For Christmas, my 9-year-old wanted a hamster. I’ve never been a big fan of hamsters. I am pretty sure it stems from the surly hamster that two boys tried to put down the back of my sweater in second grade. I stood up and the rest is history, and so was the hamster.
But my daughter is one of the most genuine animal-loving children that I have ever met. She adores them almost to the exclusion of human beings. She talks to her fish, wraps her entire body around her dog in loving embraces, and is always scheming about how to bring more animals into our house. So, after much debate and negotiation, we finally got a hamster.
Ramona came to live with us about 10 days ago. My daughter prepared by going to the pet store and getting supplies, in addition to getting information from the employees there about the best way to take care of a hamster.
Immediately, she informed us that none of us would be handling Ramona until she became acclimated to her new environment. She lovingly took Ramona out and held her gently every day after school and then let her roll around in a little plastic ball in her room, which Ramona seemed to love. Soon, Ramona was happily spinning on her squeaky wheel in her cage and making little chirping noises every time someone came in the room to see her.
My daughter checked out books from the library on hamster care, fed her exactly in the manner she was supposed to, and cleaned the cage religiously. But this past Saturday, Ramona started acting strangely. My daughter said she was “shaky” that morning. We went out that evening and returned home to a heartbreaking discovery. Ramona was dead.
“I am a bad hamster mother,” my daughter cried as the entire family sat with her around the kitchen table for hours consoling her late into the night. “I don’t deserve a pet. It’s all my fault.”
As she sobbed, I held her and we all reassured her that nothing she had done had caused this, that something must have been wrong with the hamster, something out of our control.
“But I loved her. I was just getting to know her. I was so excited,” she sobbed and buried her head in my shoulder.
And she had been excited, taking constant pictures and videos of Ramona, and reading up in her reference books about how to socialize her and how to care for her new pet. She even made a mini-documentary called “What Having a Hamster is Really Like” that featured Ramona in different settings playing complete with upbeat background music and frequent commentary.
“We can get another hamster,” I said, regretting the words almost as quickly as they had slipped out of my mouth as she shook her head vigorously. “Just think about it.”
“Nooooooo,” she cried. “That would make me even more sad. I need time to get over her.”
This morning, after a fitful night of sleep, she informed us that we were having a hamster funeral. She instructed us to wear black and gathered us all on the porch, including our six-year-old neighbor and the life-size Justin Bieber cardboard cutout (don’t ask).
She had placed a small podium at the front of the room and asked me to come up and say a few words about Ramona. Luckily, I had a few notes written down since she had given me a little notice. I talked about Ramona’s energy on the squeaky wheel and how she seemed to love rolling around in the plastic ball. And that even though we had just known her for a very short time, I told everyone that Ramona had indeed become part of our family.
Then our neighbor got up and read his touching letter which ended with: “I know she is in heaven.” The service concluded with a prayer and then a video of Ramona. Finally, my daughter played some funeral music on the iPad and we made a solemn procession to the garden where Ramona (who was in an empty plastic bath salts container at this point) would be buried alongside our dog Max.
We also decided we would take the opportunity to bury the ashes of our other dog who had died, Maggie, as they had been sitting on the shelf in our coat closet for two years.
After the service, my daughter seemed to perk up, and was even entertaining the idea of adopting a baby hamster from a mutual friend whose hamster had just had a litter.
In just a few weeks, I realized I had gone from hamster dislike, to hamster tolerance, to hamster love all because of my daughter’s passion for the little creatures. I strongly suspect there is another hamster in our future, and I’m more than OK with that.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books, including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.