Home Is Where The Zoo Is
mrbrown ponders on the beck and call of our pets.
My house is a zoo. By that, I mean we have real animals in the home. And I don’t just mean my kids.
We have three turtles and two budgies. It was supposed to be one of each. The son said his friend wanted to give him a turtle, and I said fine, but you have to take care of it. It is your pet. He agreed. And came home with three.
“How did you end up with THREE?” I asked.
“Oh, my friend gave me a second one, and I found another under the table, dunno left by who.”
“Why didn’t you turn him down?” I asked.
“He was very insistent, Pa,” said my soft-hearted son, all of 11 years old then.
And so, we ended up with three turtles. Every night, they made a ton of noise, thinking it was feeding time whenever they heard someone walk by.
My mum looked after them once, when we were on holiday. She was woken up at night by sounds coming from the living room. She grabbed a stick, thinking there was an intruder. It was the three chao turtles, pawing at their tank wall.
When I say chao turtles, I mean it. They really smell and we have to clean their tank a lot. By that, I mean the boy has to clean it. It’s his problem now. My role is to point out that it is time to clean it.
Then there are the birds. The youngest wanted a budgie after her friend got one. I told Joy, okay, you have to save up for it, and the bird will be your child, your responsibility.
She took me literally: Pudding became her daughter, and I was suddenly a grandfather to a stupid bird. Okay, I have to take that back. I am not allowed to call Pudding stupid. Her “mother” will be upset.
At least this time, Joy spoke to me first. Several years ago, we “inherited” three hamsters from a friend, which my wife and the youngest had actually plotted to adopt behind my back. When I finally saw them, I said, “WHY???”
“But look at them! They’re so cute!” my wife and the youngest pleaded.
“And besides, my friend told me they’re all male,” the wife said, trying to assuage my concerns about the hamsters breeding like, well, hamsters.
I believed her. Then one of the hamsters got pregnant. Oops, turns out she was female. And boy, was she fertile. We found homes for most of them, at least the ones that didn’t die.
My wife looked at me with her big, apologetic eyes.
Then she got pregnant again. The hamster, not my wife.
Another round of rodents.
Eventually, most were given away. One died from some cancer. It was very painful, but you can’t argue with your wife and youngest daughter about things like a terminally-ill hamster. You have to be supportive. And fork out the SGD56.
We had a spell without pets, and then Pudding the Budgie arrived. Joy was true to her word and took care of it, populating her mother’s Instagram account with photos and videos of her antics (because Papa doesn’t allow her to have any social media accounts yet).
And Pudding the Budgie populated our house with poop. I put my foot down. I said the bird must remain in the living room. It is not a dog; you don’t let it out of its cage and give it the full run of my home.
My foot was blithely ignored. And Pudding continued to fly wherever she liked because her “mother” and “grandmother” thought it was cute. Pudding also developed an annoying habit of throwing her birdseed out of her cage into our shoes nearby. Stupid bird.
Oh ya, I am not allowed to call my granddaughter “stupid”.
Over time, we became like a pet hotel. Just as Joy would leave Pudding with her friend when we went away, her friends would leave their pets with her when they went away. At one point, I even had a freaking rabbit in my house.
They tell you a rabbit is cute and it is, until you have to clean its cage. And it was NASTY. Because rabbits eat A LOT. And then excrete A LOT.
But the one redeeming thing about having the rabbit stay with us was that Faith, my oldest daughter who is severely autistic, liked it. She let the rabbit climb into her lap, and she gently stroked it. This was the same girl who cannot stand being hugged by us for any longer than a few seconds. Maybe at some level, Faith trusted the rabbit—unlike humans, especially other children, who can be unpredictable, and definitely not furry and cute.
When we returned the rabbit to her rightful owners, Faith came home from school and kept looking for it, staring at the corner where the cage usually sat. I felt almost bad enough to think of getting a rabbit for her.
Then I saw the three psycho ninja turtles and the two budgies (yes, two, because Joy’s friend asked us to adopt her well-behaved male budgie, Lucky), and remembered our over-fertile hamsters of the past, and decided I shouldn’t go down that rabbit hole.
These days, when I come home from work or my travels, I’m usually met with the sounds of noisy children, the scratching of anxious turtles, and the chirps of a female budgie who is asking very loudly to be taken out of her cage so she can play and poop all over my bed.
I turn to tell Pudding to shut up, and I kiss the wife, hug the 16-year-old daughter who doesn’t speak, ruffle the hair of my 14-year-old son, and kiss the PSLE-year-old princess. Then I sink into the sofa, surrounded by my menagerie, and feel grateful to be home, animals and all.
I am the King of this Zoo, and it is my home. Hear me roar.
This article was first published in Esquire Singapore, August 2017.