One day I had a clean, nicely-scented house, and the next day I had a houseful of smelly creatures that my children had promised to care for and keep clean — which happens every day in Fantasy Land.

It began with Guinea pigs. Then came the snakes. We had a king snake who ate live mice, which was way over my tolerance level.  No one bothered to mention the “live mice” part of the arrangement until after the pet adoption had already transpired. 

One day when I entered my daughter’s room, I found a small box with a screened-in side and a sign on it that read, “DO NOT FEED THIS MOUSE TO THE SNAKE!!! IT IS A PET!” And inside the box was a small, white mouse whose life had been fortuitously spared because of the color of his fur.

Another time my son’s garter snake got out and slithered into the internal part our upright piano.  I had to remove the ivory piano keys and pull the snake out with a pair of barbecue tongs.

We were the proud keepers of two rats (Wren and Stimpy) who had long, creepy-looking tails, and whose beady little eyes would follow us in great suspicion whenever we ventured into the room. 

And then there were the tadpoles that lived in our son’s indoor terrarium.  Gradually they got little legs and each day exhibited more and more frog-like physical characteristics. Until the day, when I opened the door to my son’s bedroom, and there were twenty-four little frogs hopping and croaking and bouncing off the walls. 

Iggy was our iguana, who did nothing but sit on his heat rock in a contorted position staring at the outside world.  He grew so large that, unless we wanted to move out and leave the house to the iguana, we’d have to find him a bigger place to live.  The pet store took him back.

By far, the most social and interesting pets that graced our home were the hamsters.  Most of them were innocuous little creatures, who just ate and slept and went round-and-round on their little wheels to nowhere.  Bringing them home from the pet shop, though, was a bit tricky.

On the way home from the pet store, each child held on his lap a thick paper bag with a few air holes poked in it, and inside each bag was a baby hamster.  For most of the way home, the ride was calm and uneventful.  Then, one of the kids suggested that we stop at McDonald’s Restaurant and pick up some hamburgers. When we returned to the car afterwards, each of the hamsters had gnawed his way out of his respective bag, and the two little rodents were chasing each other around the inside of the car.  It was a “cat-and-mouse” game while we tried to catch them.  But, finally, we gave up and drove home while the irritating little creatures ran around the internal part of the car’s dashboard. 

After we had been home for awhile, my husband went out to the car and retrieved the hamsters.  He deposited them into their new Hamster Castle, and life went on as normally as it does when you have several children and a houseful of animals that should never have been taken from the wild.

One hamster, named Power Hamster (after his aggressive, cussed nature), would beat up on his other castle-mates.   He slept all day, but during the night, he would go about establishing new territories and stealing all the females for himself. The ruckus would keep us awake all night.  Finally we separated him from the rest of his social group and put him in his own little “time-out” cage for bad hamsters, where he ultimately died — probably because he could no longer conquer, pillage or brutalize.

Houdini was our children’s most tenacious hamster.  During his every waking hour, Houdini would sit on his top perch, gnawing away at the bars of his metal cage.

“It’s a losing game,” I would remind him whenever I walked down the hall and heard the sound of his minuscule teeth grinding away at the metal. “You’re never getting out of there.”

One day I realized that it had been quite some time since I’d heard the familiar teeth-on-metal sound.  So I poked my head inside my twelve-year-old son’s room (which was something I tried never to do) to see if Houdini was still alive.  But in the cage, there was no hamster, and the bars that he had been chewing on were detached and bent back.  Houdini had broken free!

We looked all over the house for our missing hamster, and though we spotted him a few times, he eluded us.  Even the few times that we had just about captured him, he got away and scurried into one of his hiding places.  He was playing with us.

One day, when I took out a pair of shoes from the back of my closet, I noticed a strange little pile of debris – one corn nut, a peanut, a gold earring, and several sunflower seeds.  It was Houdini’s little stash.  But – still – no hamster.

Finally one day when I pulled out the stove to clean behind it, there he was – the late, great Houdini.  Apparently, just like his namesake, his last stunt had failed.  I had forgotten that we had put some mouse poison behind the stove, and poor Houdini had found it.

After the children got older and lost interest in their menagerie of smelly, crinkly, crusty creatures, I ended up being the one who took care of the remaining “reptilia” and rodents until one-by-one they began to kick the bucket, and I would pitch their inert little forms into the outside trash can.  Then I would stop buying their food and toss out their cages — forever.

We still have two turtles hanging around the pond area of our back yard, but I don’t have high hopes that they will be expiring any time soon.  I’ve heard that turtles can live for many, many years.  If that is indeed the case, and the turtles are still thriving when I am old and gray, I plan to bequeath them to my children. 

Then my children can give the turtles to their children and experience the joys of raising animals that they never wanted, never asked for, and whom their children will eventually and most certainly completely and utterly abandon.