A few weeks ago I told Olive that she could keep a squirrel as a pet. I promise it’s not as crazy as it sounds (although certain family members would vocally disagree with that last statement).
You see, the kid is completely animal obsessed. Like, beyond obsessed. She has a dog and a cat at her Dad’s house, but that isn’t enough for her. Likewise, the incredibly rewarding life of fish ownership hasn’t done it for her either (I have no idea why, I mean, the feeding! The gravel cleaning! The watching as Charlotte swims listlessly from one side of her bowl to the other! What the hell more do you want from a pet, Olive?)
One of the reasons we don’t have pets is that, per the terms of our lease, we aren’t allowed pets, although I’d be lying if I said that a lease that did allow pets would change that. Truthfully, after three years of bunnies and then seven years of Gus, I’m really enjoying a fur-free, smell-free, animal-poop-free life, you know? I’m unabashedly reveling in my clean floors, my drool-free walls, and my bank account which is a little fuller for never having charges for vets and pet stores and emergency carpet cleaner rentals.
Nonetheless, I’ve tried to be sympathetic to Olive’s cause. I remember what it was like when I desperately wanted a dog more than anything, so I’ve tried to do what I can to ease this wanting. She has a handful of stuffed animals she plays pretend pet with, we often walk and dog-sit our friends’ dogs, and most recently, I have allowed a series of snakes into my home.
Yes, snakes. They’re not real, mind you but they’re almost as bad. These are the kind of snakes that you put in water and then watch with horror while they grow to ten times their original size. She bought them with her allowance money, and my deal with Olive is that she can buy whatever she wants with her allowance money, but holy shit when I made that deal I was not expecting SNAKES.
First, there was the snake that hatched from an egg. The egg was bright pink so I thought it might be cute. I was wrong.
That snake wasn’t big enough to satisfy her hunger for snakes, apparently. So right after we moved she got another one. One that advertised that it grew to 600 times its size. Fucking yay, right?
They did not lie.
And then there were the five rubber snakes, named for people in her life. There’s a Nana snake (red), a Granddaddy snake (orange), a Sawyer snake (blue), an Aunt Loulie snake (green), and an Uncle Um snake (purple).
The big one is the mummy snake, obvs, and she greatly enjoys arranging these creatures in alarming tableaus around our home. At the breakfast table, for example, where I haven’t had my coffee yet and can’t handle six fucking rubber snakes staring at me with their eerie rubber eyes and carrying on nonsensical conversations in high-pitched snake voices.
And honestly, the snakes themselves aren’t even the worst part. The worst part is that she loves them so much that they have to come with us everywhere. So instead of carrying a blankie or a teddy bear like a normal human child, Olive carries around a glass jar with one or two of her snakes. Usually, the large one shown emerging from the mixing bowl above. The one that looks incredibly real. That one.
But even the novelty of eighteen rubber/growing/traveling snakes wears off eventually, and that’s where El Chapo joins this story, because of course he does.
The day we moved in, a black cat sauntered up to our front steps and then into our home as if he owned the place. He stretched out on the ground, meowed plaintively, and three seconds later Olive had pounced, scratching his tummy and hugging him and asking if we could keep him.
We didn’t keep him though, because of the poop and the costs and the responsibility, but mostly because we soon found out that he belonged to our neighbours. Neighbours who initially told Olive that his name was something that sounded like “Chappos”.
Olive quickly fell in love with “Chappos”. We bought him cat treats from the grocery store and every night she’d leave a few treats for him at the top of our steps, trying to lure him inside again. It worked, and these days, “Chappos” can usually be found sitting on our steps after dinner, waiting for a few treats and a quick tour around our house.
This was all well and good and we were both quite enjoying our part-time cat. It was like the universe had found a divine compromise and now Olive had all the benefits of having a pet (the treats! the petting!) with none of the downsides (the cost, the upkeep, the poop!). Until, that is, one day we found out from another neighbour that his name was not Chappos but El Chapo.
El Chapo as in Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, one of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins. El Chapo as in the man the FBI has described as “the most ruthless, dangerous, and feared man on the planet”. El Chapo as in the individual responsible for exporting more drugs to the US than anyone else in history. That El Chapo.
And, this other neighbour informed us, cat El Chapo had a lot in common with drug lord El Chapo, primarily that they were both experienced killers. Apparently, cat El Chapo was a powerful hunter, regularly catching crows, rabbits, and squirrels.
It was an…interesting…conversation. And afterward, I was expecting to have to explain to Olive who El Chapo was and then I’d have to explain what drugs were and then what a drug lord was and next we’d have to start watching Narcos together to ensure she really understood every nuance of the drug trade.
But surprisingly, that’s not what she asked about. What she asked about was this:
“Mummy, does El Chapo really catch squirrels?”
“Yes, real squirrels.”
“How does he catch real squirrels?!”
I explained that cats are great hunters just like panthers and lions, and if she wanted to know how he did it she should watch him to see. She took me very, very literally.
Every night she’d slowly follow him around from a few metres away, observing him. Watching as he crouched and waited, staying impossibly still as he stalked his prey. She never saw him catch anything (I guess having an excited four-year-old following you around and shouting back to her mom, “He’s doing it! Look at his tail! Look how quiet he’s being! Look how close that bird is going!” doesn’t exactly do wonders for your hunting game) and then one day this happened.
What’s that, you ask? Why friends, that’s my four-year-old daughter sitting under my neighbours pine tree with a bowl of cashews, trying to catch a squirrel. “Just like El Chapo.”
Honestly, I thought this was hilarious. And when she told me her plan I was like, “Well, Olive, what are you planning to do with a squirrel if you catch it?” and without hesitation, she replied, “I’m going to buy a cage with my allowance money and keep it in my room as a pet.”
Right. Of course! Cool, cool, cool.
Then she asked very sweetly, “Mummy, can I keep the squirrel when I catch it?” and I was like “Yeah, sweetheart, of course you can!” because let’s just be clear for a second, Olive is no El Chapo (cat version or human version). Squirrels are fucking fast! There is no way in hell that she’s ever going to catch one, I don’t care how long she sits out there with her little bowl of nuts. The chances are literally 0%, and given these chances, why would I voluntarily get into an argument with my (incredibly stubborn) daughter about whether or not she could keep some hypothetical future squirrel that she will literally never ever ever be able to catch?
My family, however, does not agree with me.
My dad came over one night and asked what she was doing (she does this a few times a week now). And when I explained it, he got this horrified look on his face.
“Madeleine!” he admonished, “If she sits there long enough the squirrels will become acclimatized to her presence and they’ll start eating the nuts and eventually one’s going to bite her instead and she’ll get rabies!”
My little sister Mawney was more worried about Olive developing some hunting skills of her own.
“You know she’s going to catch one.” she said, incredulously, after I told her the story.
“She’s not going to catch a squirrel,” I scoffed in response.
“Oh my god, Maddie, she totally is!” she replied. “She’s 100% going to fluke into catching one somehow and then you’re going to have to break her heart by telling her that she can’t actually keep it.”
Welp, I guess we’re just going to cross that goddamned rabies/squirrel catching bridge when we come to it, aren’t we? Because right now I’m getting like ten – sometimes fifteen– minutes of sweet peace and quiet in the evening while Olive sits stone-still in the dying evening light and tries to catch squirrels.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to mess with that.