Of mice and boy

Her son had left to join college the previous week. She was cleaning out the clutter in his room when she saw a polythene bag under some junk in one corner of his cupboard. When she pulled it out, a pair of flip-flops fell out.

As she held them, she remembered that day…the day of the scream, a little mouse and a boy, who had learnt his lesson in compassion from two mice – one a big field rat and one a tiny dead mouse.

********

It was cold, especially at 5 in the morning. The boys had to leave for school by 7am and there was so much work to do! Her husband was away on tour and she missed his help in completing the chores. She hurried with a load of laundry to the wash. And as she came back she saw something in the middle of the room – something pink and very small. Instantly she knew what it was.

She could have sworn that it hadn’t been there a moment ago. But as she looked at it, she wasn’t sure. She had not felt anything soft underfoot, so she couldn’t have stepped on it. But what if……..

At that point, a ball rose up in her throat and in spite of herself, she began screaming. It was not the kind of scream that would have woken up neighbours in the apartment block they lived in, but loud enough to wake up her 17-year-old son, a strapping young man in the final year of school. He came running to where she was standing, the scream having died down, with her hand pressed to her eyes. She was mumbling something and looked as if she would begin screaming again. He heard the words ‘I didn’t kill it!’ over and over in a pleading voice.

He must have taken in the sight in one glance, for he put his arm around her and took her out of the room and sat her down on her bed. She was whimpering by now. ‘I didn’t kill it, it wasn’t there when I took the wash load.…’ And then suddenly, she kicked off her flip-flops. ‘There must be blood on it! I don’t want them! Oh, the poor thing, I killed it!’

‘You didn’t kill it! It would have been squashed had you stepped on it,’ he tried to reason. That proved a mistake because she started screaming again.

After a few minutes, he went out, quietly removed the mouse and disposed it off in the bushes behind the block. He then poured phenol and cleaned up the place. Perhaps watching her son do something mundane as cleaning and mopping the place had calmed her nerves. He picked up her flip-flops and brought them back after washing them. It reeked of Dettol. She turned her face away.

‘There is blood….’

‘No, ma. There is no blood. You didn’t step on the mouse. The slippers were clean. It must have died of the cold. They do, you know. You probably didn’t see it on your way out from the room.’ He spoke as if he knew all about little mice and their life cycles.

‘No!’

‘Okay, okay.’ He took off his own flip-flops and pushed them under her feet, as it was very cold. She meekly slipped them on and continued sitting there, as he made tea for her and brought her a cup. They both sipped the tea and he looked at his mother, with her wild stare and the dried tears on her cheeks. He had never seen her like this.  Maybe she was feeling over-worked. Perhaps she was coming down with some virus. Whatever it was, he must have felt that she wouldn’t want to remember this day, this incident, or to be reminded of it any time.

He picked up the cups and left the room, closing the door behind him. When he went to his room to wake his younger brother, he put her flip-flops in a polythene bag and shoved it in under some stuff in his cupboard. He would dispose of them later.

It was some time before he came back, his hair wet from the bath and announced that he was not going to school that day. It was not unusual as he used to stay away from school often, to prepare for his entrance exams to the engineering courses. So she left it at that.

‘Why don’t you take a bath and you will feel better?’ he gently pulled her to her feet.

As she stood under the hot shower, she shook herself. What had come over her? She now wondered what her son was thinking about her behavior of a while ago. Had he lost his regard for her ability to fix everything in their young lives? In fact, he used to call her Dr.Fix-it for that reason. Had she become a weak woman with feet of clay in his eyes? Would he ever look up to her? She shook herself resolutely. There was no point in speculating or brooding over such things.

The shower seemed to have restored her self-control. When she came out, The stereo was blaring in his room. He could never study without that infernal noise!  She saw that he had hung out the clothes from the wash. She smiled thinking of the dire threats it usually took to get him do his chores.

On an impulse, she stuck her head into his room. ‘How about going to Macdonald’s?’

‘Today? When?’ he jumped up happily. For all his grown up act, he was still a child and she came out, feeling that in some small way, the balance had been restored.

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He was a quiet boy who normally didn’t share his feelings openly with her or his father, even when he had been younger. But there were occasions when he did….

…as on that day, when he had been about 12 and they lived in another neighbourhood. That day too there had been a mouse. No, not a tiny one, but a huge field rat. The rodents regularly raided the ground floor flats in the housing society adjacent to the field. They were completely fearless and the only way to control them was to trap them and release them outside as far away as possible.

Trapping them was not as difficult as releasing them later. She was absolutely petrified of them and her husband left home very early. It was left to this boy to do the job. His father taught him how to do it. ‘Hold the trap as far from you as you can, with its mouth facing away and open the hatch. It will jump out and run away from you.’

It soon became a chore and his father said that he would give him ‘chore money’ for doing it. All went well for some time till one day he came running, his face stricken and distraught.

‘What happened? Where is the trap?’ she asked him.

‘Ma, I tried to open the hatch as I always do but the rat suddenly jumped inside and the trap fell from my hand into the ditch! There was water in it! Ma, the rat is going to drown and it will drown inside the trap. I should have held the trap tightly and not let it fall. And it is all my fault. I killed it!’ he was shouting and crying, large tears coursing down his white face. He was suffering so much that her heart ached.

‘It is not your fault. I know how big it was and could have scare anyone if it had jumped like that. Please don’t cry. Maybe someone will find the trap and release it. She knew she was blabbering, but didn’t know how else to console the child.

He missed his school bus that day. After some time he went out to check on the rat. ‘It is not there! I’m sure it was carried away by the flow of water!’ he cried in anguish. ‘I killed it. I hate rat-traps!’ he shouted before banging the door to his room.

She waited for a while and then went and sat beside him.

‘Do you know that people use rat poison to kill them? There are traps that kill them most horribly. We don’t like to kill any creature, so use the box trap to catch and then release them. We don’t even let it remain in the trap for long, nor do we want to hurt it. Remember how last week the tail of one of the trapped rats was caught in the hatch and knowing that it would be in pain, appa had opened it slightly to let it pull it inside?’

He remembered. ‘And the rat instead of pulling its tail inside, turned around, pushed the hatch wider open and jumped out! Appa had jumped back, remember?’ The memory brought a smile to his lips. Seeing it, she pressed on, ‘It was so huge that even he couldn’t do anything. So how could you have today? Perhaps it was the day for it to die. And you did try to reach the trap to release it, didn’t you? I am sure that you would have rescued it had the ditch not been too deep and filled with water.’

That day the young boy had learnt that despite one’s best intentions sometimes little creatures can get hurt or even killed, but the important thing is to do one’s best to save them and deal with them with compassion.

*******

She came back to the present and looked at the flip-flops in her hand. Perhaps on the day of the scream, he had remembered the rat trap and the helpless rage and guilt he had felt. Perhaps he had empathized with her guilt, even though both of them knew she had not stepped on the little creature to have killed it, just as they knew he had not  intentionally killed the rat by dropping the trap. While the guilt was the same, the roles had got reversed and the boy had shown compassion towards his mother when she most needed it.

She walked over and switched on the stereo, turning up the volume to the maximum. It had been rather quiet for the past week, she thought. One of his favourite songs was playing and she let the tears flow…

This is a true story.

This is my contribution to the unique global movement called 1000 Voices for Compassion.  Today,  the 20th February 2015, over 1000 bloggers worldwide are publishing posts about compassion. It is an effort to spread goodness and compassion in a world torn by strife and violence. Spread the love using the hashtag #1000Speak. Join the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion group on Facebook.

Images courtesy: Homepage: www.legacyamc.com/ This page: http://how-to-get-rid-of-mice.com/

64 comments

  1. This was an amazing story Zephyr ! Truly a compassionate post. I know how hard it can be for all of us, when a small creature gets killed by mistake. I always dread running over a dog on the road, when suddenly they cross.
    It’s interesting though to think, if there’s a point at which our compassion ends, when the size of the creature begins to dwindle and dwindle till it becomes insects, cockroaches and still further when it becomes a mosquito and still more when it becomes a virus 🙂

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    1. What a fascinating observation about the shrinking compassion being directly proportionate to the reducing size of a living creature! It had not crossed my mind at all. Isn’t it sad that it happens at all? Or maybe as they reduce in size, their ‘pest-value’ increases? I can’t for the life of me imagine having a cockroach as a pet, though I had once written a children’s story about a boy who had insect pets in all shapes and sizes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re so alike, your son and you. Through a million such incidents children absorb their values from their parents. Kindness and compassion can only be taught by example.

    Loved this story… 🙂

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    1. Thanks for commending a mother, Dagny 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Zephyr, this is a wonderful story. (I have to admit, there was so much going one on the Big Day of #1000Speak, so a couple blogs I meant to check out slipped through the cracks.) I loved how you (or the narrator) made the connection between the two separate incidents, and how the boy may have remembered what he learned when he was 12 and applied it when he was 17. It’s a great example of how we can learn compassion when we’re young and carry those lessons with us for the rest of our lives. And the role reversal… Oh, there’s so much that touched me about this piece! Thank you for sharing, Zephyr. 🙂

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    1. I am sailing in the same boat, Sara. I have bookmarked the linky for reading the posts as and when I can find time to, which is why it took me so long to get to yours. Thanks for liking the post. Ah, the role reversal. So glad that you noticed that line tucked in between. The balance was restored thanks to the boy’s compassion. He let her resume the superior role seamlessly. And if I have managed to convey the point without letting on that the narrator is me, I am happier still 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I sort of suspected it was you, especially after you wrote at the end that this was based on a true story. But I didn’t want to say anything in case I was wrong. 😉

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        1. Ah, but I always love it when someone starts a dialogue on my comment section — even opinions that are contrary to mine. Feel free to guess, disagree, dispute….I love all of them 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Visiting your blog for the first time. I love the way you have narrated the story of mom and son. Ya, boys are compassionate also. We all have a tendency to distribute the characteristics gender wise. There resides a girl in every boy and vice-versa.
    thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts

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    1. Of course boys are compassionate. Sometimes they just don’t express their feelings openly as the boy in the post did. I should know. I am his his mother 🙂 Do visit again, Yatin!

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  5. Such a sweet and tender post! It made me think of my Mom and the one thing she tried the hardest to teach us. That was to be kind. Her abiding motto was It’s nice to be important. But it’s more important to be nice!

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    1. Thank you for reading and the lovely comment, dltolley 🙂 I love your mother’s motto. What a wonderful on to live by!

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  6. Very well written. Reads like a good short story.

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    1. I guess stories are spun around real incidents, don’t they? 🙂 Thank you for reading and appreciating.

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  7. Loved the story Zephyr.
    If there was only one thing I could teach my children, it would be compassion. From that, every other good thing in this world will flow.

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    1. I am sure you already have, Priya. I can say that with surety having read your posts 🙂 Yes, compassion is such a multi-faceted thing that when practised in whatever form, it would surely transform the world.

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  8. Such a poignant telling of the mother-son bond and written with so much tenderness.

    Hugs, Zephyr. May your brilliance never dim.

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    1. You know he doesn’t read my blog. I think he would have forgotten the incident, as a typical kid might. Not the rat in the trap, but the screaming mother one 🙂 He had not talked to me about it afterwards, not that day not ever after. Dealing with a hysterical woman was fine, but forgetting it later was the compassionate part, for it was something out of the ordinary for a composed woman to give in to a fit of screaming like that.

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  9. Very well narrated post, Zephyr. Reminded me of my sons. The elder one was the most compassionate one, in our house, in their school days. But now, the younger one has taken over. We, as mothers feel so pround even with a small gesture of affection from our children. I never knew that he knew to cut vegetables or make mixed veg. rice…Once I had this migraine head ache and was vomitting continuously and then sleeping. He, the elder one, must have been in 8th std. When I woke up at night (I was vomitting since morning!), I saw the father who had come home after a tour and the two sons eating something. The son had made mixed veg. rice! He had cut the vegetables finely and kept it in the rice cooker with rice, salt and Maggie sauce! Veg. rice over. We still laugh when we remember it!

    I am always happy to read positive posts and this one was very nice to read!

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    1. Children are the best, when it comes to some tender love and compassion. And when they are a little older, they brush aside any acknowledgement of their compassionate actions and reactions. The older ones know how to take care of the younger one when they are in charge. Only when adults are around do they fight and let us know they are still kids 🙂 Glad you liked the post, Sandhya.

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  10. Such a wonderful tale of growing up and learning. We never know what impact words our will have. Kind or unkind words, all teach us and our children.
    Thanks.

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Indywrites. You are so right. We never stop learning from words, events and experiences that happen to and around us. The thing is to look for the good in everything to continue remaining positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Such a heartwarming story Mami. Sometimes I wonder if our children were born compassionate or we raised them such 😛 But it sure feels good.

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    1. Ha ha! That was good. We can of course take credit for anything good about our children 😛 But seriously, I think all children are compassionate by nature unless they have seen or experienced something in their environment to alter it.

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  12. A big lesson there on compassion! Always a pleasure to read your account and free flowing narrative, Zephyr!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, Rahul 🙂 How have you been?

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  13. A small incident but highlights the consideration and understanding of a child and mom.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating, KP 🙂

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  14. alkagurha · · Reply

    Sweet gentle Zephyr. I could visualize you while reading.
    We need many many more such voices.

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    1. The gentle one was the boy, not the mother, Alka. yes, we need to remember and share such stories to make the world that much nicer.

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  15. I am truly amazed at your son’s empathy.Boys are not usually so perceptive and considerate.A gem of a boy he is!

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    1. Boys are as perceptive and empathetic, but sometimes appear gruff and stiff. Thanks for reading amidst your chores, Indu 🙂

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  16. the little princess · · Reply

    compassion to little creatures, that is something most people hardly stop to think about…ants, helpless street dogs and yes, the scream inducing rats too! they are looked at more as pests to be gotten rid of rather than creatures deserving compassion… beautiful heartwarming story zephyr!

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    1. Compassion to little creatures including worms and insects. I had written a story for children based on this once 🙂 Sometimes we forget little things that are warm and nice happening around us and let ourselves become bitter. I am glad that so many of us are remembering these incidents to make our and everyone’s day that much happier 🙂

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  17. A truly heartwarming story. How every little incident in life has the potential to teach us some big lessons, if we can find a way to open ourselves to get deep into the experience. I loved how the story moves from present to past to more past and then back to present. Beautifully narrated, Zephyr. I could so relate to the mother in the story, though something like that hasn’t happened to me, yet my reaction to when I see a rat in the house is quite similar, involving a scream.

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    1. Thanks for appreciating the going back and forth in time technique used here. I couldn’t help it, though I felt it might confuse readers a bit. We do need to look for life lessons in everything that happens to us and around us, to enrich ourselves, Beloo. As we grow older, it becomes a little easier. As for the scream, I am pretty brave while dealing with pests including rats, but that day something had snapped and the scream was not one of fright — not one bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This reminded me of a story when my younger sister took in a baby squirrel, already dehydrated, and tried her best to everything possible to make the squirrel feel good . Sis was in class 2 then! Unfortunately after a week we had to burry ‘Pepsi’ ( we gave her this name) in our backyard. But yes that was a lesson in compassion! And this!

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    1. Children are the most compassionate beings and most of them retain it, even if it is not overtly visible as they grow into adults. I am sure your sister remembers her Pepsi even today 🙂

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  19. This story warmed my heart! How wonderful it is to see our children grow from babies to beautiful human beings!

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    1. Thank you for liking and commenting, Shilpa 🙂 The thing is, the kids forget the incident, but the parents can’t and shouldn’t.

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  20. There are so many such otherwise not-so-important instances in our daily lives that are a big example of compassion. If only we took time to stop, ponder and reflect. Loved it.

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    1. You are so right, Rekha. We need to remember such incidents to enrich our lives, because they are the gems that keep our faith in a sensitive mankind. And children are the best teachers of this subject. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  21. What better way to tell the world about compassion than to share this story!

    Random Thoughts Naba..Why No One Talks About Compassion Anymore?….

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    1. We must share our stories to find an echo in others, Nabanita. Read your post and loved it 🙂

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  22. This one caused some bitter-sweet memories to surface. One of a little puppy that took a fancy to following me when I was walking in Bangalore. Try as I might, I could not get it to quit (and I was in school and from a family averse to pets). When i crossed the road, the little thing came lolloping along but could not cross before the lights changed. I can,sometimes, still hear that pathetic cry as it was run over by a car.

    The other one is more like your own experience. A Delhi summer and I was sleeping in the camp cot in the balcony, when it started raining. I shifted inside in a hurry and, the next day, I find a dead kitten under the cot. You never realize what guilt is till you hear the mother cat utter piteous cries, like a child, for days around your house.

    Yes, despite best intentions, we do end up injuring small creatures. The day, though, when we start taking it for granted that this shall happen, and stop feeling guilt for it is the day when compassion shall start withering away.

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    1. We all go through such incidents in our lives but the very fact that we remember every detail and still cringe when we think of them is proof that we were never able to take it for granted, try as we had. So there is no fear that compassion will ever die, because those who kill and maim with impunity don’t have it, while those with compassionate hearts will never cease feeling the pain of others.

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  23. What a sweet, heartwarming story to read this morning, Zephyr. Now, I am guessing which one of the two boys it was. I loved it.

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    1. Hadn’t I made it clear which of the two boys it was? 😀 This incident was known only to the mother and son till today. I bet the boy has forgotten it 😀

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      1. Oh yes, the elder one. Read it again and got it. I see the same sensitivity in my elder one. When he brings balm to apply on my head because I have a headache or asks the younger one to make lesser noise because mummy is tired. Each single time, I notice and my heart swells with love. Each little act of compassion makes me feel so proud of the adults that they are turning out to be. The boys may forget, but the mothers don’t. 🙂 I am so glad you wrote this one.

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        1. I can imagine Sid doing all that. And Gautam seeing and learning from his bhaiyya 🙂

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  24. jaishvats · · Reply

    When I was a kid we lived on the outskirts of the town and we used to do this rat catching and releasing them far away …once when we were doing so the small thing scurried away to freedom but suddenly a dog we had no idea was nearby pounced on it and killed it….I perfectly can relate to the feelings of that boy …I myself was 14 then 🙂

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    1. Sometimes we have to watch helplessly as something like that happens. The only consolation one can give or get is that perhaps it was the day for the animal to die. Thanks for the comment, Jayashree 🙂

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  25. sigh. WHat a wonderful post. I dont even know what to say other than it was such a joy to read. Thanks… so lovely.

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment. I am so happy you liked reading it. Do visit again, Ivywalker 🙂

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  26. This is just the perfect story to exemplify compassion, Zephyr!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. Oh Roshni! The topic was decided in my mind when I heard about the group initiative, only i wasn’t too sure it would fit. Thanks for the approval 🙂

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  27. This was a beautiful take, B

    Happy friday

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    1. Thank you for reading, Ruchira 🙂

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  28. Found In Folsom · · Reply

    Now, you gave me idea to write my post…which I haven’t so far 😛

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  29. Found In Folsom · · Reply

    You have a big soft heart, BM. You are so sensitive, aren’t you? It’s surprising how small things move us beyond what we think. Loved the way you narrated. We had one rat few weeks back and we had to kill it 😦 The only traps I could find where the current treatment and a tiny one which would snap on its neck. We put some peanut butter on the tiny snap one and left it in the garage and the rat was in a still position the next morning. It was sad and sick to see that, but no other go. Rushi was pleading, are you going to kill it? pls don’t 😦

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    1. Hey, hey, this post is not about me, but about the boy. It is he who had the compassion when his mother seemingly lost control of herself. And he was mature enough to let her assume the parent role when she recovered. The mother was incidental and just the storyteller here. Children have very soft hearts and if they show signs of cruelty, which some do, they need help as do their parents. Rushi is a sensitive child so I am not surprised. I am glad that we don’t find those kind of traps commonly in India. But rat poison is common. I hate both and the only reason we used traps is because the rats were huge and created havoc in the house.

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      1. Found In Folsom · · Reply

        No…I understand it is about him and not you 🙂

        Like

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