We had to rehome our one year-old dog in October 2018. That’s another story, but ever since then my kids had missed many things about having a pet, so when my son’s preschool teacher asked if we’d like to bring the classroom guinea pig, Paddy Paws, to our home for the week of spring break (because apparently he’d been asking her about this), I had no reason to say no. I mean, we’d had the teacher’s previous guinea pig at the house at least twice for school vacation weeks, we knew the drill, and the kids always had fun with a little furry visitor. So, on March 6th, 2020, I loaded the guinea pig cage into my car at pickup. The preschool teacher put a big bag of bedding and another big bag of timothy hay in the trunk of my Suburban, and I believe her exact words were, “It’s way more than you’ll need, but just in case!” I think you probably know where this story is going.
Nearly six months later, which is half this little animal’s life, guess who is still here. The good news is that Paddy Paws is the best guinea pig in the history of domesticated rodents. I know this because my mom was once sold a male guinea pig (by a pet store that claimed to only sell females) as a companion to her two female guinea pigs, and let’s just say that companionship didn’t just happen; it kept happening. She ended up with 11 before the little exercise in exponential growth was put to a stop. I read that the collective noun for guinea pigs is “muddle”, and whoever decided that almost definitely was also put into the position of unintentional cavy breeder. Anyway, I know enough to know that Paddy Paws is the only guinea pig I’d consider having in my life.
With the knowledge that she’d return to school at some point, we welcomed Paddy into our family temporarily but indefinitely. With this knowledge also came the fear that we wouldn’t keep her tame enough: what if she went back to school and bit all of the little preschoolers? We’d be blacklisted by one of our favorite preschool teachers of all time AND all of the preschool parents of traumatized three year-olds with bandaided hands. So, as is typical of so many parents during this pandemic, we threw ourselves into a project. We took Paddy Paws out of her cage and handled her multiple times a day. We spoiled her with more strawberry tops and pea shoots from the garden than any guinea pig could ever expect. We decided to let our yard turn to clover. “Romaine lettuce” as a line item transferred from my regular grocery list to my Costco list. My husband bought special feeders to hang in the cage so she wouldn’t cross-contaminate her food and hay. After the kids were in bed, we took her out and let her munch on carrot peels with us while we numbly scrolled through news or texted people about things like the high price of toilet paper and the low price of gasoline. We spoiled her rotten lest she be returned to school a feral savage, as if an angelic manifestation of beneficence or a monsterish blood-menace were the only two possible outcomes.
After a few months, it started to look like preschool would happen exclusively outside, and perhaps the guinea pig wouldn’t return to school this fall. Or maybe ever. We started to say things like, “Well, if she does end up staying here…” which turned into, “Well, if she does go back to school, then maybe we’ll get a bunny or something because NO guinea pig could ever measure up to this one.” And then, in early August, the preschool teacher sent an email saying that she was ready to have Paddy Paws return to school in a couple of weeks. Cue the panic-breathing and the bunny search. Seventy-two hours later, my three kids and I drove 63 miles away to buy the most precious velveteen mini rex rabbit in creation. He’s currently sitting on the floor vent next to me because he likes the breeze on his undercarriage. Everyone was content with this situation and, though we would miss Paddy Paws, the preschool teacher had offered for us to have our little friend visit her old home (a.k.a. our home) on future breaks from school (hopefully with less nebulous endpoints). Ahh, who doesn’t love a happy ending?
The universe, apparently. This morning, while our expensive little rabbit was enjoying the air conditioning by my feet, I sat down and opened my email to find a message from the preschool teacher saying that she’d just been made aware of the sanitizing protocol for school and that they’ll be spraying down the spaces with major disinfectant and, considering this, maybe it wouldn’t be a hospitable place for a pet and would we like to keep her after all? This, my friends, is why I’m about to take everything out of the freezer and replace it in a more organized fashion. At least that will be one compartment of this life where I can eliminate a muddle.