I’ve confronted squirrels (outdoors) and rats (indoors), and, compared to them, mice are cute… almost.
Children love mice — cartoon ones and real ones — and the first time I discovered one in the house, the children, then ages 4, 8, and 11 and home on a summer day, begged me to catch it and drive it to the nearby farm to let it go. I did. Picture me, in jeans, t-shirt, and Black Dog baseball cap, in the family minivan with two little girls and a mouse in a metal waste basket with a piece of cardboard on top, driving to Allandale Farm and down one of the dirt roads marked with a No Trespassing sign, pulling over, getting out with a metal waste basket with a mouse in it, and gently sending that mouse on its way.
We had mice in the living room one Thanksgiving weekend when we also had guests. I waited until they were upstairs asleep before enlisting Jimmy’s help to catch the mice with my upside-down-metal-waste-basket-and-a-piece-of-cardboard trick. Stealthily I caught two, walked across the street with them in the basket in the middle of the night, and released them near the bushes around the temple, where I suspect they originated because of all the intense catering activity for events at the temple. (The regular appearance of a truck marked Waltham Chemical in the temple driveway was another clue.) I stuffed the holes around the radiator pipes with steel wool, and the incursion at the time was addressed.
For the past few months, we’ve had signs that the mice have returned and this time to the kitchen, most notably under the sink and in the silverware drawer. Their droppings, which resemble flax or black sesame seeds, are the evidence. To deal with the problem, we’ve ignored it. All that we keep under the sink is dishwasher detergent and our plastic recyclables. We moved the silverware in its caddy to the counter.
Weekly, I have been vacuuming the turds and hoping the problem would disappear. Apparently, the mice were not getting the mental messages I was sending them because the turds would inevitably blossom again. “Oh, well, so we have mice,” I would think.
I can tolerate mice more than I can clutter, however, and last week the constant presence of the silverware and all the knives on the kitchen counter pushed me to the limit. Visually and mentally I needed space: a long, horizontal, counter-length stretch of it. I had to confront the mice and take back a sliver of my domestic equilibrium.
On Sunday, with Lydia at a rehearsal and Jimmy and Eli on their way to Vermont and only Grace and her pal Jessie around, I mustered up my determination and gathered some old-fashioned mouse-busting supplies: flashlight, screwdriver, and steel wool. I took everything out from under the sink, vacuumed, sanitized, and I went in.
Half in and half out of the cabinet, I used the flashlight to peer behind the half-height* cabinet backing. (*There are lots of little oddities in our house left by previous owners, one of whom I suspect was a Weekend Warrior with unorthodox ways of ‘improving’ the home.) I had anticipated a dime-sized hole or two, perfect sized entryways for mice. I spotted those, plus wide cracks several inches long where the floor met the house wall.
I sat on the floor, deflated. I fantasized about giving up and letting this be someone else’s problem, like an exterminator’s. Then I imagined paying that exterminator $200 to do a job that is really all manual labor. (I mean, he’d earn the money, but it’s also very basic stuff I can do myself.) Deep breaths, and a voice inside that says c’mon, you can do it, really help in times like these.
I went back in, this time armed with screwdriver and wads of steel wool. The holes at eye level were easy to fill. The holes down at the seam between wall and floor were a challenge and the screwdriver too short. In a pinch, a long s’more stick (unused and leftover from summer) worked. I attacked the cracks from two angles: (1) looking down on the cracks from inside the cabinet and (2) looking horizontally at the cracks as I lay on the floor, having taken the toe kick off from under the cabinet.
As I blustered my way through, I had this thought: there’s got to be a better way. Once, as I rolled up a wad of the steel wool and put it on the s’more stick, I wondered if there was a better tool or material for what I was doing. What if, for example, there were some kind of foam, marshmallow-like, that could go on the end of a stick, be inserted into a hole or crack, and then expand to fit?
Well, er, apparently such a cool product does exist, as I learned the next day from my very handy and do-it-yourself parents, who came for Lydia’s performance and an early dinner. I boasted about my animal control efforts, and they told me about Great Stuff™, which is not unlike my marshmallow idea. Yet, better than my marshmallow idea, it already exists.
There is still much to be said for old-fashioned remedies and elbow grease, though. As of Friday, five days after the intervention, the kitchen was 100% free of mouse turd.
I’m not naive or inexperienced in rodent encounters. It’s cold outside, and I know those mice are somewhere in here, perhaps keeping themselves warm and hydrated under the washer and dryer in the basement.
With that I can abide.
Image of mouse by ap. on Flickr via a Creative Commons license. Image of me under the sink by Grace Guterman. Title borrowed from a novel by then child author Ally Sheedy, She Was Nice to Mice (1975), about Elizabeth I, a book I enjoyed as a kid.