Hamsters for chistmas …

2010-02-15 00:00

“WE’RE getting hamsters for our children for Christmas,” I explained to my dad on December 22.

”You do know that until a child is eight, the parents have to look after the pet?”

“Yup,” I replied, “I’ll do that.”

That afternoon I picked out three midget hamsters, placed them in a cage and hid them in the garage.

In the evening, once our children were in bed, I went back to settle them in.

“Hey, little guys, how’s it going? Do you need some sawdust?” One clean bed of new sawdust went in. “How about another level for your house?” I hammered and pushed until the first floor was fitted. “And now for some food. Hmmm, is this bowl too big or too small, too deep or too wide? And what if you can’t figure out how to climb the ladder? I better put another bowl of food on the ground floor. And what if you don’t know how to drink from this water bottle? I better put a bowl of water in too. Not too deep or you’ll drown, not too shallow or you’ll dehydrate. Okay, okay, sleep tight guys.” I shut the door.

“Hang on, what if you die from petrol fumes?”

I opened it a crack.

“What if a cat gets in, or the rain?”

I closed it again.

“Okay, okay, this is for real, good night now.”

The next morning, while the kids were still inside, I went to check on my charges. And there, on level one, for all to see, lay one midget hamster, stretched out in the water bowl, cold, stiff and with a mournful expression on his face: “You should have known better. You’re the mom. And you’re 34 years old.”

“Come now, come now, don’t look at me like that. I faffed over you guys for about an hour last night. And that bowl is shallow. All you needed to do was stand up on your tubby little legs and you would have been out of there.”

“Do you think he committed suicide?” I asked my husband later. I mean knowing what was awaiting him — three children under seven?

“No, some hamsters are just like that,” my husband explained. “They’re fragile.”

Well, Fragile got wrapped in a plastic packet, laid to rest in a black bin and was replaced before Christmas morning.

“Hamsters!” the kids shouted, when the cage was finally unveiled.

”Yes, hamsters. Now remember these are little creatures,” I explained. “They are really fragile and so you have to be very gentle with them.”

The next week revealed our children’s definition of gentle.

“No Annie, you are not allowed to fly his house through mid-air, while he is cliff-hanging from the window.”

“Joah, please don’t spin his wheel while he is running on it, he’ll lose his balance and somersault.”

“Mom, Annie is poking her hamster in the eye.”

“Dad, Joah is squeezing his hamster and it can’t breathe.”

Still, by the end of week one, our children hadn’t yet managed to kill the hamsters. Or to cause them to kill themselves.

Then, in week two a slow change occurred in Joah. He began to see his hamster less as an object worth prodding, and more as a playmate.

“My hamster is called Batman,” he explained one day, “but his wings were cut off. So he just jumps from the top of his cage to the bottom.” And with that, he kindly popped Batman over the first-floor edge.

By week three, Joah had begun to work for the good of his hamster.

“I’m just helping them into their house so that they can hide from me, Mom,” he explained as he saw me leaning out the window to say, “Don’t …”

And then by week four, Joah had assumed full responsibility for the care of his pet. Two-year-old Annie had Batman by one leg as she swirled him round the cage and then plopped him onto the courtyard floor, from where he scurried for shelter.

“Oh no, the hamster is out,” someone shouted.

“Ooohhh,” Lael and I said unison, both determined not to touch that fuzzy, biting guy.

But Joah calmly laid down his weapons, pulled the eye patch off his eye and tenderly scooped Batman into his hands and back into his sawdust home.

Evidently, some children learn before they are eight, and some parents never do.

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