consider the latest chapter in my Dirty Dad Jobs book:

I walked into my daughter’s room the other day, which is always a treacherous proposition. First, it usually looks like a Ragstock changing room at closing time. Clothing everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be there. But the clothes in that laundry basket aren’t about to put themselves away. Second, she’s a teen-age girl — the possibilities are endless when it comes to things I really don’t want to see in my daughter’s room.

But back to my point ...

So in I go, a stack of yoga pants, honor band T-shirts and music note socks in hand with a plan to spend very little time in there. One thing I always do, however — or, more accurately, did — is check on Omelet the rat.

My daughter has had a fascination with rodents for about a decade. Ever since she was old enough to hold a mouse without being scared of its tail, she’s had a cage or tank in her room with a rodent. She’s had mice, hamsters and rats. But the rats have kind of been her favorite.

Omelet has been growing dramatically in size the last three or four months, and not in a good way. Tumors had taken over her body to the point where she was literally twice her regular size. You might say she’d gone from being a two-egg to a four-egg omelet.

Anyway, I walked in and checked on the old girl like I always do. (She was a little over 3 years old, already knocking on the door of the latter end of the life expectancy continuum.) My routine was always the same with Omelet. I’d peer into the cage and, if she was hiding, I’d simply blow into the mess of a nest she’d created and she’d come scrambling out. Occasionally I’d pick her up and let her crawl around my arms and head.

But on this day ... nothing. I could see her head oddly positioned in the tank, and I had a bad feeling about it.

Close inspection revealed the end had finally come for Omelet, a rat who was actually born in that cage in that room. She was the daughter of a previous rat whose litter of 12 surprised the heck out of us but gave us a chance to watch the beauty of nature in action. (If this happens to you, fear not. There’s very little you have to do. Mom can take care of the process just fine.)

There’s a lot that’s intriguing and cool and surprising and educational about having rodent pets. They’re far more social than anyone gives them credit for. And they’re just plain fun to watch. But when they die, there’s nothing fun about the cleanup.

I pulled Omelet’s carcass out of the tank, wrapped it up in a towel and removed it from her room. I cleaned the tank with the garden hose and left the tank on the front steps, thinking I had plenty of time to get everything cleaned up before Emma came home.

I was wrong. Instead of going straight to work after school, she came home to change clothes. Seeing the tank on the steps, she knew.

“Is Omelet dead?” she asked.

I paused, then nodded.

“Yeah.”

I knew what would happen next. Every time Emma’s ever had a rodent pet “transition” from this life to the next, she takes it pretty hard. This time was no different.

There’s another dirty job: consoling a crying kid. That job used to be an easy one. A kid falls down and skins a knee and cries, and you pick them up and hold them and tell them it’s going to be OK. It sounds odd, but I always kind of liked those moments. It’s a tough scene, sure. But it’s a scene where the tragedy of moment creates bond, where you experience something unique with your child, you get to learn a little bit more about who they are, even if it’s a moment they’d rather forget.

So maybe I shouldn’t complain about this stuff happening to me. Is it fun to catch your kid’s vomit in your shirt? (That actually happened, by the way.) No. But even those moments — and the dealing-with-dead-rodent moments, and the being-there-to-hug-your-daughter-when-her-pet-dies moments — are ones that parents live for.

Eventually, they’ll have other people to do those things for them. As long as I’m still one of the people in the house who get to do that, I’ll treasure those dirty jobs.

Robb Murray can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com.