Starting at about 3 o’clock the other morning, our 2-year-old banged into our room several times, plunking books on the hardwood floor and knocking her doll’s plastic head against the door. My husband and I took turns walking her back to her own bed and exhorting her to stay there, over her loud protests. In these wee hours, I just wanted Jane to go back to sleep. I was too tired to exhume the contents of her particular disturbance. But later that morning, she told me what had been troubling her.
“They were dinosaurs, mommy,” Jane said.
“Dinosaurs? Were they scary?”
“No, it was a mouse,” she said, changing her mind.
Although I knew Jane’s story was probably apocryphal, I fluttered out of my fatigue and into a state of anxiety. I actually started to sweat. I have been worrying a lot about rodents again lately—not about dead ones, as in my previous entry, “A Little Stiff”—but about real, live mice and squirrels.
My uneasiness began when a friend recently posted on Facebook that she had a squirrel in her attic and was seeking both treatment recommendations and sympathy. Unfortunately, I could empathize, and her news trigged my Rodent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. A little more than a year ago, we had squirrels scrambling around our own roof, scratching away in the ceiling of our kitchen and Jane’s bedroom. Each morning I’d awake to this unnerving, overhead scuffle, and I could even see where the squirrels were going in and out of a hole in the rafters. One little beast would sun his delicate nose at the opening while I waved a broom at him and ranted.
I think it was my behavior and not the squirrels’ that finally made my husband call an exterminator. When the professional arrived, he set one of those exit-only traps. Once the squirrels set out for a snack, they discovered, to my delight, that they could no longer reenter. And then we had to pay roofers an obscene amount of money to repair the damage and rotten boards.
For most people, the situation would have concluded there. But I couldn’t shake the fear that rodents may have been racing through (and defecating in) our ducts, so I paid another contractor a gruesome sum to clean those out. This process ended up being an all-day affair that involved a jumbo, turbo vacuum, several, oversized ladders, the unscrewing of all of our vent screens—and the discovery that many of our ducts had been detached, causing insulation to circulate throughout our house during the three years we had inhabited it. I get jittery just describing the experience. Needless to say, squirrels, still prolific in our trees and yard, continue to cause me some disquiet.
In addition, winter’s coming and with it the threat of mice. Some perfectly lovely but unintentionally cruel ladies reminded me of this fact when I recently took out my children for ice cream. Sitting in the shop, watching my three kids splatter their frozen delights all over their jackets and the floor, I found myself in a conversation I didn’t want to have.
“Excuse my hands,” a woman leaned in and said, obviously eager to discuss her recent travails. “I spent the afternoon cementing all the holes on the outside my house.”
“What?” I asked, confused. Her comment had been somewhat of a non sequitur in the course of our small talk.
“I found a mouse in my shower this morning.”
‘Oh god, please don’t tell me any more,’ I thought. Then another woman sitting nearby, rocking an infant car seat with her foot and spooning ice cream into a toddler’s mouth, started nodding.
“I’ve already caught two mice,” she said.
“Call a professional!” I cried.
The winter I was pregnant with Jane, mice overran our house. The problem started gradually. One morning, I pulled open one of my twins’ plastic toy bins and discovered black pellets at the bottom. ‘That’s strange,’ I thought, as I emptied them out and disinfected the toys and the bucket. But then I compulsively checked all the toy boxes and found them full, too. Pieces of our dog’s food began appearing in the corners of our couch. I’d awake in the middle of the night to hear mice clawing our walls. Then the droppings started decorating our kitchen counters.
I remember hitting a Rite Aid in a frenzied state, asking the clerk for their deadliest traps. “Everybody has mice this time of year,” he kindly lied. What the clerk didn’t say when he sold me a dozen or so d-CON “no view, no touch” products is that I really should’ve summoned someone who knew what they were doing. After catching seven mice and still finding no abatement in the level of droppings, I had a nervous breakdown, at which point my husband called the exterminator.
“You caught seven mice already?” he exclaimed. “Wow! That’s a lot.” I wasn’t pleased to hear that from a man who exterminated mice for a living. Clearly, we were a bad case. But after two months of setting poisonous baits inside our crawl spaces and in the shrubs around our house, he eventually got the rodents to start feeding outside and the droppings disappeared. We haven’t had a problem since—or so I thought.
Last night, I was writing in our third-floor office and had the idiotic urge to open the crawl space door. Little, black droppings dotted the floor. I had trouble sleeping. I kept hearing scratching inside our plaster walls.
And then this morning, Jane banged in at 5:18, claiming that it was “too loud” in her own room. “You mean inside the walls?” I asked. I couldn't get a straight answer. But clearly, as soon as I post this entry, I'm going to have to call our exterminator—with whom I'm becoming far too intimate, in my humble opinion.