How Roof Rats & Hamlet Taught Me to Give Up Competitive Mothering

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“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” Hamlet 2.2.216

The other night I spent five minutes waxing poetically to my husband about how adorable and wonderful and sweet and talented Digger is.

Digger is our new pet gerbil. Dear goodness.

He quickly reminded me of my Roof Rat Story (note capital letters), which is worth relaying here -- not for information on the signs of roof rat infestation or for steps to take for proper varmint removal, but because of the, well, passion with which I attacked the problem.

We were all seated around the dinner table and my husband tossed out a perfunctory, “How was your day, dear?” which was all it took. I launched into a 15-minute, highly detailed explanation of my day-long battle with the dreaded roof rat, a critter whom I had determined had taken up residence somewhere in our house based on my thorough and very scientific examination of the droppings which he (she?) had left scattered across our back deck. Google has great pictures of roof rat droppings, by the way.

Rattus rattus

I’d called our pest control man, who all but ran to my rescue; after months of spraying for ants and roaches, tracking something large and furry and rodent-y got him all kinds of excited. When I answered the door with two little boys in tow and a third child visibly on the way, he smiled at the boys, tousled their hair and softened a bit. He wasn’t a man here to snuff the life out of one of God’s little creatures; he was someone who was going to help their mommy.

The roof rat man gave me a few truly humane options, one of which was a contraption to catch them for later release. Really? He wanted me to crawl under our deck in a few days, retrieve the box and then bravely release the potentially disease-laden little punk out in the woods so it could forge its way back to our humble abode again?

I think not.

It was about this time in the story when my husband put his fork down and just stared at me, eyes wide open, jaw slightly agape. I took this moment of rapt attention to heart; the story took a decidedly PG-rated turn.

“And then I told the rat guy no way; I want them G-O-N-E gone!” I announced at the table a little too loudly, smacking my hands down for effect. I should have noticed the suppressed giggles. At least the roof rat man hadn’t giggled at me. Oh, no. Clearly, he lived for this sort of reconnaissance work.

Gone was the warm and fuzzy, “cause no pain” pest control man; in his place was the Dr. Jekyll of Critter Killers, greedily rubbing his hands together as he told me of his special pellet bait mix that dehydrates the rats and makes them hunt for water and then BOOM! The pellets rapidly expand in their bellies, and your roof rat troubles are over!

I looked from my wide-eyed, semi-panicked children to my husband who was shaking his head. “So wait,” I said to him. “You wanted me to haul my big old self under the deck to fetch a rat trap and let that freaking roof rat go free?” I questioned Russ, thinking he was appalled by Dr. Jekyll’s drink-the-Kool-Aid solution to our problem.

“No,” he said gently. [Let the record state that he knew he was dealing with a pregnant woman and thus he spoke his words very gently.] “It’s just that while I was in my office working on some very big deals, you were here going toe-to-toe with rodents. It’s kind of funny.”

He hit on something that had been pecking away at me for some time.

Pre-children, I taught high school British Literature and Creative Writing. I could recite things in Middle English, deconstruct modernist poetry, and explain why T.S. Eliot is a genius. After my teaching stint, I practiced law for a few years. I drafted motions, stood before judges on immigration cases, and could track down anything in a New York minute on the labyrinthine legal research site Lexis. I’d spent 4 years in college, 2 years in graduate school and 3 years in law school.

And here I was a stay-at-home mom, all those diplomas stacked in our basement between boxes of Christmas decorations and outgrown baby toys. The roof rats could have been nesting between them for all I know. I’m not sure why it took me nearly 4 years of being a stay-at-home mom to have this Come-to-Jesus moment, to actually think critically about the ways in which I was using my highly trained brain -- or not using it, as I felt at that moment -- but it was revelatory.

Looking back, maybe I was scared that I’d shelved all those years of hard work for this parenting gig for which I had absolutely zero academic training. More likely, I was scared that other people might think I’d skirted a “real” career for a decidedly less glamorous profession (as if teaching high schoolers qualifies as glamorous). With 3 degrees to my name, I haven’t exactly been known to take the easy way out, but for some reason it felt like I was doing that by staying at home to raise these little men. Or, rather, I worried that others thought that way about me. My confidence was shaken.

And herein lies the rub; it’s what I think causes the blistering tension between moms who work and moms who don’t. Why on earth do we mothers continue to compare ourselves to each other? As long as the way a mother parents and disciplines and loves her children is genuine -- that is, not influenced or inflated or martyrized out of the concern of what others think about her -- then doesn’t that make her a good mom? Polonius’s charge “To thine own self be true” had never made more sense to me (Hamlet 1.3.78). (Yes, we English teachers really do tend to think this way.)

The Charles Manson of Roof Rats was reigned in a bit, and we wound up going with an ultrasonic rat repelling device, a glorified way to say we sent our four-legged house guests packing, a fate which is a bit better than blowing them to Kingdom Come via power pellets. And while I still tend to go a bit over the top at times (birthday parties, baseball games, pest control…), I have remained true to myself and true to my maternal instincts. I don’t worry about how others do things differently; I refuse to buy into competitive parenting. It’s this truth that guides me, and I owe this realization to a rodent; “the rest is silence.” 5.2.356.

 

Laura Bedingfield Herakovich and Digger the Gerbil want to remind you that the question is “to be or not to be” and that our “conscience [can] make cowards of us all.”

This post is also featured over on the great Mamas Against Drama site!

Photo Credit: alexfiles.

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