They say moving house is the most stressful thing you can do – I disagree. Having kids is the most stressful thing you can do. I should know; I have three. All boys and they are a handful. Everyday it’s the same routine; feeding them, cleaning up after them and stopping them from chewing at the bars of their cage. Oh, did I mention they’re gerbils? I probably should have made that clear initially, sorry. Yes, I have three baby boy gerbils. So, when I say they are a handful, that’s exactly what they are – a handful. No more, no less. They’re also a pocketful, but I’ve stopped taking them for walks now, because the neighbours were starting to talk.
It was last June that myself and my partner decided the time was right to widen our nest (it’s not actually a nest; it’s a rather respectable third floor flat). But what would we get? Some people suggested an actual child but don’t be ridiculous – it’s hard enough making sure we don’t wet the bed or throw a tantrum in ASDA, without adding a child to the mix. Besides, Pets at Home were out of children that day, so we didn’t bother. Initially we thought about a dog, but the usual concerns came up – who would look after it while we’re at work? Who would take it for walks? And what if it went mental and out of control like Old Yeller, Lassie or Herbie? (I know Herbie was a Volkswagen, but he caused a lot of trouble and he was just a car so surely it would have been even worse if he’d had the ability to poo and eat furniture?)
We also considered a cat, but decided against it. After all; cats are an independent breed of animal – they like to come and go as they please. Not so easy to do in a third floor apartment, unless we found one that could use the lift or at least fashion a complex series of ropes and pullies to hoist itself down to street level. Besides that, where would they go to the lavatory? It’s not a big flat, so a litter tray next to the fridge is hardly hygienic and holding a cat’s rear-end out of a window can’t be good for anyone involved. Least of all a passer-by.
We looked in several pet stores and finally settled on our three boys. We had to buy three because it’s not fair to split up a family – just look at the Osmond’s. So we bought them – 2 for 15 quid and £8 for the third, if you must know – we even got a birth certificate. I say ‘birth certificate’, it was actually a receipt but at least it meant they were tax-deductable. To be fair, we didn’t really have a say in which ones we chose; when we were getting them out to play with in the shop, my girlfriend dropped one. They have a very strong ‘you break it, you buy it’ policy. Nevertheless there we were; a happy little hairy family – just look at the Osmond’s.
One of the things I didn’t expect to change by getting gerbils was me. Within an hour of having them home (having driven no faster than 3mph down the A1) I had developed overwhelming paternal tendencies. It was my job to protect them from the dangers of this world. Although, to be honest; there aren’t many of a gerbils natural predators to be found in a flat in Gateshead – maybe you could count an Air Wick Freshmatic, if it was placed too close to the cage but I don’t know. No one wants to be the one to tell the social services they’d choked on the scent of fresh jasmine and lavender. The only other danger they faced was my mother; who dropped one within the first few minutes of meeting them. If it had been a human child, she would never have been allowed to babysit again.
So, there you have it; I’m a father. And fatherhood is very stressful, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Yes, you have to clean poo out of their food bowls, you may have sleepless nights while they do whatever it is that makes that racket, or you may panic anytime one of them decides to stop acting alive but the sense of sheer elation you get when they say their first words is unbeatable. I’m still waiting but I’m pretty sure it’ll be anytime now.