Life Lessons from My Housemates

I share a 4 bedroom home with three children, two dogs, one mini-macaw, two Beta fish, one newt, one hamster, one bearded dragon, one chinchilla and two guinea pigs – plus 3 in utero guinea pigs. We aren’t quite bursting at the seams, but it’s getting close.

It’s primarily my “fault” we have so many creatures/housemates. I love animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was growing up, but then my dog died when I was 13 and the world was just different.

The older I become, the more I am able to look at things in different ways. I grew up with pets, albeit small ones like parakeets and a turtle, but my dad always had dogs – faithful, loving, soft dogs. I believe kids learn so much from having pets. I’m thankful I’ve been able to provide exposure to animals to my kids (and friends’ kids). Yes, zoos are wonderful and I love them, but having a creature sharing your home can teach you so much.

1) Unconditional love.
Dogs, in particular, are amazingly devoted. There are few things better in the world than when a dog looks at you with big eyes and you see the devotion and dedication. The times when you aren’t feeling well and a dog can sense it, so he/she lays down next to you providing warm, quiet comfort rarely felt elsewhere. The happy jumps when you come through the door are something you won’t find anywhere unless your children are young, not busy and love to hug still. The sweet puppy kisses just because they love you. The unending supply of peaceful comfort just being with another creature happy to be with you. Dogs will forgive you for having a bad day and raising your voice. They just want to love, as do most creatures who look to us to fulfill their need. Even a bearded dragon enjoys affection.

2) Empathy.
Empathy is a difficult concept for some. But it’s not too difficult to feel for a creature who got hurt. Animals, just by their nature seem so helpless even though most could survive in the wild better than we can. I’ve been blown away by the concern my children have for creatures that are injured or in bad situations. The kids look at things through a softer lense and, while they can’t feel what a creature is feeling, they have concern and desire to make things better.

3) Be kind.
It’s a beautiful thing when a child can sit and gently hold a creature understanding that their actions will determine how that creature reacts to them in the future. Soft kisses and a gentle touch can get you so very far while angry voices and physical reprimands cause a creature to back away.

4) Be responsible.
Life moves so quickly it’s easy to become so wrapped up in our own agendas that we neglect those who are most important to us. Staying in tune with the needs of others who are dependent on you forces you to look outside of yourself. While it can be annoying to take the dogs out so many times in one day or continually ensure that everyone has enough to eat, it’s incredibly important to be responsible for those who need our help. Stepping outside of our own worlds for even a few minutes each day provides a valuable perspective and a great sense of accomplishment just because we can be responsible in taking care of someone/thing other than ourselves.

5) Death is part of life.
We’ve had our fair share of losing beloved creatures (parakeets, dogs, several hamsters, a few frogs and many fish). While the pain of the loss lessens, the memories remain some days bringing tears, and others laughter. Death is a bitter part of life and shouldn’t be hidden away. We’ve learned to understand that sometimes the best thing we can do is kiss everything up to God and ask for discomfort and pain to go away even if it means we lose someone/something precious to us.

6) Birth is an amazing and disgusting event.
We’re about to experience the first birth in our house as my daughter’s guinea pigs prepare to be parents. According to the vet’s x-ray, we’re going to add three new beings to our home. I am thankful that my daughter is reading everything she can about guinea pig births and is already anticipating the mess. The x-ray showing us the babies growing has built up our anticipation.

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7) We can’t know everything.
As much as we’d like to think we are intelligent humans, creatures fascinate us with their daily feats. The internet has made learning if particular actions are typical or unique. It’s a wonderful thing to step back, wonder and continually learn.

8) Some mistakes have lasting effects.
We’ve lost at least two hamsters who found their way out of their cage when doors weren’t securely closed. The two most recent were found in the sump pump well far too late. Those freak accidents have taught us to not keep creatures in the basement because there are places where harm can come far too easily.

Our chinchilla will, most likely, lose his eye because he also found his way out of his cage (my fault this time) and punctured his eye. Our fluffy little guy has been a pretty good sport with every antibiotic eye drop dose, but he will never be the same.

Mistakes happen, however while some errors can be erased, we need to be diligent to avoid mistakes that could cause harm.

9) Look out for one another.
As much as barking dogs can be annoying, there is a wonderful feeling of protection when they are there to defend all of us at any cost. My macaw reminds the kids (loudly) when it’s time for bed. We all function as a team and pick up the slack for one another when someone needs something. The creatures keep us moving forward as a collective, rather than individuals.

10) All families look different.
I have yet to meet anyone who lives in suburbia with more creatures than we have. Farms are different and they’d blow away our count of housemates. Friends may have a dog and a cat, a snake or two or maybe no animals at home. Every household is as unique as the personalities we see in our creatures. Our mini-zoo doesn’t make us better or worse. Just different.

11) Don’t judge by appearance
When our bearded dragon first arrived at home, my daughter (who was the creature’s owner) was afraid of him. He’d look so intently and would move so quickly, she put her perceptions on him. After time, she’s come to understand how he loves to cuddle if she’ll pick him up. She can read his movements and know when he wants to be alone or not. He’s no longer intimidating.

My macaw waves hello or goodbye. She’s not lifting her claw in preparation of an attack, she’s being friendly. Looks can be deceiving.

12) Play as much as possible.
Our creatures do nothing except entertain themselves and one another. As humans, we can become so wrapped up in ourselves and what needs to be done, we forget to play. We become stressed and find it difficult to relax some days. If we’d look around we’d see birds outside flying together and seeming to enjoy it. We’d see the simply things in life that we’ve forgotten to notice – fish swimming peacefully, butterflies landing on a flower. Animals play. It’s what they do. If only we’d make the time to play as much as they do, we could relax at the end of the evening with a blissful look and a happy heart.

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