Finding Ninee » Sharing our parenting and special needs stories with heart and humor.

Remembering Childhood through Parenting and the Inevitable Death of Rodents

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

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.

Remembering Childhood through Parenting and the Inevitable Death of Rodents -

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.

kristi rieger campbell finished post for finding ninee

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Lizzi (summat2thinkon)

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Your Ten Things of Thankful Hosts: A Fly on our (Chicken Coop) Wall, Amycake and the Dude, Considerings, Finding Ninee, Getting Literal, I Want Backsies, The Meaning of Me, Thankful Me, Uncharted, The Wakefield Doctrine

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  • Emily - I have memories of pet rodents too…we had a gerbil and without taking up too much of your comment space, let’s just say it bit the tip of my nose and was hanging off of it swinging back and forth (with me screaming) and my brother came in the room and knocked him off my nose. He scurried to a corner of the room and we both ran out and left him there until our parents came home. Ahh, childhood memories…I love that you had a pet rat. I feel bad for T and his hamster, but I love how you handled it. I agree, he was 99 probably.February 4, 2016 – 10:18 pmReplyCancel

  • Linda Atwell - Out One Ear - A SNAKE???? That would be my answer too Kristi! And it is odd that this is your post today.

    You see, there was one in the newspaper to a Dear Abby type columnist and the parents were writing about how devastated their child was with the death of his cat. The child wrote a note and put it on the grave and the next morning the note was gone. The parents were trying to decide whether to write back once but the columnist thought that wasn’t a good idea. But as I was reading, I am almost certain I would have written back once. They had planned to write from the cat’s perspective/voice that this was the one letter they were able to write and he was okay and now moving onto his next phase in the universe.

    For me, I didn’t see anything wrong with this plan at all. We let our kids believe in Santa and the tooth fairy and Easter bunny, so why not let a little 6-yr-old think the dead cat wrote a note. Of course, someday they will realize the parent actually did this but I think if something like that would’ve happened in my childhood I would’ve thought my parents were being kind (when I found out).

    Oh well, this really has nothing to do with Tucker’s loss. I’ve just been thinking about this cat letter all day. I’m probably all wet. Maybe death, as the advice columnist said, is something our kids needs to learn to deal with. It is a teachable moment. I think allowing Tucker to make a headstone is wonderful. BTW, after my long rant, please let Tucker know that I’m sorry for his loss and will be thinking of him (during this difficult time.) Hugs to all of you. And I hope you don’t get a snake. 🙂February 4, 2016 – 11:06 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - You know what, Linda? I’m with you. I don’t really see the harm in writing a letter back from the cat. Really. Hm. And thank you – I’ll let Tucker know, although he seems to have moved on pretty easily and no way we’re getting a snake. Shudder.February 5, 2016 – 5:34 pmReplyCancel

  • JT Walters - Yamato took the words right out of my mouth. Agreed.

    Loss of a pet teaches us to love those in our lives more because our existence is temporal.

    And it is practicing learning grieving and coping.February 4, 2016 – 11:30 pmReplyCancel

  • Lizzi Rogers - FRIST! (bo-YAH!)February 5, 2016 – 3:08 amReplyCancel

  • Lizzi Rogers - It was a sad moment, which he (and you) handled well. I’m glad for the freezer and the plans and the remembering, and for your remembering and the window to the past, and lost loved pets.February 5, 2016 – 3:13 amReplyCancel

  • Clare Keogh - Poor Tucker.
    In our family, we have had two budgies, two rabbits and now a dog. All but the dog had something unfortunate happen to them before their time. The dog, a cocker spaniel, is nearly four and I thank goodness sometimes that he’s still around. He’s such a sweet dog, cheeky and clever. I know his different barks and the feel of his fur and the way he snuffles my face.February 5, 2016 – 3:17 amReplyCancel

  • John Yamato - I am thankful your son’s first experience with unexpected death was just his rodent. My son’s was with his Nana. Learning about our mortality should come in small doses to our children so they learn to cope with small unexpected losses instead of facing huge ones, like the loss of an immediate family member, first.

    This past week my son had someone in his life die. He has seen a lot of death for a child his age which can lead to a higher probability of depression and suicide.

    Maybe the little losses make us love those we have now in our life more and prepare us for the death of people close to us.

    And I am very thankful for this article. Teaching children about death and coping with grief is a really important life lesson. It is not one we’d ever choose to learn and yet it is a required course in life.

    Wait until he wants to dig it back up in a month. That is a special moment. Goldfish are not a huge loss and they get the burial at sea down the toilet.February 5, 2016 – 4:23 amReplyCancel

  • Janine Huldie - Aw, poor Tucker. For me and even my girls, it were fish not rodents, but still I guess it is a lesson needed to learned even if we wish to shelter them from it. Still though sounds like Tucker is such a sweet and loving boy with a huge heartFebruary 5, 2016 – 4:24 amReplyCancel

  • My Inner Chick - ***One day, Lighting the Hamster was running free on the wheel, and the next, he was too light, and too still.**

    Kristi, no matter what you write about, (even little rats) you always make me “FEEL” deep down in my stomach.

    You touch humanity every. single. time.

    I appreciate, my sweet.

    xx Love and Understanding about all LIVING things from Duluth.February 5, 2016 – 10:15 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Aw you are the sweet sweetest, you. Thank you and sending you love and understanding right back. xxooFebruary 5, 2016 – 5:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Deborah Lovel Bryner - Oh my…now I’m going to have to tell the Story of Sarah’s Death….The Freezer and The Afterlife of Cats….loved your post!February 5, 2016 – 10:19 amReplyCancel

  • Allie - How do you do that – make me feel bad about a hamster? Ironically, I’m reading The World According to Humphrey (who’s a hamster) with Cammy right now. And it made me remember when my brother had hamsters, and we thought they were boys. But then one of them had babies. And then they ate the babies. I will never forget it – scarred me for life! And so we will not be having any hamsters in our house.February 5, 2016 – 12:02 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Ooh I’ll have to check out The World According to Humphrey! GROSS to your brother’s hamster eating her babies! NASTY. Don’t blame you for saying no way!February 5, 2016 – 5:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Crystal Cook - This brought back so many memories, of my own loves and losses, to those my children endured as well. Rodents just don’t live long enough, but their memories last forever 🙂 My oldest had two best friends, Arthur and Merlin. Rats. They loved him, I saw that so clearly once I got used to the idea of them and I loved them so much for that. Saying goodbye was a difficult thing to do. I think their time with him as well as their parting, taught him so much.February 5, 2016 – 4:05 pmReplyCancel

  • Marcia @Menopausalmom - Awwwww…..poor Tucker! I can totally relate—we’ve had so many rodents over the years. Dozens of hamsters, 2 albino rats, a hedgehog, a guinea pig, 8 chinchillas, a flying squirrel…..even though I knew many had short life spans, it still hurt like hell every time one of them died and hurt even worse to see my kids cry. Now I only have three chinchillas left. They live on average up to 12 years, so I still have some time with my babies.February 5, 2016 – 11:14 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Chinchillas live for 12 years??? Maybe that’d be a better pet investment. Anything will be better than a snake!February 7, 2016 – 2:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Live By Surprise - Oh dear. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    And shuddering at the thought at the same time.February 6, 2016 – 3:23 amReplyCancel

  • Christine Carter - Aw!!! There’s nothing better than reading a peice and being completely immersed in it and at the very end, let out that long sigh…

    This was extra sweet and special. And uh, RATS? God BLESS your parents. That’s all I have to say about that… well, and that it is pretty precious how you cared for them all. <3

    Snake sounds perfect Tucker!!! Keep pushing for that, cutie patootie!! (Hee hee.. What? They're JUST like rats.)February 6, 2016 – 3:46 amReplyCancel

  • Kenya G. Johnson - I’ll never be there UNLESS of course I have another little boy that wants one. Christopher never did. Whew? This was a sweet story. Sorry about Lighting. Remember that Iguana looking thing I sent you a picture of that we were going to name Gramps if he really liked it? That was cute. That I could do. I THINK.February 6, 2016 – 10:28 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Oh I remember Gramps! He was cute in his ugly lizard way! Lightning really was a sweet hamster. Super gentle and he never bit. Sigh. Thanks, Kenya.February 7, 2016 – 2:13 pmReplyCancel

  • Ivy Walker - oh, Im sorry Tucker! I remember when Barney our hamster died… I was heartbroken too! Thinking of you…. have a great memorial and go get yourself a Barney or a Betty or maybe even a Thunder!!!! (I picture him white with black spots!)February 6, 2016 – 1:03 pmReplyCancel

  • PIper George - We had a conversation just last week in the pet shop that went something like this:

    Mummy, what’s that? (points to cage)
    It’s a hamster. I had a hamster once, it was very cuddly. Once I left it on the sofa and had to cut the sofa apart to get it back from the innards where it went to hide.
    Mummy, whats that?
    That’s also a hamster. My brother once left my hamster on the stairs and my mum almost fell down after leaping to avoid crushing it.
    Mummy, what’s that?
    That’s a rat. Rats are super intelligent, we had one that would sit on my shoulder while I took it for walks. Ah – memories of old pets, so lovely.
    Mummy, can I have one?
    Fuck that, no rodents in cages in our house!February 6, 2016 – 5:44 pmReplyCancel

  • clark - Did not have the experience of rodential pets as a young boy. The family (mother was a clark) always had a dog) and the impression I mange to catch, casting my mind back to the years before the world totally infringed was that my mother was totally devastated by each death (of the family dogs).
    As a child. I was less so. (Full Disclosure: having no children, my contribution must be my experience as a child. Which is not the worst thing in the world.)
    In any event, I liked the dogs we had growing up and, when they died, I would be saddened.
    Eventually I grew older and had a family dog of my own.* That was Ola. And, eventually, she died (as all life does).
    I was devastated.
    In a sense, I guess, now that we’re talking about parents and children and pets, I came to know my mother better, through my own experience with the death of pet.
    Nice work Kristi! excellent post.

    *that is not to imply that Phyllis is not a factor, but in the case of Ola, I was the alpha. it a totally grateful turn of events, our second dog, Bella made Phyllis the alpha of our pack… an experience all humans should have at least once in lifeFebruary 6, 2016 – 8:10 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - You’re so right that everybody should experience being the alpha – glad that it’s Phyllis’ turn with Bella. I like how you related this to your own life experience and how the death of pets helped you to know your mother better. That’s pretty awesome, ya know?February 7, 2016 – 2:20 pmReplyCancel

  • Achieving Clarity - Whoa-boy. That is more mom love than I think I could muster. No rodents in this house. Though there has been the occasional snake. Snakes eat rodents, therefore, snakes are good!February 6, 2016 – 8:47 pmReplyCancel

  • Kristi - Growing up, we did have snakes as pets. Rather, my dad had snakes, and we got to hold them and have him bring them to school for show-and-tell. They were pretty cool–figuratively and literally. However, none of my kids have had snakes for pets. We have had hamsters and rats, though. I’m sorry for Tucker’s loss. It’s a sad thing when a pet dies. I remember missing school when my dog died–I just couldn’t bear to go.February 7, 2016 – 12:48 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I remember missing school when my dog died, too, Kristi! Ew to the snakes although I’ll bet you were a hit at show-and-tell!February 7, 2016 – 2:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Bev - I had a hamster, Hammy, whom I loved dearly when I was in middle school. My dad, an oncologist, diagnosed him with cancer about 18 months after I got him. A vet confirmed it and we had little Hammy put to sleep. My mom, who resisted getting a hamster because in her eyes, eww, rodent! But she had bonded with Hammy when I was at overnight camp and was just as sad about the end of his short life as I. You really do find love in companionship in unexpected places.February 7, 2016 – 7:37 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Aw poor Hammy! And poor Lightning! I’m surprised by how much I miss him.February 7, 2016 – 2:23 pmReplyCancel

  • Julie Martinka Severson - Kristi, I think this is my favorite post of yours I’ve read so far. I mean I was totally grossed out, because I’m not a rodent lover and would rather do anything than sleep next to a rat. My kids’ geckos died this year, and inside I was rejoicing, but then had to figure out an honorable way to discard them that wouldn’t scar my children for life. But the dialogue between you and your son about the 100 years vs. 99 years is beyond priceless. And then this: 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”. Honestly, this was amazing.February 7, 2016 – 2:09 pmReplyCancel

  • Mimi - As always, I love your words and how you take something so poignant and make it relatable for all of us. I too am thankful for those moments when my own childhood, parenting, and my children’s here and now come together. I hope whatever T gets next, though, it’s not a snake! 😉February 7, 2016 – 3:10 pmReplyCancel

  • Rabia @TheLiebers - I used to have a pet rat. Someone gave him to me for my classroom. His name was Nicodemus. A few of the parents weren’t exactly thrilled, but he was a sweet rat. He was old when I got him and he only lasted another year or so. I’m sorry to hear about T’s hamster. FWIW, large rocks make good headstones. We have a fish graveyard in our front yard around a tree. I never thought I’d be burying fish, but it seemed important to the kids.February 8, 2016 – 11:08 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Rabia, I’ll keep it in mind that rocks make good headstones. We had a mini-graveyard in my growing-up home as a kid… under a tree but our yard was WAY bigger than this one! And yeah, the things we do for kids huh?February 9, 2016 – 12:05 amReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Yeah, we had our share of rodents too, and how we loved them. Two hamsters (Hamster Fannett (a play on the name of a high school for two small nearby towns–Hampshire Fannett) and Beanbag), a very long-lived mouse named Moley (pronounced like the sauce but spelled with that extra y) and Rollins Rutabaga, a rat who didn’t last long at all. That was the end. I remember burying Moley with my sister in the backyard, wrapped in blankets inside a shoebox. For the record, I think we were in high school and middle school.

    And by the way, you know we have a snake, right?February 8, 2016 – 1:14 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - LOL to the names of your hamsters!!! AND UM NO I DID NOT KNOW YOU HAVE A SNAKE. WHERE THE FUCK IS IT???February 9, 2016 – 12:06 amReplyCancel

  • Dana - My condolences on the loss of Lightning. And Pip Squeak. Loving and losing a pet is tough for kids, but it may be even tougher for the parents who love those kids. And pets.

    I will take a snake over a rodent any day, but I wouldn’t be thrilled about it.February 8, 2016 – 2:31 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Thanks for the condolences, Dana! So true that it’s harder for the parents with the crying kids and also are you for real that you’d rather have a snake than a rodent????February 9, 2016 – 12:08 amReplyCancel

  • Dyanne @ I Want Backsies - My hamster died the night before school picture day when I was in 4th grade. I cried all night and my school picture is just dreadful.
    Upgrade to a guinea pig. They are much hardier.February 8, 2016 – 8:34 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Ok so we looked at guinea pigs but they were so big but seriously it’s time for a change so THANK YOU!!! Sorry about your 4th grade picture and the loss of your hamster by the way 🙁February 9, 2016 – 12:09 amReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ The Meaning of Me - I read this DAYS ago and I swore I left a comment…insane. So sorry about Tucker’s hamster. But your reflections are beautiful, as always. I love how you are able to take something and tie it to another experience and bring it all together into something wonderful and relatable for everyone. xoFebruary 10, 2016 – 2:25 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Well you told me how sorry you were over email which totally counts so thank you. xoxoFebruary 10, 2016 – 8:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Sandra - “Fuck no!” to the pet snake bahaha I laughed out loud and I’m laying in bed after a nightshift with my husband sleeping next to me. If he’d awakened to my snickers I have no idea how I would have explained that one! I did find it very sweet about your pet rats. They do say they make great pets. Have a good weekend Kristi.February 12, 2016 – 10:30 amReplyCancel

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