Recently, we almost lost a member of our family.
My daughter gets some of her more endearing qualities from me. Some other traits –
determined, stubborn, and demanding- she also inherited from me.
Using these character-fortifying aspects, she decided that she wanted a pet. (We have a cat who is old, old, old, but seems like she will outlast us all.) One weekend, in the span of a few hours, she came up with a plan and had my husband drive her all around town. She then came home with a proud assortment of paraphernalia to house and feed and
clothe sanitize and exercise her new pet.
Then she went out to find a hamster.
I was adamant that I did not want a girl hamster coming home. When I was a kid we had rabbits and by accident a boy and a girl ended up in the same cage together. As luck (and nature) would have it, thirty days later we had so many baby kits it felt like you had permanent vision distortion looking in the cage. I was not taking any chances.
Apparently the first store had hamsters, but they were mean. When the store owner went to go pick up the hamsters from their cage, he was bitten a few times. No thanks.
The second store had three options. One was a girl (nix), the second was a biter (definite nix), but the third was calmer and could be petted and looked friendly. This is what she came home with:
His name, in full, is Merlin Hammy Armstrong. My daughter watched as he flexed his muscles to maneuver around the cage, draw his sausage body up the steep mini tunnels,
hide away with his secret stash of who-knows-what where no one could see him and called him Mr. Armstrong. We just refer to him as “Hammy.”
Normally when I go to bed I hear him exercising on his wheel. He runs a lot. He puts me to shame. Sometimes I wake up and hear the wheel-mill still going at 4am. I’m sure he stopped for water and stretch breaks, but really, there is something to be said for how much a hamster can run.
The other day he escaped. The cage was left open a little (the door was not quite completely latched) and Mr. Armstrong is known to push and prod at any opening. He likes to get what he wants. I didn’t remember hearing him running that night, but then I thought maybe it was a rest day for him, too.
We didn’t realize the fellow was missing until the next afternoon. At some point I mentioned to my daughter that the cage needed to be cleaned. She went over to it and then we realized that there he was: gone.
I scoured the house. In the middle of the afternoon I was skulking around the house with a flashlight shining into every godforsaken crack and hole and couch I can find. I looked for an hour. The rodent was not to be found.
We put out some food and water. I was a little worried I was going to find a dehydrated sausage expired underneath a cabinet in a few days. My daughter was sad that Mr. Armstrong had probably met an untimely death and was wondering when we could go to the pet store to get another one.
I got up at 1am and went to see if I could locate the nocturnal navigator. Standing in the shadows, with the cat beside me, I called his name. Yes, there I was… “Mr. Armstrong? are you there? Mr. Armstrong?” and he shoved his furry bum out from behind a chair. I quickly put the cat outside, and after a few tries managed to get Mr. Armstrong back home. He looked weary, a bit anxious, and relieved. Poor guy, over 24 hours on the lam was a lot.
It’s hard to understand what goes through a rodent brain. Often I remind myself that the voice in my head is actually my own and not external. But he did seem genuinely happy that he was back in his cage, even if he didn’t say thank you out loud. I think he needed that sense of nighttime freedom, but it’s all back to basics and comfort now. I think we bonded a little that night, Mr. Armstrong and I, as I rescued him and brought him back to captivity. I feel a little more attached.
Maybe my heart grew in my empathy towards his existence, or my brain realized he was a part of our family. Maybe both my heart and mind understood we all need acceptance, comfort, love, and boundaries. Welcome home, Mr. A.
(Photo credit: mag3737)