Animal House
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My son Danny got a $20 gift card from his aunt for his birthday. It was one of those mall gift cards, but you could use it anywhere VISA was accepted. One morning, I told the kids we had to go to the store to get chlorine tablets for the pool. We headed for the local Ben Franklin, a combination hardware/craft/variety store. Danny brought his gift card with him in case he saw something he wanted to buy. When we got in the store, the kids took off to look at the toys and games. I picked up the chlorine tablets and browsed around. I knew the kids would be a while.

After a time, Danny came running up to me as I was looking at batteries. "Mom! Mom! I found what I want! Come on!" He headed to the back of the store.

"What?" I asked as I followed him, thinking the last thing this kid needs is another toy. But he led me past the toys and continued past the kitchen items. I realized he was heading to the pet department. Oh no, I thought.

"Here! Right here!" Danny said excitedly. "This is what I want!"

I peered into the cage and a guinea pig peered back.

"I have my own money!" Danny was jumping up and down. "I have $20, and it's only $14.99!"

I looked down at the excited little boy. We had two dogs, two cats and miscellaneous fish at home. The last thing we needed was another animal. My husband would go nuts. He didn't want the two cats and one of the dogs - those were mine.

"I don't think so, Dan," I said. "I don't think it's a good idea. The cats might get it."

"No, no, they won't! Please! I really want it," Danny begged.

Well, I did the only thing I could do. The only thing any self-respecting mother would do at that moment. I pulled out my cell phone, dialed a number and handed the phone to the kid. "Ask your father," I said.

Danny pressed the phone to his ear.

After a few seconds he handed the phone back. "Dad wants to talk to you," he said. I figured as much.

To make a long story short, after several moments of lamenting about how many animals we had, my husband finally agreed that Danny could get the guinea pig and extracted several unconvincing promises from the kid that he would take care of it, clean the cage, etc. So the guinea pig, christened "Jake," was boxed up to go home with us.

"Hey! That's not fair!" my son Jimmy protested. "I want one, too!" Well, what are you going to do? I figured one guinea pig, two guinea pigs, what's the difference?

"They don't have any more," I told him. "I'll tell you what. We'll go to the pet shop across the street and see if they have any over there." So off we went to the pet store.

Jimmy poked around, examining the bunnies and the one guinea pig in residence. Danny waited impatiently. "CAN WE PLEASE GO HOME NOW! MY GUINEA PIG'S IN THE CAR, AND IT'S GONNA DIE!"

"It's not going to die, Danny," I assured him. "Relax."

Jimmy finally decided on a hamster.

"Oh, you're in luck," the sales lady crowed. "You get a free hamster with the purchase of a cage!"

Oh, joy. Of course, the cage we chose as the most cat-proof and suitable for the hamster cost $40.00. (Danny's guinea pig was going to live in an old aquarium tank we had in the basement.) We went home with the $14.99 guinea pig and the free hamster with the $40 cage.

After arriving home, the kids took their new pets upstairs while I dug the old aquarium tank out of the basement and cleaned it. I heard footsteps scuffling overhead and loud, panicked whispers. "Where did it go?" one kid said to the other. I continued to clean the tank, deciding I didn't want to know what got loose, why or where.

See what happens next in Animal House Part II.

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