Christine Koh

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I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Squirrel Symbolism

squirrel.jpgDear Readers: This is a departure from the usual, but today I feel compelled to ask for your advice. Over the last few years - as I have learned how to be a parent, and also free myself of external expectations and make major professional leaps - I have come to believe firmly in the power of the universe; that life throws you the crazy pitches to force you to deal with stuff. So this week, as I was driven to the brink of a breakdown over an invasive squirrel, I have been trying to figure out what my lesson is. The chronology follows, and I welcome you to share your thoughts.

  • Just before Christmas, I came home to discover our kitchen covered in peanut shells (from a bag we had in the pantry). I initially thought - with dread - that it was a mouse, but soon realized (with elevated dread) that it was a squirrel. The squirrel apparently gained entry though an exposed area around our laundry room pipes. Jon patched the area with duct tape; the landlords said they would call their carpenter to properly patch things up.

  • Over the next week or two, we proceeded to find peanuts hidden all over our first floor. First in Jon’s slipper, then under the Christmas tree, amidst my cookbooks…everywhere. I felt disgusted and violated. Otherwise, though, the squirrel appeared deterred by Jon’s patch job (still no sign of the carpenter).

  • Last Monday, I start to hear the dreaded scratching in the laundry room. I gingerly poked my head in the laundry room and saw a pair of claws trying to open up a new hole near another exposed crack near the pipes. I ran out of the laundry room screaming. Then I soaked a rag with Tabasco sauce (apparently a squirrel deterrent) and stuck it in the hole using a chopstick to push it in. I notified the landlord.

  • All was quiet through the rest of the week. I thought I won the battle (still no sign of the carpenter).

  • On Tuesday of this week, I started hearing a very different, louder kind of scratching. It sounded as if the squirrel was in the kitchen and every time I heard the scratching I ventured into the kitchen, made some noise, and the scratching stopped. This pattern of events persisted through the morning and afternoon, and my stress level started to shoot through the roof. I finally called the landlord again. She came up and we ventured into the pantry to discover that - with the laundry room access no longer an option - the squirrel had scratched a hole through an area of the pantry's faux drop ceiling. There was plaster all over the floor. The landlord left and returned with a humane squirrel trap (if the squirrel crawls in and goes for the bait in the center, the doors on both ends snap shut). A former zoology major, she finds all of this fascinating. I find myself getting increasingly angry. By this point it’s late afternoon and the squirrel has gone into hiding.

  • On Wednesday I had a meeting in the morning and when I returned, I heard noise in the kitchen. I opened the door a crack and saw that the squirrel had gained entry, was ignoring the trap, and was walking around the pantry. I freaked and called the landlord. She came up to look around and the squirrel went into hiding. She left, I sat and continued to try to work, and then I heard the slam of the trap doors. I poked my head in and saw that the trap actually worked! Then in the 30 seconds it took for the landlord to come up (ready to take the trap to another location and set the squirrel free) the squirrel made a mockery of the trap: it busted free and went back into hiding. I was disappointed, exhausted, angry, and extremely hungry (I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast meeting since I was too scared to go into the kitchen/pantry).

  • That evening I finally broke down in tears. Part of me was angry that our landlord didn’t seem to get how stressful this was for me. Part of me was truly scared of getting attacked by a rabid squirrel, not to mention the prospect of trying to handle the situation the next morning with Laurel with me, and on a day when I’m certain our landlord would not be in a position to help us (she was slated to bring her husband home from the hospital). And part of me was searching for symbolism: Was it merely that I didn’t like being made fun of for being squeamish around squirrels? Was I angry because the hole in the roof was a little too reminiscent of my childhood home being in constant disrepair (thus meaning we never could have friends over)? Was the squirrel serving as a messenger? Very oddly, the day the squirrel broke through, my psychotic former boss initiated contact with me for the first time in a year and a half. Was the squirrel invasion simply serving as a reminder that mortgage rates are excellent right now and we should think more seriously about buying our own, squirrel-free home? What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here?

  • I was grateful that night for Jon’s clarity and sense of action. He concluded that we couldn’t rely on speedy action from our landlord (note that this is now more than a month after the first squirrel episode and still no sign of the carpenter) and if anything were to be done, we’d have to do it. The issue of immediate importance was to try to prevent me from having another day with my nerves on end with Laurel at home, waiting to see if the squirrel would come back and get back in (then out) of the trap. So we soaked another rag with Tabasco, and Jon shoved it in the hole in the ceiling and patched the area with more duct tape. We started sending “This is not a squirrel house” and “The peanuts you hid are no longer here” telepathic messages and burned incense as part of Operation Squirrel Smoke Out.

  • Yesterday was blissfully quiet and I felt my stress level come down considerably. I’m hoping this (brief, no doubt) respite will allow me the space to figure out what the universe is trying to tell me. Is it time to book time with my therapist? Should I now sit down and figure out a way to respond to my former boss’s email, which I have been eyeing disdainfully in my inbox all week? Should I start scouring open houses? Is something else going on? I welcome your thoughts

    Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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