Sunday, March 1, 2009

Of Hamsters and Little Girls

When I was a little girl, we had numerous pets. There were dogs and cats galore – way too many for me to sit here and remember each and every one of them. I just know there had to have been sign up somewhere down on Main Street pointing the way to our house for all of the stray pets without a home. My mother could not turn an animal away – and we kids all knew it. I also brought my share of fish into the household. They would stay all nice and pretty and clean for a while, and then I would tire of cleaning the tank and begin to find homes for them. We gave away a number of fish, complete with fish tanks, to all of my unsuspecting friends who were clamoring for a pet – any pet. Their parents, poor souls, had no clue what they were in for when they adopted one of my little “families.” And once, I had a hamster.

Notice I said “once.” My cute little friend did not reside with us for very long. I begged Mom and Dad for him (or was it a her?), and being the animal lovers that they were, they relented. I, of course, would keep the cage clean and take good care of my little buddy. We had to take great precautions with this new houseguest, because he would be sharing our home with at least two indoor cats. I was being very careful, keeping the door to his cage closed at all times, making sure the door to my room was kept shut, and always being mindful of the whereabouts of the kitties. I was very proud that this little arrangement was working out. That is, until…Zeke.

Zeke came to live with us when my cousin Joe and his family stayed at our house while they were looking for a place of their own. They also brought with them Junior – a snippy little poodle that yipped and yapped and thought he owned the place from the minute he arrived. He kept the cats in hiding and caused our dog to be relegated to the outside. What nerve! Zeke, however, was one of those dogs you just couldn’t help but like. He was energetic and excited and he seemed genuinely happy to be there. Not like Junior, the pampered prince. No, Zeke had character, and I liked him. That is, until…the “incident.”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened. Obviously the door to the cage was not very Zeke-proof, because that peppy little dog made his way into my room, managed to knock the cage on the floor and proceeded to have himself a little hamster-snack. It wasn’t pretty. And that is why my encounter with hamsters happened only once – I didn’t need that experience again. That is, until…my daughter.

About eight years ago, when my oldest daughter was eight years old, it started. “Please, please, Mommy! Please can I have a hamster? I’ll take care of it I promise. Pullleeeeaasee!!!” She was relentless. But apparently the Zeke incident had left deeper scars on me than I realized, because I held firm. “No honey, I’m sorry,” I would begin, “I don’t want a rodent in the house.” Truthfully, the thing with Zeke didn’t really hold water in this case because we had no indoor pets to contend with. Truthfully I just knew that it would stink and that I would eventually be the one cleaning the cage. Too nasty! And so the story went for a few years until she got a little older and realized that Mom was really serious about this one and she just simply gave up. And that was the end of the hamster discussion. That is, until…Daughter #2.

Her hamster-obsession began at around age 7, three years ago. The conversations went much the same as the previous ones I had had with my oldest daughter. The only difference is that my youngest is much more aggressive and much less likely to turn loose of an idea she is partial to. She will “ding, ding, ding” at you until you wearily give in. But not even the constant whining and begging and pleading caused me to lose my resolve. I stood firm. There would be no rodent in my house! That is, until…Nibbles.

How lovely that her classroom has a hamster for a pet, I thought. Now she will get to be with him five days a week and that will satisfy her hamster craving. She would come home talking about Nibbles did this, and Nibbles did that, and I would smile and say, “that’s nice,” all the while secretly thinking, “I’m glad it’s there and not here!” Everything was going just great until about three weeks before spring break. That’s when it started again. The begging, the pleading, the whining. “Mommy, since we’re not going anywhere for spring break, can we keep Nibbles while school is out?” Of course, years of conditioning had prepared me for just such a moment. After yet another round of “no, no, no,” some sort of alien being overtook my body and I (incredulously) heard myself saying, “yes, but just for spring break.” I guess the reality of what I’d just agreed to suddenly sank in, because I quickly added “but you will take care of him and clean his cage and I won’t mess with him at all.” And with every ounce of glee a 10-year old girl can exhibit without physically exploding, my daughter leaped around the room shrieking, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You’re the best Mommy ever!!!” Naturally, that made me feel exceptionally pleased with myself that I had decided to allow Nibbles to visit our home while school was closed. And I felt sure that this “hands on” with Mr. Hamster and all of the responsibility it entailed would surely squelch the desire for our house to become “rodent central.” I was fully in charge of this situation! That is, until…Pebbles.

Nibbles’ stay at our house was surprisingly pleasant and without incident. My daughter did a terrific job of taking care of him – so much so that I decided she deserved to have a hamster of her own when Nibbles went back to school. Was I crazy? Maybe. But she was overjoyed when she learned that we would be making a trip to Pet Smart to pick out our own little darling (I no longer allowed the word “rodent” to be used in describing the hamster.) We all made the 35 minute trip to the pet store and finally chose a cute little black and white m hamster (“panda bear” in hamster-ease) and bought all the necessary (and some unnecessary) accessories. He made the trip home in the pet store cardboard box (a whole story in itself - if you ever bring home a hamster from the pet store – be sure you are making a very short trip or be prepared to search for it in your vehicle after it chews its way out), and Pebbles quickly has become a member of the family. Amazing how much the little bugger has grown on me – even though I’m the only one he doesn’t trust. I guess he senses my previous lack of hamster-love and isn’t quite sure his position in the family is secured.

There has been some fallout from the latest addition to our family. My oldest daughter has not let me forget the number of times she asked (begged) for a hamster and has steadfastly refused to show any interest or affection for Pebbles. Imagine that! How could anyone not love the little guy?

I’ve learned a few lessons throughout this lengthy hamster saga. First, cats aren’t always the biggest danger to an unsuspecting hamster – never underestimate the power of a crafty little dog. Secondly, little girls never give up where rodents hamsters are concerned. Moms (and Dads) will eventually give in if you just beg long enough. And when that doesn’t work, just borrow a hamster to clinch the deal. I also learned that hamsters love to run on their wheel at night at precisely the moment the family decides to go to bed, and that they love carrots. I’ve learned that they will bite your finger if you stick it into the cage – and it hurts. Actually, this lesson was learned as I observed my husband’s reaction to Nibbles and Pebbles as they both took a chunk out of his finger (you’d think he might have learned after the first bite.) I’ve also learned that male hamsters become distinctively “male” at around two months of age – and that’s a whole ‘nother story as well.

And finally I’ve learned that no matter how much you think you know about anything, chances are your children have a few lessons to teach you when you least suspect it.

Praise the Lord for hamsters everywhere. And for the little girls who love them.