A lesson from hamsters

2010-03-12 00:00

I AM a grandmother several times over and Jason and Anna are parents of more than 20 offspring. Not surprising, as they got hamsters for their birthdays last year — a male and a female, naturally — Hammond and Angel. The benighted creatures seem to breed even faster than the president manages to father children. One brood is barely weaned before Angel pops out another set of naked, pink squirmlets. Fortunately we have found pet shops that are willing to take the babies and pay for them, which is a welcome addition to the children’s pocket money.

I wish, as I am sure many other mothers do, that the hamster owners found it as easy to take care of them as the happy and fertile couple finds it to reproduce. I can count on less than one finger the number of times the weekly duty of cleaning the cage and putting in fresh food and water has been accomplished smoothly. It didn’t even help to keep a roster of whose turn it was to watch that no one escaped from the temporary holding quarters in a shoe box, and whose turn it was to clean the cage.

Come Sunday afternoon and cage- cleaning­ time, there was still a fight that played out to the same script every weekend: Anna and Jason argue about whose turn it is to do what, mum gets cross and threatens to “give away the whole lot”, the children cry and eventually clean the cage in between more arguing accompanied by snivelling.

In between weekends, there are also plenty of other opportunities for arguing about the hamsters. Anna regularly accuses Jason of being “a very bad hamster father­”.

“He never gives Hammond new food or water during the week, Mum, I always do it for him.” Jason fights back by proclaiming that he did it “just this afternoon, yesterday, last week” — delete whichever is not applicable. I don’t mention the fact that I regularly do it for both of them without commenting on their dereliction of their parental duties. I am also proud of myself for never having threatened to sell Hammond and Angel to a pet shop as take-away snake food, an option that has looked very attractive on many occasions.

It is uncomfortably ironic that the children­ argue so much about their hamster children, as my beloved and I argued more after each of them arrived than we ever did before we became parents. And most of the disagreements were about them too.

Just as expectant human parents watch for signs of labour, we have learnt to read the signs of hamster labour and separate the parents. Angel stuffs her cheeks with food and runs on the exercise wheel like a creature possessed, our signal to separate the double-storey cage into two floors. We have no proof that Hammond would hurt the babies, but Anna refuses to take any chances. She is a very solicitous hamster mother whose dedication to her pet rivals only Angel’s care for her brood.

A recent incident brought this home to me, as well as reminding me of the power of the commitment that many mothers have to their children, despite much.

Angel and her new litter were on the top storey of House Hamster and Hammond on the bottom. The ladder between the two was removed and not just one, but two saucers were put over the space to prevent any illegal immigrants from crossing the border. Or so we thought.

When I went to check on the family this morning, they had traded places. Hammond­ was on the top and Angel and her babies snuggled up under the sawdust on the bottom. They had somehow moved the saucers and swopped accommodation.

My admiration for Angel is boundless. How one small, furry creature managed to carry four even-smaller, less-furry creatures from the first floor to the ground floor without a ladder in between defies me.

But I do know that I have stopped feeling (quite so) resentful about all my ballet and rugby taxi duties, not to mention lunch boxes. Producing 10 appetising and different lunch boxes every week is my worst. If Angel can be dedicated enough to relocate her brood without having them eaten by her mate, I can cope with being a human mum. In fact, I reckon being a human mother beats being a hamster one.

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