Monday, 7 February 2011

Aunting: a hard bit

When my brother first told me that my sister-in-law was pregnant I was very excited.  "I'm going to be the mad aunt!" I said.  "Yes," he replied, "yes, you are."  (My nephew has two other aunts on his mother's side.)  Unfortunately it seems that today I am also the depressing aunt.  My little rat, Osith, died last week.  She was the last of my rats, and I have forsworn pets until I have sorted my life out.  I miss her; she had a cheerful character, and it was amusing to watch her impose her will on the humans around her despite the disparity in size.  One of her most endearing characteristics was how she treated my little nephew.  A lot of domestic animals (cats sometimes excepted) have this patience with babies and children.  My mother as a kid used to ride a horse renowned for its wildness.  She would get up on it bareback and fall off every time they went round a corner, and the horse would stop and wait for her to scramble back on, while the same horse with an adult, competent rider was almost impossible to manage.  And our dog Peggy, who was partly my second birthday present, was always immensely tolerant with me and my brother.  Anyway, Osith didn't mind if my nephew was a little unpredictable in his two-year-old way, but would sit waiting for him to stroke her, and then make happy teeth-chattering noises when he did.  My nephew likewise showed well in her company.  He understood that he had to be gentle with her.  He would stroke her and then look at me and laugh, and stroke her and then look at me and laugh again, and then perhaps do a little happy dance before stroking her again.  It was hard to persuade him that she had had enough treats, in the same way that it's often hard to persuade him that he's had enough treats.  We have him here every Monday because his nursery is full, and when he sees me he immediately puts out his arms to be picked up, and then says, with toddlerish imperiousness, "Rat!"

So today I have been showing him where she used to live, and telling him that the rat is gone.  He says "Rat gone.  Uhoh.  Bye bye rat."  But he isn't sure about it, so he keeps asking me again.  It's making me melancholy.  He won't remember her, of course, though I did get my brother to take some video of them together so maybe that will survive for him to watch later.


  1. Sorry about your rat; that's sad. I wouldn't be so sure that he won't remember. My daughter is two, and it's amazing what she remembers from months ago. I'm also pretty sure I have some memories from that age. If Osith taught him to be kind and gentle to animals, then she did well.

  2. Thank-you, that's kind of you. I think Osith did teach him to be gentle with animals. Apparently the other day his parents took him round to see someone who turned out to have a dog. My nephew amused everyone by stroking the dog with just two fingers instead of his whole hand, and his parents had to explain that he had learnt about stroking pets from a rat. It's a nice thought, actually, that she contributed to his early childhood in that useful way. Thanks for pointing it out!