Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Because I didn’t have enough to do already…

I was never sure guinea pigs would be a good idea.  And when they first arrived home, it seemed that they really weren’t.  They hated being picked up, and ran away every time I tried.  And when Small Girl tried to hold hers, she cried and said he had bitten her.  But slowly, with lots of advice from friends, they are getting used to us, and we are getting used to them.  And I’ve decided I quite like owning guinea pigs.



Firstly, it satisfies my need to do things in the most complicated way possible.  I like to research my plans on the internet.  And whatever pet you choose, there is always someone out who will tell you that the conventional way of doing things is not good enough.  I like to feel sure that I’m doing the very best I can at all times.  So, rather than buying a cage from a pet shop, I have made my own monster C&C cage which takes up a considerable amount of floor space.  On the one hand, this did take quite a lot of effort and anxiety and, as I am not particularly skilled at, well, most things, I’m not sure how long it will last.  On the other hand, being 150 cm by 70 cm, my guinea pigs have lots of room, and it only cost about £25 to make.  And because woodshavings contain dust which can irritate some poor piggies’ chests, I’m trying every single type of bedding available.  Just to be safe.  This is satisfying my inner geek considerably, and using up bits of spare brain energy which might otherwise be busy worrying unproductively about whether my children are eating enough vegetables and the state of the ice caps.

Secondly, they make my children happy.  Big Girl has Lucy, a chocolate-coloured guinea pig who is technically male, but we pretend is female because (a) Big Girl still prefers girls and if she absolutely couldn’t have a rabbit then she definitely wanted a female guinea pig, and (b) I couldn’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance of calling it Lucy but referring to it as ‘he’.  Small Girl has Nemo, who we can all agree is male.  Small Girl runs into the kitchen excitedly to tell me which guinea pig she has just seen and what they were doing.  They are learning to be patient, and to consider the guinea pigs’ needs, and to take care of them.  And every evening when we take them out of their cage to be cuddled, I get to have a calm conversation with each of my children while they are settled quietly stroking their pets.  Already it is becoming a special part of my day.



But the main thing I love about having guinea pigs is the experience of being responsible for something so undemanding, with such low stakes.  I like watching my pigs eating vegetables and seeing what they enjoy, but if they don’t eat it, I don’t get anxious about their diet.  I make sure they get cuddled but I don’t worry about whether they are going to be emotionally damaged by the way I look after them.  Although I’m still having anxiety dreams about them getting out of their cage and running round my bedroom, this is unlikely to happen, and it really wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did.  They don’t ask for snacks five minutes before dinner.  And if they did, I’d just say no, and they (probably) wouldn’t cry about it.  Instead of spending hours putting them to bed while I also need to be getting their school uniforms ready, loading the dishwasher and hanging up laundry, and feeling anxious about whether I should be helping them to learn to go to sleep by themselves, and feeling frustrated that they just won’t stay in bed, I put the lid on their cage, and it’s done.  I do not worry about whether they are fulfilling their potential and whether I am doing everything I can to make this happen (short answer: no, I am checking Facebook and watching West Wing).  Sometimes they poo on the floor and this is normal and to be expected rather than something I need to help them to stop doing.  I don’t need to encourage them to be kind to each other if they fall out, and they never tell me that it isn’t fair.  I don’t worry about whether they feel loved enough, or about how they behave when we’re in public, or deal with tantrums, or try to make sure they get enough exercise.  If I want to cuddle them, I do, and when I’ve finished I stop, and there’s no arguing about it.  The worst thing that will happen is that, at some point, they will die.  I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t for quite a while, but we’ll all get over it.  Compared to the impact my choices have on my children now and into the future, and to some of the stress I experience at work, guinea pigs are bliss.

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Future planning and serendipity

Another thing that happened on Friday – I received a text from my mum, who was looking after Big Girl and Small Girl.  It said “Keeping down the dandelions in your yard” followed by this picture:

Not only was my mum hanging my washing out, there was a tortoise in my yard!  She said it had just wandered in and Big Girl was in two minds about it.  I was quite excited.  Maybe it would stay and no-one would ever reclaim it.  I’ve always wanted a tortoise.

Sadly, by the time I got home it had wandered off again.  The next day I saw my neighbour.  He said the tortoise was his and apologised for its incursion. I said I’d quite hoped to keep it and he said he had a baby one which I could have if I wanted.  I said I’d think about it.

And I have been.  I *really* want a tortoise. It would be amazing.  I’m torn between believing this is serendipity (and you can justify anything if it’s serendipity) and knowing that you have to think carefully before taking on an animal which is likely to outlast you.

The thing is, this is a Leopard Tortoise (not a leopard.  That would be ridiculous).  It’s the 4th largest species of tortoise.  I live in a terraced house with a yard.  There’s nowhere for it to graze.  Part of my plan to improve my life is wanting to do things and having a go.  But I’m not willing to take on a pet with significant care needs (and a risk of salmonella) just to make my life better.

So… I’d need to think about where to keep it indoors.  And where it would live outdoors.  Apparently tortoises really do need grass to graze on.  I have none.  I’d have to think about the costs of adequate heating.  Vet’s bills.  And who will look after it when I die.  And how to look after a reptile, of which I have no experience.

I get very enthusiastic about things.  You could probably say ‘obsessive’ and not be inaccurate, as anyone following my facebook posts about West Wing would agree.  So I’ve been looking at books on tortoises, reading stuff on the internet, posting on a forum, asking for advice, looking on gumtree for people selling or giving away tortoises, trying to convince myself that this is a good idea.  But really, in the rational part of my brain, I know I can’t take on the fourth largest breed of tortoise.  I can’t take on any sort of tortoise at the moment.  Ex-Husband and I have yet to agree on the future of the house I live in.  So my plan is to get that sorted, so I know where I’ll be living, and then start planning – make my yard secure, get some grass, work out where the tortoise could live, and get one in the future.

Yes, I have a future-tortoise-plan.  This was another thing I wouldn’t have anticipated a year ago.