The Extreme Highs and Lows of Hamster Ownership

We’ve decided to expand our family.

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Last week, Phaedra began campaigning hard for a pet bunny.  Rob and I countered with an offer of a hamster or guinea pig.  She chose a hamster.  I was pretty pumped, because there are soooooo many possibilities for funny names with a hamster.  However, despite trying to convince Phaedra that Doogie Hamster, M.D. and #YOLO were completely acceptable names for her new pet, she decided to go with Brownie Pancakes instead.  Except now her hamster sounds delicious and makes me want to make brownie pancakes whenever I talk about it, which by the way, did you know that brownie pancakes are an actual thing?  I am going to cook the fuck out of some brownie pancakes some day.

IMG_20141011_154320So we went to the pet store last Saturday to pick out our (duh) female hamster.  We picked out a cage, food, bedding, tiny plastic castle, chew treats, hamster ball, and miscellaneous cat toys for Surrey because she wouldn’t stop crying and they were the only thing that made her happy. I somehow wrangled three girls and a cart filled with $100 worth of pet accessories for the $15 hamster (on sale!) to the checkout counter, where the cashier was delighted by the girls and their enthusiasm for their new little friend.

(Side note: every time I take all three girls out in public, someone inevitably says to me, “You know, I was one of three sisters as well.”  Every time, without fail.  They’re always smiling when they say it.  I absolutely love it.  This time, it was the friendly cashier who smiled that special smile as she told us she was the baby sister of two older sisters.)

IMG_20141011_165027When we got home, I put together the cage (which, I have to admit, is way cooler than any animal cage I’ve ever owned), got all the accessories, food, and bedding in place, and then it was time for the big moment: time to introduce Brownie Pancakes to her new home.  We let her climb in, and she immediately began checking things out.  “She sniffed the food bowl!” “Look! She touched the wheel!” “OH SHIT LOOK SHE’S CLIMBING UP THAT TUBE!” (That last one might have been me.)  Rob came home from running errands, and we stood there with the girls, crowded around the cage, watching how delighted they were in their new little friend.  It was a genuinely nice moment.  “This is good for them,” Rob said.  I agreed.  Why had we waited so long?  We were riding high on new pet excitement and drunk on good parenting decisions.

At bedtime, Phaedra and I stood watching her nocturnal little friend busy herself with all the things one does when they move into a new place: check out all the rooms, rearrange things, have a few snacks.  We lifted up the lid on the little viewing pod on the roof of the cage and tried to pet her a few times before she dived back into her tube.  I said goodnight to Phaedra and commenced all the cool adult stuff that she thinks happens after she goes to bed, like eating Happy Meals and watching her TV shows.

When Rob came home from work late that night, I was still pretty high on a day of successful parenting.  He found me upstairs tucking one of the kids back in after a midnight trip to the bathroom.  “You should come see the hamster!  She’s really active right now, running around and stuff!”

I shined the light from my cell phone into the cage so he could see.  We both peered in.  Then we looked closer.  Then we looked at each other, and looked in the cage again.  “Uh, where is she?” Rob said.

“Uh, she’s right….” Not in the tube.  Not in the little plastic castle.  Not in the top viewing pod…with the unlocked lid.

Oh shit.  Shit shit shit shit shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

“Where is she?!”

“She must have gotten out of the viewing pod.”

“But how?  Did she chew her way out?”

“Well…I, uh, didn’t lock the lid.”

Why didn’t you lock the lid?!  Why would you do that?!”

“I didn’t think she could lift up the lid with her head!  She kept bumping her head against the lid and it didn’t move, so I thought she couldn’t get out.”

“DUDE, THAT WAS HER TRYING TO ESCAPE.”

I fucking hate when he’s so blatantly right and I’m so blatantly wrong.

I started shining my cell phone flashlight around the room.  Brownie Pancakes is nowhere near her cage.  A few minutes into the search, Rob looks at me and says, “That’s it.  I mean, we’re never going to find this hamster in this house.  No way.  She could literally be anywhere.

“Rob,” I said, “we don’t have a choice.  We have to find that hamster before she wakes up.”

He knew I was right, but was really pissed about the fact that I was both right and wrong at the same time.  Since I’m not used to being wrong, this was a new feeling for me as well.  Not that we had time to think about it, because it was 1:00 a.m. and we had to find a hamster that already had a three hour head start on us.

Our house has three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and when I tell you that I tore those rooms apart, what I mean is I TORE THOSE ROOMS APART.  I looked underneath everything, moved every single toy away from the wall, emptied every single basket and drawer, removed every single toy and blanket from every single closet, all while three kids slept in the dark.  We eventually moved a sleeping Phaedra to our bed so we could look around her mattress and bedding.  My house was tore the fuck up, but the hamster was nowhere.  This went on for three hours.  We were exhausted.  We started doing that thing where you keep looking in the place the thing you’re looking for should be, in the hopes that you just overlooked it and it was sitting there all along.  I was wandering in circles, re-checking spots I’d already looked.  Finally, at 4:00 a.m., Rob and I sat down and ran through our options:

1. Tell Phaedra the truth in the morning: Brownie had escaped her cage somehow.  We would leave her cage door open, and hope that she wandered home in a few days for food and water (although honestly, the odds that she would return home for that bullshit hamster food when she had a five-star buffet on the floors of our house were pretty slim).

2.  Tell Phaedra that we had to take Brownie to the vet in the middle of the night, and she would be home that afternoon (after a quick pit-stop at another pet store…)

Phaedra was too smart to believe option #2, so at 4:30 a.m., we finally conceded defeat and decided to go to bed.  But I was so guilt-ridden over losing the hamster that I insisted on staying up and listening for the hamster, because when you lose your daughter’s pet hamster the first day she has it after listening to her tell you “Thank you so much, Mom!” and “I love Brownie Pancakes sooooo much!”, you will do anything, including sitting quietly in a darkened room listening for hamster footsteps when you’d much rather go to sleep, in order to avoid breaking your daughter’s heart.

So there I was, sitting on Phaedra’s bed, trying to see how quickly I could drain the battery of my phone, when I heard nibbling sounds coming from the SAME GODDAMN CLOSET I just completely emptied an hour earlier.  I got up and emptied everything but a big Rubbermaid tub from the closet.  I was kind of afraid to look behind the tub, because if there was nothing there, it would mean I was either crazy or the damn thing was in the walls.  But there she sat, staring back at me with the hamster equivalent of an “oh shit” look on her face.  After playing Keystone Kops with the damn thing around and around the tub, I finally grabbed her, plopped her into the viewing pod, locked the lid, and carried it triumphantly into my bedroom to wake up Rob and let him know that the Great Hamster Disaster of 2014 was finally over.

The next day, Phaedra asked me why the house was so messy, and why all the toys were out of her closet.  “Oh, I was looking for something while you were asleep last night.”

“What were you looking for?”

I told the truth.

“Just something I needed.  Nothing big.”

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10 Responses to The Extreme Highs and Lows of Hamster Ownership

  1. Anna says:

    Most exciting story about a hamster ever, and I’m sooo glad it has a happy ending.

  2. Every damn time I think I can’t love you more, you prove me wrong.

  3. When I was 11, I got a secret hamster. I made one of my top dresser drawers into a cage, with screening on top. I left it halfway open with a shirt thrown over it so my parents wouldn’t see it. An hour later, he was gone. After looking around frantically for an hour, I confessed to my mom so she could help me find him. He’d gone over the back of the drawer, and was napping peacefully in the drawer below, of course. Hamsters, man.

  4. DUDE! Remember when I told you my daughter’s hamster got behind the bathroom floor boards? Worst 30 minutes EVER! I thought we lost him forever in the walls. We’ve got to keep those critters safe!

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