I couldn’t have been two years old yet because Mom and Dad were still together, but I was definitely of a firm toddling age when these memories were made. I remember the small apartment somewhere in the wide Los Angeles area. It had shelves set into the walls that seemed to stretch up for miles that my parents had filled with books of all colors, but mostly I remember this apartment because I was fascinated by the Murphy bed in the wall. I had never seen such a captivating apparatus before and I took every opportunity to investigate.
I was just being shooed away from it properly so that the bed might be made up and folded into its niche without fear of including me (almost got me yesterday!), when there was a knock at the door. Now I knew it couldn’t be Mom because she had only just left to go to the store and even though the store was right around the corner it was much too soon. I stuck close to Dad’s knee as he went to open the door, so I could get a good look at whoever might be knocking.
It was a lady. She looked a little familiar to me. I think I had seen her in the hallways when we were coming home sometimes. I looked from her face to Dad’s as they talked, listening intently because it wasn’t always easy to understand everything grown-ups said. Sometimes they talked too fast or used words that I didn’t know. She was talking pretty fast and her hands kept fluttering up and down like the birds in the park. Gee, she seemed upset but I didn’t really understand why. I tilted my head and my forehead had that little bump between the eyebrows it got whenever I was trying hard to understand something. She told Dad that there was a little white mouse in her apartment and it must be someone’s pet.
Why would that upset her? He sounded like a nice little mouse and I wondered if he was very soft. I would love to see it because I had never seen a real mouse before, only pictures in books. Hmm, well it seemed she was upset because she couldn’t catch it and she told us that she was afraid of mice. This surprised me. I couldn’t even imagine why she would be afraid. Mice are supposed to be tiny, even smaller than ME and everyone I knew was a giant next to me. Oh! How exciting! She wanted Daddy to help her catch it. That meant I would get to go too, and see it… and maybe even touch it if they let me!
We went upstairs to her apartment and we all looked around. There he was! So small and very white, his eyes looked very black and shiny. He looked as soft as the dandy lions when they turn white and I thought it very funny how his tiny nose and whiskers twitched all the time as he watched us. Daddy saw him too and moved to scoop him up, but the lady saw him too and she screamed! Oh, she frightened him and now he’s run away and hidden under the stand with a TV on it. I sighed and looked at Dad. He seemed to understand and agree with what I was thinking. Wasn’t this lady silly to scream at a tiny little mouse and frighten him off when what she really wanted to do was catch him? Daddy started talking to the lady again to make her forget about the mouse and give the poor little thing a chance to get over his scare.
I held very still, stayed quiet and watched the place where he had hidden. It wasn’t long before he tiptoed out and sat at the edge of the doorway into her kitchen. “Shh, little mouse.” I thought at him. I moved slowly towards him but he scampered right away into the kitchen. I kept moving slowly because it was easier to be quiet when you moved slowly. He must be very scared to be so lost with all these huge strangers stomping around.
I was sure that I could catch the mouse because he didn’t seem really scared of me, just nervous. I followed him into the kitchen where he was waiting right in the middle of the floor for me. I just smiled and came close to him slowly so he wouldn’t be scared." Hello. It’s ok no one wants to hurt you, poor little thing," I was thinking.
Gosh, I had never been this close to anything alive so much smaller than me! His eyes looked like two drops of the ink Pop-o (my grandfather) used when he drew pictures for me at his special table, and Mouse’s wiggly nose was such a pretty pink, like his itty-bitty toes and funny tail. We stared at each other for a little while, just getting to know each other. Even though he was so very small, I had seen how fast he was, so I thought the best way to catch him would be to get very close and then grab him. So I did. He almost got away but I had him by his pink tail. His wee little feet ran on the air like the cartoon mouse who ran from the cat but this mouse was caught and wasn’t going anywhere!
I was so proud of myself! I had caught the mouse for Daddy and wouldn’t he be happy when I showed him what I had done all by myself! He would call me his Clever Girl and pat my back in that way that told me he was proud of me. I hurried into the living room with a big smile, “Daddy! Here, Daddy!” I got one quick look at their faces. Daddy seemed surprised and then he started to smile and laugh but the lady’s face lost some of its color. Her scream was so loud it echoed off the walls of the small apartment and scared me! I dropped the mouse and he was so scared he ran away again!
I wanted to too and my heart was pounding! Had I done something wrong by catching the mouse? Surely not, Daddy had smiled and he didn’t smile if I did something wrong! I got very angry at the large silly lady for screaming like that and ruining everything. Now we would have to catch the poor little guy all over again and how would we ever do that if she kept screaming all the time?! I never even got to really feel him and see if he was as soft as he had looked. I wanted to cry.
Dad scooped me up and gave me a hug telling me it was ok. They just hadn’t thought I would be so clever to catch the mouse so soon and it surprised them. He took me down stairs to see if Mommy was home yet and she was, so Daddy said I had to stay home so he could catch the mouse for the silly lady.
“Is mouses soft, Daddy?” I asked.
“Are Mice soft, honey, One mouse or two mice. Yes, they can be. How about when I catch him I bring him down so you can pet him before we find his real home?” Daddy said.
I smiled again and that made Daddy smile too. Then he smiled at Mommy and told her he couldn’t wait to tell her what had happened. I toddled off to find something interesting to do while I waited for Daddy and the mouse. sigh Mommy had already folded up the bed, so I had missed another chance to see how something so big could be made small. Oh well, catching the mouse had been exciting and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that!
If only she hadn’t screamed. I sat in my chair and took one of my best books with the wonderful pictures of the real lives of rabbits off of my shelf to look at while I waited. I was very proud and grateful that I had such clever parents who knew the proper way to act around little girls and small animals. Still, I guess even if you are big, you can make mistakes. Maybe being big on the outside doesn’t mean that you always feel big on the inside either?
I pondered the meaning of size while I waited, occasionally looking over at the magical wall that held our bed. I couldn’t help feeling that if I could only figure out how something so big could fit into something so small, perhaps the giants around me would make more sense.
My earliest datable memory is my first birthday party, June 1st, 1971… Although many more memories have been made since, I still remember the dress with the Peter Pan collar my mother had made for me to wear, the balloons, what it was like being knee-high to everyone in the room, sitting in my favorite spot halfway up the stairs where I could play with my sailor doll and watch everyone… being put in a chair at the table that I (of course) didn’t fit into with any confidence, the unfamiliar faces, the presents piling up in front of me at the decorated table that made me feel like I was getting even smaller.
While I can’t pinpoint the date of these events with any accuracy, it happened sometime between ages one and two. Most of what I’ve given here is pretty much my stream of thought within that event. The words of my father are approximate, gathered from conversations we had about this event when I was much older.
It becomes more important with each passing year for me to take time to draw up early important life lessons like this one from the deep well of my memory. Like visiting places we remember from our youth, it helps me to readjust my perception and focus in the now; an excellent reminder to keep things in perspective, especially when I am feeling overwhelmed by a situation or the “big picture”.
The humble mouse, a Shadow Teacher for many people, was my earliest mentor in the importance of perspective, and taking the time to be quiet and examine details. For those interested in reading about Mouse as a Creature Teacher, please click here.