Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 1 second
So in case you missed it on Twitter or one of my keynotes, we now have guinea pigs. The first pets my kid has ever had. The first furry pet (mammal, not bird, fish or turtle) that I’ve ever had.
Today, at the Digital Literacy Summer Institute at URI (#digiURI) I realized how the entire process we went through to decide to get guinea pigs and care for them models both digital inquiry and connected learning! So I’m just putting this post here to thank #digiURI for helping me see how this was a good form of modeling for my child.
So people who are not academics or educators probably laugh at how I approached this. About a year ago, my kid and I researched the difference between hamsters and guinea pigs and decided we would get guinea pigs. We knew we should get them in a pair, both girls, etc. But then we changed our minds. Then her best friend got a pair of guinea pigs and we made fun of them for getting a boy and girl (who got pregnant right away). But now my daughter wanted guinea pigs in earnest, so we did some more research, learned about what they eat, humane cage sizes, other habits, etc.
Soon, we had asked around and acquired two baby guinea pigs, probably siblings. The guy assured me they were girls. I got a horrible little cage with them, but I would let them out into larger spaces as much as possible. They were tiny still but I knew they would grow. My kid immediately called them Cinnamon and Ginger and could tell them apart really quickly even though their coats were very similar. Ginger was hyperactive and noisy, Cinnamon loved to eat. Ginger was dominant, always wanting to get the first bite of food. Cinnamon was less jittery. I would work in the same room as they played and she would not flee as soon as I moved or anything. She just enjoyed eating.
It was hard finding a vet for “exotic pets” but after like 4 or 5 calls I found one!
I’d never had a mammal pet before, so I was not prepared for the amount of grief I felt when we lost Cinnamon. We were kind of given a signal, something looked odd about her fur and we took her to the vet and she said she had poor immunity and gave us some stuff. But four or so days later, she started seizing and I called my husband (who was not home) in a panic and we rushed her to the vet. My daughter looked up, on her phone, causes of such seizing. She showed me some of it. I saw it might be fatal but could be saved. The vet told us prognosis was bad, she probably ate something poisonous (or I left her in the sun too long – I used to take them outside from like 6-8am and that day the sun was bad and maybe I left them out too long? or they didn’t sit in the shaded areas I made for them?) or vitamin C deficiency… or any number of things. The vet asked us to stay while she gave her like infusions and oxygen mask… and she let me know gently not to expect the best… and within an hour or so, she called us in to say good bye.
I cried buckets. I could not hold back to protect my child from this. I just grieved. I did not cry the day my father died. I was pregnant, my husband was ill, and I did not cry. Part of it is learned stoicism. Part of it might have been pregnancy hormones (at 6 months, the baby was kicking a lot and reminding me there was a life inside me to take care of and feed, etc.). I was also at peace. I knew my dad was a good person and that he would be in a better place, with Him.
Anyway, when Cinnamon died, it came after two really difficult periods in my life… soon after my dad’s 10th anniversary, soon after I’d lost a dear friend in an unexpected way, and just two weeks after Cinnamon had come into our lives and my daughter told me “they’ve become part of the family”.
Enter Vanilla Cream
Because we’d done our research, and also, a friend (from Twitter) introduced me to his sister who was a guinea pig expert, I knew that a guinea pig would die of loneliness if she lived alone, we set about trying to find another female companion. We researched how to help our remaining guinea pig, Ginger, grieve or deal with her brief loneliness. We bonded like crazy for 2 days. Then we searched like crazy til we got her a new guinea pig – this one much older than her. Ginger was like 5 weeks old, the new girl was like 2.5 or 3 months old, almost an adult, and we named her Vanilla Cream. I asked my friend’s sister (now a good friend) how to introduce them. Watched videos. Read articles. This stuff is complicated. We learned to interpret their sounds and know when to separate them and when to know they could sleep together safely.
Ups & Downs
Today was a particularly funny day. We took them to the vet for a checkup. Turns out:
- Ginger is a boy!! The vet showed me the proof!
- Vanilla Cream might be pregnant
Sooooo the lesson learned here is that… despite academic research and inquiry… things can still go wrong. I swear I looked up many ways to check the gender of a guinea pig but it’s really hard to tell when they are babies… genitals too small. Apparently the vet says it is also hard to tell if they’re pregnant… so I don’t think anyone MEANT to deceive me at any point…
But still… inquiry… my child learned how to research pets and how to take care of them. #WIN