“Aren’t you going to be sad when they’re gone?” I hear that question a lot these days. My answer is quick, honest and always the same. “No.”
This conversation, repeated on a daily basis, is in reference to two small babies that I am mothering right now. I am there for them 24/7. I make their formula. I feed them around the clock—initially every two hours, and now it has relaxed to every three to four hours as they continue to mature.
I’m up with them in the middle of the night. I clean things up when they go potty. I keep them warm, comfortable and safe. I hold them close. I play with them. I worry when they don’t seem to feel well. I celebrate each new stage in their young, tiny lives. I love them dearly.
But when the day comes that they are ready to leave, I will let them go. I won’t cry, I won’t try to convince them to stick around. Once my job as their adopted mom is done, they will go into the world healthy, strong, and without me. I will send them off with the full understanding that it is very likely I will never see them again. And I will sleep. I will enjoy blissfully full, uninterrupted nights of sleep.
James squirrel Jones at about one week old
Now before you resend my nomination for mother of the year, and before you condemn my babies as ungrateful brats, you should know that my little ones are squirrels. Little orphans, about two weeks apart in age, who came my way via a wonderful, dedicated friend who volunteers with a wildlife rehabilitation group. She is my mentor and I am grateful for her knowledge and guidance in this amazing, exhausting experience.
Several people have suggested that I turn my cute squirrels into pets, but that has never been my purpose and never should be. These are wild animals. They are not dogs, kittens or even hamsters. They are wild squirrels who just got dealt a bad hand at a tender age and I’m trying to help make things right for them.
I know my babies, now that their eyes have opened, must think that they have a giant, clumsy mom who looks and smells nothing like they do. They’re probably not sure I can even climb a tree (though I can!) But, they do know love and they do have in me a surrogate mom who is fighting for them every step of the way.
The day that I finally get to let these little animals find their way into a tree to chase and play with their wild cousins will be a truly joyous day. It will be a time for celebration knowing that all the weeks of coaxing creatures no bigger than my thumb to nurse from a nipple attached to a syringe was for a good cause.
I know I’m not a great substitute for their real mom, but I’m giving it my very best shot. So yes, I do look forward to saying goodbye to my babies. Goodbye means we have succeeded.
Squirrely Jones at about four weeks old