The Chipmunk That Never Was

God sure does find strange ways to test me. I have friends who are confronted with the hardship of cancer-ridden parents, lost jobs, addiction, miscarriages, and the deaths of loved ones. They’re tortured by grief, heartbreak, hopelessness, and despair. And me, I’m haunted by chipmunks.


A lot less grievous and deadly, sure, unless we’re talking about a giant theme park mascot that’s armed with a weapon – I’m pretty sure I could take an unarmed one. They must have very limited peripheral vision, and I can’t imagine they’re that agile. I’m quick and spry and have a surprisingly strong left jab. Just ask Tighe – it’s a dance move I’m working on, I haven’t actually hit him. Recently.  


Anyway, the hubbub started Wednesday morning when I was standing in our kitchen, sipping coffee and making lists – what to pack, what to pick up at the grocery store, places to go when I’m an empty nester, boarding schools, lists to include in my blog, etc. Nate and Sam were in the other room, taking turns reading Bible verses aloud to one another. I’m kidding, they were watching TV, but it was PBS, so they were learning. Plus, at least they weren’t fighting. Tighe had already left for work and Wally was at the groomer for the day – because we absolutely refuse to sit in a car for sixteen hours with that stinky bag of bones breathing his hot, moist breath onto our shoulders – so it was pretty quiet in the house, when I suddenly heard scuffling…in the cupboards…above the microwave…something was definitely up there.


Great. Not again. Another chipmunk?


Seasoned exterminator that I am, I opened the kitchen door leading to the garage and grabbed the Swiffer from the closet. After taking a courage-building sip of java, I reached for the cupboard door and pried it open with the Swiffer handle, bracing myself for a lunging rodent – we all know they can fly.




Then suddenly, more clamoring, clawing, scratching. But I could see nothing. Nothing was moving inside the cabinets – not the bags of confectioners sugar or the brown sugar, nor the canister of salt or the box of baking powder…but still, lots of…ruckus. 


Something about trapped rodents makes Nate have to poop. Next thing I knew, he was sitting on the toilet in the next room grunting and straining and talking about the mess he planned on making that day. His juvenile chatter about paper towel rolls and sofa cushions barely registered. Awesome, I think to myself. I have to do laundry, clean the house, cram most of our belongings into the back of our SUV, run some errands, eradicate the house of a living creature that inhabits our kitchen, and wipe Nate’s butt? So, yes, feel free to mess up the house. Just be creative about it! Use your imagination!


“Uh-huh… Sure, Nate.” I wished he would stop calling to me so that I could listen for my new cupboard friend.






“I love you.”


“I love you, too.”


“Aww.” Sam is moved by the moment.


“I am sweating, Mom. I am sweating so much.”


Meanwhile, Sam had wandered in, probably to tell me that his show had turned off or that he needed more cereal.


Then, we heard it. We both heard it – commotion from the cupboard. Sam shifted his eyes back to meet mine and he knew. “Yes, Sam,” I said. “Another one.”


“Eehhhh!” He cried as he waddled over to me, standing on my feet, thrusting his head back, extending his arms, and begging to be lifted up to safety.


“No, Sam. It’s ok.” I was determined not to let my overreaction color his reaction. I was also determined not to lift him up – my back’s been bothering me, and he’s been so whiny lately. He scowled up at me from the floor, sticking out his lower jaw.


We communicate a lot with facial expressions. It’s like a mother-son ESP, and I don’t know whether it’s something that evolved so that we can keep secrets from Nate or whether it’s simply because his verbal skills are still developing, and smiles, head nods and scowls are just the best we can do.


“Ok, I’m finished,” Nate called out from the toilet.


“Coming!” Sam clutched my leg tighter and together, we shimmied over to the bathroom to find Nate in his downward-facing dog “wipe me” pose, his head drenched in sweat.


Nate hopped into the living room and proceeded to make the exact mess that he had plotted while sitting on the throne. Paper towel roll towers were stacked up and knocked down, and sofa cushions were soon scattered across the floor. At least someone’s day was going according to plan.


My sidekick, Sam, and I returned to the kitchen. To listen. To hypothesize. Maybe it’s a bird. I had noticed a small flock of birds, clustered in the driveway earlier. Perhaps they were plotting a hostile takeover of the house. The noise in the kitchen was their Navy Seal-like operation. First in to infiltrate the premises – mission failed. Or did it? I glanced outside to see if there were more birds perched menacingly on the fence. Or on the telephone wire. Nothing. Phew. It could be a rat. Or a mouse. A squirrel?


“Hey, did I just see a lion in my house?” Nate’s voice interrupted my silent brainstorm with Sam.




Nate: “Never mind, it’s just this baseball bat.”


After several more minutes of this useless stakeout in the kitchen, I decided the varmint must be trapped. Trapped in the vent from the microwave that runs up through the cupboard above it. It sounded like claws scratching at metal. Poor guy. Or girl. How terrifying.


We continued to go about our day, running to the grocery store, hanging out at the playground for a bit, and periodically loading up the washer and dryer with a new batch of dirty clothes. But my mind kept wandering back to the ruckus in the kitchen. This guy was going to die in the vent. His carcass would stink up the house while we’re away, and there wasn’t much I could do about it from my bench at the playground. His blood would be on my hands, but I didn’t feel too guilty. We had a trip to get ready for!


When we returned from our outing, the clawing and scuffling in the cupboard was the first thing I noticed. Only this time, the clawing sounded more like it was against wood, no longer metal. Was he making progress, getting closer to freeing himself? I wondered. Sam and I exchanged a look, and I could tell he was wondering the same thing.


Nate, on the other hand, was oblivious as always. He inquired, instead, about the mess in the living room. “Who put all these cushions on the floor? And where did these paper towels come from? [Sigh.] Mom, you really should take better care of this house.”


I assembled lunch and as we sat around the table and ate, Sam and I continued to listen to the scuffling nervously, anxiously awaiting the moment when the chipmunk, or whatever, would finally bust through the side of the cabinet, and pounce from his advantageous position above the microwave.


“Why did you not try and help me?” I imagined him saying, trying to avenge his accidental capture.


Even Nate was quiet, and I knew he was moments away from discovering that we were not alone in the house.


“Mom!” Here we go. He knows.


“Mom! I’m gonna see what’s wrong with my penis….oh, it’s stuck to my leg.” Okaaaay. One problem solved, but the Chipmunk Crisis remains, status unchanged.


Then finally: “Hey, does anybody hear that?” Sam rolled his eyes in my direction, as if to say, “Is this kid serious? My chipmunk-induced PTSD kicked in five hours ago, and he’s just now inquiring about some strange noises?!”


“Yes, Nate. There’s a chipmunk trapped in the vent about the microwave. Again, another chipmunk.”


“A chipmunk? Hmm…” He peered into the area of concern curiously, trying to assess the situation. We had a brief discussion about how the chipmunk got in there, how he must be scared, and how worried we are about him.


Nate stared at the cupboard pensively for a few minutes and then returned to his cheese and crackers at the table.


After a moment or two, I broke the silence. “I think he’s trying to claw his way out.”




“The chipmunk!”


“What chipmunk?”


Seriously? Sam groaned and asked for more peanut butter.  The chipmunk scuffled from the cabinets. His panicked scratches were fast, forceful, getting desperate.


“I think you need to cheer it on,” I suggested.


“Go, Chipmunk! Go! Escape! [Pause while he listened] It’s not hearing me.”


“Maybe it doesn’t speak English. Do you know any other languages?”


Nate hung his head dejectedly, “No.”


“Bummer. I guess we need a different plan.”


“I know! I open the door and you catch him!”


“No, I don’t want to catch him!” And it’s true, I really didn’t want to catch him. I just wanted him to go away, humanely.


“Ok. You open the door and you catch him.” Nate could stand to learn a thing or two about division of labor.


Eventually, we finished and cleaned up lunch, put on our bathing suits and got ready for swim lessons. I could probably write another 2,000 words just about swim lessons, but let’s focus on the chipmunk. Or bird. Or rat. Or fairy. Or gnome. Or whatever.


As I ran back inside the house to grab the keys that I had forgotten – because it’s tradition, I called out, “Ok, Chipmunk! We’re headed to swim lessons now – please show yourself out!”


And he did! When we arrived home an hour and a half later, I listened for the scuffling as soon as we walked in through the kitchen door. Nothing. I put a fresh diaper on Sam, lugged him upstairs for a nap and listened. Still nothing. I put Curious George on for Nate and listened. Silence! I sat down at the table with my laptop to check my email. Still quiet.


We never heard from him again. He must have escaped! Saved himself! Score one for Mother Nature. Survival of the fittest, Darwinism at its finest. That smart little chipmunk. Or mouse. Or squirrel. Or leprechaun.


From the other room, Nate called out, “Mom, there’s a fly in our house!” Stay tuned for more adventures from our petting zoo…