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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Every Kid Should Have a Pet Rat

by jpaul (bio)

A few Saturdays back, my wife had a photo shoot and I was in charge of our three kids (5, 3, 1) for a few hours. She should have known that leaving me alone with the kids on a Saturday morning was not going to end well. Being a wise husband, I decided the first thing we needed to do was leave the house so that it wouldn't be a disaster when my wife got home. Unfortunately, summers in Houston are unbearable, so going outside was not an option. I decided our best alternative to playing outside was to go to the Better Zoo. This is the name our family has given PetCo, since it is like the zoo, but better in two very important ways; it is free and it is air-conditioned.

I say it's free, but I guess that is only if you decide not to buy anything, which is what we usually do … not today. We passed by the small mammal section and spotted some rats that we just couldn't pass up. My son chose his favorite "feeder rat," which are meant to be fed to a snake, and named him Ratty. Hopefully words just popped into your mind like "gross" or "disgusting" ... perfect, read on.

My wife was not impressed with my Saturday adventure, but at least my son is now a proud owner of a rat which he brings with him everywhere he goes, including to his friends' houses and to Sunday dinner with his grandparents, and he'll probably take it school the first chance he has for show and tell.

After only a few weeks as a parent of a rat owner, I have realized the crucial role this experience will play in my son's development. Not for the typical reasons associated with having a pet (responsibility, companionship, etc.), but for the ability he's already developing to question social norms. My son has come to realize that his rat is a very good pet. As you will find if you research the topic, rats are actually very intelligent, clean, friendly pets. Most people perceive rats to be the exact opposite. This misconception comes from the TV, books, stories, (insert media type here) rather than any actual interaction or experience with the creatures.

I want my son to grow up thinking for himself, questioning social norms, and looking for better ways to do things. I want him to be an entrepreneur who looks at the world differently than the rest. Owning a rat has been his first experience where he has seen adults act irrationally, afraid to touch or even get near his pet which he knows is harmless and friendly. I actually mentioned to him the other day that I was writing a blog about his rat. He asked me if I was writing it to "tell people not to be scared of rats because they’re nice." That response affirmed that he has seen the misperception and his developing brain has made an important connection – adults aren't always right.

Skip Baby Einstein and buy your kid a rat, or a snake, or a chicken, something that makes him/her unique. Be an example yourself by trying new hobbies and experiencing different cultures. Your kids will thank you when they're older for helping instill in them curiosity and the ability to question the assumptions around them. I wouldn't want to avoid a chance to drop religion into this blog-post, so let me try to make a connection.

For those born in the church, would you have been willing to question your parents beliefs and invite missionaries into your home, and then completely change your life? It takes a special person to question everything they have been taught by everyone they have loved, and I would like to think I could make that change if I had been born in different circumstances.

I'd be willing to bet that Joseph Smith had a rat or two when he was a kid.

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