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Making Choices

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A young boy kept a mouse in a wire cage on his bureau. He had purchased a cage similar to the cage at the pet store where he chose the mouse from among several others, all occupied with some business that required much movement and negotiation of paths about the crowded cage. Now, alone in its own cage, the mouse sat still and quietly, occupying only a small parcel in the wood shavings that covered the floor near the water bottle and a small bowl of food.

Each morning when the boy awakened, he found the mouse in the same place, shivering and nervously rubbing its paws together, just as he found the mouse when he returned from school, and just as he saw it in the evenings before he went to sleep.

The water bottle and the small bowl that held seeds remained full, and the mouse was quickly thinning. Neither the boy nor his parents knew what to do. They filled the bowl with different food; they put a teaspoon of sugar in the water, thinking that the mouse might like something sweet. Still the mouse stood fast and fretted. The boy took the mouse from its cage several times each day and petted it. He placed it on the floor and gave it free rein; the mouse remained still and indifferent.

On a particular Sunday, the boy came to his father, inconsolable.

“What should I do about the mouse?” he asked.

“You’ve done all you can. It’s in the mouse’s hands now. Mice, just like people, do things for their own reasons.”

The boy took the mouse back to the pet shop and explained the problem to the owner.

“We’ll just get you another and see how that works out,” said the owner.

The owner returned the mouse to the crowded cage while the boy’s gaze meandered across the various animal dwellings in the pet shop.

Indicating the mouse cage, the owner said to the boy, “You can pick whichever one you like.”

The cage was as he remembered, bustling with concerns known only to brown mice. Among them a slim mouse with a lighter-brown coat sipped at the water bottle and then weaved purposefully through the melee to an exercise wheel, where it took its place at the back of the queue of others waiting to expend some energy.

The boy pointed to the mouse at the end of the line. “That one,” he said.

“This one?”

“Yes, the slim one.”

“That’s the mouse you just returned,” said the shop owner.

The boy was perplexed. The mouse fidgeted and craned its neck from side to side, presumably assessing the progress of the queue. The boy again explained his efforts to make the mouse happy and how none of his remedies worked.

The pet store owner said the same thing that the boy’s father had said: “Mice, just like people, do things for their own reasons. If I had to guess, I’d say that this is a mouse who wants company.”

The boy he asked what he should do.

The shop owner bent down and spoke to the boy in low tones, as if he were sharing a secret. “Here are my thoughts on the matter,” he said. “You can accept that it is the nature of this mouse to sit still for long periods of time when not in the company of other mice. You can change your plan to better accommodate this mouse by caring for several mice instead of just one. Or you can leave the mouse to someone who better understands its nature and get a different kind of pet. As I see it, there are three solutions to every problem: accept, change, or leave.”

The boy came home with a perforated box. He brought it to his father, who looked inside and saw not one but three mice.

The father gave the boy a stern look.

“Did anyone give you permission to buy three mice?” he asked. “I’m having some trouble understanding why you went to return a mouse and came back with three.”

“I have my reasons,” said the boy. He giggled. “And as I see it, you have three choices…”

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