I t started, like so many calamities seem to, with the best intentions.

My animal-loving boys begged for a pet for years — Please, Mommy, just a puppy! Or a parakeet? — and my friends who’d had pets and lived to tell the tale raved about how their children had benefited, thrived, enjoyed. At the petting zoo, my high-strung son turned docile as he tenderly stroked a rabbit; my quieter son stared, entranced, at the baby ducks; even my daughter looked fascinated. So we decided to get guinea pigs.

Well, it wasn’t that simple. But after wavering back and forth — Would we prove able to care for pets? Should we get bunnies or parakeets instead? Were we insane? — we made our decision. I obsessively Googled pet care, spoke to a neighbor who was an animal-assisted therapist, and — through the Yellow Pages — found a pet store salesman who was polite, helpful, and eminently knowledgeable. He shared a wealth of technical and practical information about guinea pig care and development, and promised to deliver them to our door. I was sold.

“Which would you prefer?” he asked. “Multicolored? Straight or curly hair?”

I told him to pick.

“I’ll pick out the cutest ones,” he promised. “Do you want a boar and a sow so you can have babies?”

“No,” I responded immediately. Then I reconsidered. “Very, very, very no.”

A week later, the creatures my kids dubbed Fluffy Moon and Mandatory arrived, accompanied by two bags of the finest vitamin-C-enriched food, a water bottle, and an Italian-made cage with a very secure latch. It was love at first sight: My kids were enchanted by the cuddly critters, and I… well, I tried not to think about the fact that I had paid money to bring rodents into my house.

My kids loved holding the guinea pigs, loved feeding them, loved building them mazes and hammocks. A steady supply of neighborhood children and cheder friends trekked in, and my kids basked in their sudden popularity.

And, as I had dared hope, my children assumed responsibility for their care — which meant that I didn’t have to go near the animals — and also (maybe?) that they were learning patience, responsibility, and gentleness.

Until one day, not two months after we’d bought the guinea pigs, when an ecstatic cry pierced my blissful six a.m. slumber.

“They had a baby! They had a baby!”

I jolted awake. Could it be? No, I told myself. Avi was imagining, thinking about the Schwartzman’s new baby girl.

“Two babies! Two!”

“No, look, under her — three! Three!”

I met my exultant, dancing children in the hallway.

“They had babies! They had babies!”

I peered into the cage. These were not babies. Aren’t baby guineas scrawny, helpless, hairless pink balls? These were jumping, furry — full-grown — creatures.

“These can’t be newborns,” I said practically.

“Well, what do you think?” my six-year-old demanded. “Mice climbed into the cage at night?”

Indeed. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 555)