Of Mice and Mothers

A couple of weeks ago, Jocelyn and I served as “mystery readers” for daughter Sascha’s 3rd grade class. The day also marked Sascha’s eighth birthday, and Jocelyn wanted to say “I love you” to Sascha in a special way. So she shared this true story about a mother’s love. [READ to a room of 3rd graders on September 13. If you are a mother, this story is for you]…

Jocelyn, 110 lbs. Backpack, 130 lbs.

Many years ago, before Sascha or any of you were born, I went on a backpacking trip in California.

Backpacking is like camping, except instead of packing your tent and food in your car, you have to cram it all in a pack that you carry on your back.

One of the fun and adventurous parts of backpacking involves pitching a tent out in the middle of nowhere, usually many miles away from any roads, and sleeping with the sounds of wild animals all around. I’ve heard sounds that I could only describe as Bigfoot, and I once camped near the only Bigfoot trap in North America. That is another story, but a true one (more or less).

On this particular trip, I pitched my tent and slept along a narrow creek that spilled into the Pacific Ocean. It was in a gulley that was mossy and dark with trees all around. Even in the morning, it kind of felt like I was inside a wet, green cave, since it was quite shaded and drippy.

On the first morning, I reached into my pack for some oatmeal. But as I pulled out the food sack, I noticed that there was a ragged hole in it, and oatmeal was pouring out on the ground. Someone had chewed a bite out of my sack! Who could it be? I couldn’t be sure, but I did know that I had to repair the hole or I’d have no food left to eat!

So I reached in to grab my sewing kit, which I was sure was somewhere buried in the pack. As I reached in, however, I didn’t feel the sewing kit. Instead, my fingers grasped something soft, warm, and wiggly. Without thinking, I pulled my hand out, and with it, a handful of whatever it was I had touched. To my utter shock, I had a handful of mice in my pack, that I now held in my hand! Not only that, but it was a mother mouse, nursing her litter of babies! I screamed, probably woke up whatever bears were nearby, and I dropped the mice on the forest floor. I must have also scared the mother mouse, because she tried to scurry away. But her babies were still nursing from her–hungry little beasts that they were. So she waddled back into the forest with her babies hanging on with their teeth!

But she didn’t notice that two little babies fell off and got left behind.

“Great,” I thought. “What do I do now?”

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I had intended on hiking to another spot after breakfast, but now I realized quickly that I couldn’t leave these babies behind. I had to do something. What could I do?

I asked myself, “What would their mother do?”

Well, feed them, of course!

“And what would she feed them?”

Milk!

That led me to the next logical conclusion: “I guess that means I’ll have to adopt them and be their mother!”

Happiness is warm milk and a loving mommy

All I had was powdered milk, so I mixed it with water and heated it on a spoon over the tiny camp stove I had. Then, I gave them little sips of the grainy milk. They were so cute, smaller than the spoon, and so silky soft!! They drank it, and seemed to like it! I kept them in a coffee mug, and throughout the day, I fed them anytime they would squeak.

That night, as the inky black sky took over the night, we all slept inside the tent, I in my sleeping bag, they in the cup next to me. But they were squeaking so much that I was afraid they might attract a bear to come into the tent and eat us all! So I covered their cup with tissue as some sort of protection, and put them just outside the tent.

Just as I was almost asleep, I was jolted awake by their squeaks, which had become much louder. I quickly unzipped the tent and cast my flashlight beam in their direction. I saw something small hopping off into the woods. I glanced into the bowl, and there was only one baby mouse left. “What’s going on?” I thought. “What happened to one of the babies?” I wondered with concern.

Then, the most stunning thing happened. I saw two little beaded black eyes staring back at me, and a little mouse body stalking the cup as she cautiously and courageously kept her eyes on the alien light shining at her. She slowly made it to the cup. The, she valiantly climbed up the side of the cup, reached in, and  gingerly and tenderly grabbed the remaining baby mouse in her mouth. After one glance back at me, she turned her head, baby in tote, and galloped off into the night with it. The last I saw of her were her back feet as she disappeared into the black night of the bush.

The baby mouse’s mother had come back to find her babies. She probably hadn’t slept until finding them.

Happy birthday, Sascha! I just want you to know that if you were ever like a mouse stuck in the woods being fed powdered milk by someone other than me as your mother, I’d come for you. I’d wait until nighttime, and then I’d sneak out and grab you from your cup and take you home again.

And do you know what, class? I’m sure most of your mothers would do the same thing for you.

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