There’s a mouse in my house. I’ve been fretting and whimpering about it for days, and he (or she) is growing more audacious with every passing hour. Yes, I was distressed last week as I heard something making noises in what I thought was a vent above the the stove. I imagined a squirrel or possibly a bird – trapped, suffering, and ultimately dying.
To say that I identified with the unknown creature is to state the obvious. I did, and do: I feel caught in circumstances I cannot escape. And, worse, the clock is ticking, as it was (or so I thought) for whatever was struggling in that shaft.
So I am relieved to know that it’s a mouse – and that he’s very much alive.
If you give a mouse a cookie…
However, my pleasure has given way to several screams, then irritation, and now it’s become a battle of wills, as the mouse in my house grows bold, and I’m unnerved. And while I still have no desire to do him in, the nature of our relationship (as in all relationships?) has certainly… evolved.
I find myself running through a litany of rodent references. The mouse is potent fare in our pop culture consciousness, classic cartoons, as well as literary legacies galore.
A few quick flick-of-the-tail tales
- Micky and Minnie Mouse
- Stuart Little
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
- The City Mouse and the Country Mouse
- The Mouse that Roared
- Of Mice and Men
And let us not forget that some 50 years ago “a mouse” was colloquial for a woman of a certain sort. Want a more contemporary reference? Try that gadget in your hand, as you work your computer keyboard!
My mouse metaphor, and then some
Yesterday I was telling a friend about the mouse, who continues to avoid capture, to my dismay. My friend said: “Are you prepared to kill the mouse?”
Absolutely not! I snapped.
He laughed and said, “You see yourself as the mouse, trapped and trying to survive.”
I nodded, and we left it at that. But the mouse metaphors are many. So even as my rodent roomie clatters around behind the stove, I can’t help but ponder why we have so many tales of mice and all their furtive, farcical and fairy tale possibilities.
Little guy, big guy
The mouse is each of us, when we feel small, up against greater power, or tasks many times our size. We all relate to being the little guy at some point, fighting seemingly gargantuan tasks – debt, job loss, strained relationships, problems with the boss.
In The Mouse that Roared, a tiny nation tries to bluff its way to some sort of power – and remarkably – achieves its goal, only to say “and now what?”
In Steinbeck’s extraordinary story, Of Mice and Men, we have a tragic example of those swept beneath the rug in American society. While it is a tale of migrant workers in the 1930s, the fate of the haves and the have-nots is seen every day in American life, and around the world. I admit, I think of this particularly at holiday time, when we are concerned with giving – but perhaps in quantity rather than quality, in form rather than substance.
Should I give the mouse a cookie after all?
On another note, there is the classic tale I read my sons, and think of now. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie speaks of a mouse of a different sort – friendly and engaging, but cagey in his own way. If you give a mouse a cookie, he may ask you for a glass of milk. If you give him a glass of milk, he’ll need a straw, then a napkin, and so much more.
We read the lessons of generosity, and see the scales tip as one gives, and gives some more, while the other takes advantage. We’ve all lived this story, too, haven’t we?
We return to the boundaries of generosity – recognizing need and kindness, understanding the suffering of the lost and overlooked, but also attentive to being charmed (or conned) beyond reasonable limits. In the balance between giving and taking, we make choices in our daily living. Sometimes, hard choices. Even with a softened heart.
And the mouse in my house?
I know there won’t be a mouse trap, and there’s no Rodent Removal Service in the UnBudget. But I may prevail on a neighbor to lend a hand and offer him some cookies. And probably milk, and even a straw, and surely a napkin. I’d like that mouse out of the house by Christmas, because even I know where to draw the line.