Thirty-Six Hours As an Exterminator

Chipmunks are good at flying. Or at least, they’re good at leaping. From high heights. I guess I would be, too, if I was confident in my landing. Anyway, Sam and I learned this fact a few days ago while we were both covered in peanut butter. Peanut butter is a recurring theme in our lives. I can actually smell it right now as I sit at the dining room table and type. Yep, there’s a light film of it smeared all over the chair next to me. I love peanut butter, but I’m really starting to despise it’s residue. Actually, peanut butter is also crammed into the rodent traps scattered all over our first floor, but more on that in a minute.


Back to the chipmunk — he’d been our unwelcome houseguest for about thirty-six hours or so. The precise amount of time he was in our house is unknown because we don’t know how, when, or why he came in. We’re also not sure that he was the only chipmunk involved — there could have been more. Tighe believes he saw as many as four, but I’m skeptical. I think they’re just good at darting and scurrying, appearing and re-appearing, climbing and, as I’ve already mentioned, jumping. 


We discovered his Sinbad-like state in our house at around 3AM, when my husband and I were both awakened by a noise. Nate often wakes in the middle of the night and comes into our room — to have us fix his toys, to pee, to tell us about his dream, to bemoan the state of affairs in the Ukraine, or to complain that I put ketchup in the wrong place on his plate three days ago — so at first we weren’t alarmed at waking. But then we realized the noise was already in our room. And it had a much smaller, quicker stride than Nate has. Then something heavy landed on my leg. Instinctively, I kicked my leg in the air and something thudded against the wall next to the bed. More scurrying. More “What the hell — ?!” from us.


My husband turned on the light and we both jumped up into the middle of the bed, though half asleep, I almost fell off — twice. If this were an actual Sinbad movie, we would have been dressed in matching flannel pajamas and night caps and clutching onto one another for dear life, probably me holding Tighe up, away from the dangerous scurrying madly around the hardwood floor. 


After several minutes of incoherent surmising and clumsy hunting — one of us may have been holding a baseball bat…or a golf club…I can’t remember, it was late…maybe that was the movie version — we saw and heard nothing, so we slowly and cautiously lay back down and turned off the light. Suddenly we heard more noise! The light went back on, and from the safety of our bed, we hunted again…listening…waiting…nothing. Back to bed. We cycled through that pattern two or three more times, until we decided we needed to sleep. Like small children after a nightmare, we clutched our blankets and pillows, closed the door to our room and crept downstairs to try and salvage some rest. But really, neither one of us slept again that night. We laid on the sofas, blankets to our chins, eyes open, listening to the panicked scurrying above us, still unsure of whether we were dealing with rodents, bats, tiny escaped convicts — gnomes, maybe? — or those pesky monsters Nate’s been trying to convince us live in his room. 


Several hours later, I returned from the gym and my husband recounted a captivating and valiant tale of his pursuit of the chipmunk(s), with the dog at his side. It was enthralling, with lots of jumping and yelling and barking and sprinting up and down the stairs. Somehow Nate and Sam slept through the commotion, but the frenzied investigation did yield one result: we were dealing with chipmunks. And, according to my husband, they might be on steroids. And there might be dozens of them. And they may or may not have been mutated by a mysterious green ooze. And they’ve been trained as ninjas. I don’t know, we were sleep deprived, maybe it was just one teeny, tiny, innocent little chipmunk, scared for his life and trying desperately to escape from our house. 


But maybe not.


And so, my husband returned from work that afternoon, more exhausted than usual, and armed with several hundred dollars worth of rodent traps and a “plan.” Ignoring him, I proceeded to fix dinner, clean up dinner, put Nate and Sam to bed, and then sit in a trance-like state in front of the TV while he dotted the first floor with traps. Great, now I have to buy more peanut butter. As we fell into bed that night, he explained his plan to me, fully prepared for a repeat of the battle from the night before. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t know the details — I fell asleep before he got to “Phase 2.”


We all slept soundly that night, waking only for bathroom breaks, and eventually, around 7AM when Nate came in to give us hugs and tell us the plot from his new ninja book — the exact book that we had each read to him at least three times the night before, so we really didn’t need a plot summary. But it was definitely better than waking with a chipmunk tangled up in our bedsheets. 


And so, assuming the chipmunk skirmish was over and that we had wasted a lot of money on rodent traps, Nate and Sam and I decided to spend the morning at the zoo. There, we faced growling tigers in cages…swimming polar bears behind thick glass…hungry orangutans hurling stalks of broccoli…swarms of field trippers and their burnt-out chaperones…and cute little penguins waddling around on rocks! But nothing could prepare us for awaited us at home.


I’ll skip the meltdowns that each child had when we got back for lunch. One involved the ripeness of a pear and one involved a missing water bottle. Suddenly, something dashed across the floor of the dining room, under the table, across my feet and into the kitchen. My expletives jarred both boys to attention and Sam stopped sobbing in front of the open refrigerator to watch the chipmunk sprint right in front of him. 


“Let’s get him, Wally!” The dog followed me through the kitchen as we checked behind doors and cabinets and trashcans and found nothing. Hmm… Oh well, we’ll get him, I’m sure. Maybe he’ll dart out into the garage on his own. We went about our lunchtime routine as usual, which meant Sam had slopped peanut butter all over his body, so I decided we would do baths after lunch.


While Nate danced in the tub and a naked Sam ran around the upstairs in an effort to evade the bathwater, I marched around the house gathering dirty laundry. As I lifted Nate’s laundry basket in the corner of his room, a chipmunk scampered out from under it, sprinted down the hall, and into the master bedroom where he ran into — literally, I think — a screaming, naked, and overtired Sam. Suddenly, Sam’s screeches reached a new, sky-scraping pitch! The chipmunk turned to retreat, but faced me and my litany of curse words, and, in a panic, climbed up the drapes and perched himself on top of the curtain rod. 


Grabbing a broom and calling for Wally, I scooped up Sam and leaped onto the bed, swatting at the chipmunk with the broom. Meanwhile, Nate, still in the tub, chattered away obliviously about ninjas and his Spiderman washcloths and the new “friends” he made at the zoo that morning. An aside: just because you tell someone that you like his shirt does not make you friends, especially if that is the extent of your interactions, but I digress. I continued to throw in some “uh-huh’s” and some “cool, Nate’s” as I extended my arm as far as I could reach. Suddenly, the chipmunk flew — really, he flew! — from the curtain rod, landed safely on the floor, and rushed by a stunned Wally, out of the room, down the hall and back into Nate’s room. Idiot!


I spent the next several minutes trailing after the chipmunk as he sprinted from room to room, down the stairs, back up the stairs, under doors and beds and tables, evading my tentative broom swipe every time. Sam and I, clinging to each other fiercely, took turns shrieking and jumping and yelling, “Get out of our [censored by sponsors] house!” until he went downstairs one last time.


Exhausted — that chipmunk was in pretty good shape — we returned to Nate in the bathroom who was still yammering away about “reaching his true potential.” Then, suddenly, “uh-oh” as he stood up and reached for his butt. 


“Nate! Do you have to poop?” I picked him up, threw him onto the toilet and tried to calm Sam down while I rinsed peanut butter from his hair. 


Moments later, as Nate was sitting on the toilet explaining the difference between “wet farts” and “poop juice” — apparently the latter is when the poop “melts” before it comes out of your butt — he peered into the hall and said, “Hey, a chipmunk.” Totally cool and calm, as if he had just said, “Hey, bananas are on sale this week.” Which would be great because we always seem to need bananas.


Let me take a moment to explain the layout of our house. Just beyond the bathroom is an exterior door leading to a second-story deck. We suspect this is how the chipmunk entered the house in the first place since the valet can’t recall admitting him. Anyway, in the aforementioned mayhem, Sam and I had opened this door, hoping to usher the little varmint out and onto the deck. Where he goes from there is his problem.


Anyway, the chipmunk seemed to be trying to make his way to the door. Progress! He crept in the direction of the sunlight until he turned to his left and saw us huddled on the floor of the bathroom. Sam’s shriek pierced my eardrums and the chipmunk retreated in fear! Crap! We were so close! 


“Wally! Get up here, you worthless, overly affectionate dog!” I hoped that Wally’s bounds up the steps would corral the chipmunk back towards the door. And I was right! After several more attempts, the chipmunk, getting closer and closer to the deck door each time, finally made it across the threshold! Success! Fresh air! I can’t even imagine his relief!


I pulled the door shut and locked it! Nate hopped down from the toilet, declared it one of the biggest poops he’s ever had, and asked me to wipe him. Sam, his wet little body still shaking with fear, grasped my neck as we wiped, dried off, and got dressed again. Once his heart rate returned to normal, I put Sam in his crib for a nap and ventured downstairs with Nate — who had not stopped talking the entire day — and we sat down to finish our lunch. From his chair, he squinted at the carpet in the next room. “Look, Mom!” he said as he ran across the room. “Oh, no. A fly! Now we have two problems.”


Stay tuned next week: The Saga of the Common Housefly!