As I wrapped my little boy’s lifeless hamster in tissues and ziplocks, readying him for a later burial and for a for-now freezer-stay, I remembered my childhood, and felt the blue vinyl sticking to my legs while crying with my brother in the back seat of my mom’s car. We were on the way to the pet store to sell our beloved baby rats.
Remembering Childhood through Parenting and the Inevitable Death of Rodents
“Please promise you won’t sell them as snake food? We love them, and they’re really nice pets.” I said.
Fourth grade was the year my teacher said that one of us, with parental permission, could adopt Pip Squeak the rat for the rest of her forever. My parents said yes, and Pip Squeak became my constant companion while I was home. When she wasn’t on my shoulder or in my pocket, she slept next to me in her tiny cage.
She was the opposite of what “rat” would make me feel today.
Last night, my own tears over the last breaths of my son’s hamster brought back how much I loved these black-eyed, blinking, tiny, weird rodents. In the years between then and now, I’d forgotten that rodents existed outside of foreign and frightening sewers.
I’d forgotten that I’d once loved the ones that belonged to me. Because rodents? Gross. Except for when they are ours, and for when we love them, even accidentally.
That we can love rodents accidentally makes me think about the accidental love we have for people. And jeeps. And things that are a little bit weird to love.
My son’s love for a dying hamster brought my own childhood back to me, and for that, I am thankful.
Lightning the hamster helped me to re-know that companionship comes from unexpected places. That love does as well.
I’m thankful for the reminder that we loved Pip Squeak so much that we ended up adopting two more rats, one, a boy, I guess because they had litter after litter of babies. We sold them for 25 cents apiece after taking photos of each and every one. We kissed them, and cried during each goodbye.
My son, in small tears, looked at me in bigger ones and said “But what happened to my pet?” “I don’t know, Buddy,” I said. “I guess he was older than we thought.” “Like 100?” he said. “Maybe,” I said, “but hamsters don’t live that long.”
“Then 99,” he said.
“Yeah, he was probably 99,” I said.
I don’t know what happened. One day, Lighting the Hamster was running free on the wheel, and the next, he was too light, and too still. We’ll have a funeral, and let our son draw a tombstone, which seems to be what’s important to him, once we do.
“Is he with God now?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. Because what do you say to a six-year-old-boy who had a pet one day and the next is putting him in the freezer?
I wonder about the parallels of parenting and childhood and at the forgotten memories that flood us as our children experience what we once did. I thought about taking Lightning to the vet and remembered our own vet and the pet rats of my childhood. One day, they, too, got sick, although it was way more obvious.
“They’re not going to make it,” he said.
We cried, and he promised to put them to sleep gently.
We left them, and drove home and reminisced the way that people do once a given is now gone. We chuckled about my brother accidentally cutting off Pip Squeak’s tail with the toilet lid after giving her a bath in the sink. We talked about taking photos of every baby before asking the guy at the pet store to promise to not sell them as food.
“What happened to my pet?” my son said. “I don’t know. I guess he was older than we thought,” I said. “Like 99?” he asked. “Probably like that,” I said.
“I need a new pet,” he said.
“I guess you do,” I said. “How about a snake?” he said. “
Fuck no! Uhmmm…” I replied.
I’m feeling thankful that we know how to love rodents. Or maybe, that we’re able to remember our childhoods through our children’s. Or, something like that.
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