A few days ago a friend of posted on Facebook that she was considering getting her children a hamster and asked who had had experience. I giggled evilly and squealed in delight. Had she not heard my stories, I asked. No, she had not.
Hamsters were not our first pets. I think that would be fish. Fish are easily contained and, if the container breaks, you don't need more than a mop and a flush of the toilet. They were interesting, for the most part, but failed to provide that hands-on pet experience that kids long for. Plus, my youngest decided that, instead of water, they might enjoy chocolate milk, and thus killed off the whole lot of them.
Next came birds. I cannot remember just how many birds we had, some were purchased and some were given away to us (their former owners clapping gleefully as they drove away) but I do remember that, one by one, they died off. I was baffled until I read that these tropical birds needed a room temperature of no less than 67 degrees. Woops!
A one point we had a dog. For six weeks. His name was Otis. A friend had found him and told us he was so calm and sweet. Yeah, right. He was all and sweet because he was starved and scared. Once he got a full belly (thanks to my 1 year-old and his sugar mama) he turned into a different beast altogether. If there was a canine version of the DSM-V, he would likely have had every diagnosis in the book. He went to live on a farm.
And somewhere along the way we got cats. But that is another blog post altogether.
Thrown in the middle of all of this zoological mayhem came hamsters. I think we started with them one at a time, but they never lasted long and heartbreak was palpable. So one day we walked into the pet store and bought two. (Cue Jaws music of doom.)
The lady at the store said that they were both girls. We believed her. I am not sure how long it was, maybe one week, maybe two, before we noticed one of them looking a bit on the roly poly side of life. How could she be pregnant, we asked. Didn't the very young pet store clerk know the difference between boy and girl hamsters, we asked. (Insert head bang against wall.)
And then they came. Hamster babies. Lots and lots of hamster babies. So cuuuuuuute were these itty bitty hamster babies. But then the hamster parents were at it again.
They say that living on a farm is the best way to teach your children the facts of life. I say that you need not fear if you have no funds with which to purchase acreage and livestock. You, too, can have an all out anatomy/physiology/life cycle classroom in a couple of square feet right there in your own home! Purchase a couple of hamsters and let nature take its course.
Pretty soon there were who knows how many generations of hamsters have unprotected relations with one another with the frequency and gusto not normally approved of in polite society. The kids got an eyeful. Then things turned really weird.
The baby count started to go down. One day a litter would have seven pups (is that what they call them?) and the next morning we would find only five and a new phrase entered our vocabulary: culling the litter.
Yes, culling the litter is what mama hamsters, and I guess other beasts as well, do when they think that they can't take care of all their babies. Well, duh, lady. By then the cage had taken on the population density of a New York tenement in the 1880s, and probably smelled just as bad.
Trauma hit a new level when we witnessed the said culling. There was Mama Hamster, cheek full of something, munch munch crunching while muffled squeaks reached our horrified ears. She was eating her young. The thought crossed my mind to use this as an object lesson for the kiddos. "See what mommies do when their children don't obey?" But I thought better of it and refrained.
The Internet was a new thing in our house and so, with glee, I looked up why a mother hamster would eat her young and how to stop it. The suggestion was that, perhaps she was no eating them because they would some day turn into insufferable teenagers (which would be MY excuse), but because she was protein deficient. So we fed her, and all the young moms (it was a regular rodent midwifery clinic in there), scrambled eggs. Lots and lots of scrambled eggs.
The eggs worked. The moms quit eating their young and kept having babies. Healthy, high protein babies. Then one day they got out.
Memory fails me when I try to recall just how many we had to begin with and how many we recovered and how many we were giving away as fast as we could, but 46 total comes to mind. One day we had had enough.
I took the hamsters we still had (we had exhausted all our normal routes of hamster adoption) and stood outside the school building during dismissal. And I started giving away hamsters. To this day I do not know how I managed it. It must have been nothing but the mercy of God on a weary hamster animal husbandry specialist that moms throughout the car line did not send the hamsters back. (To you moms who I put on the spot, I apologize.) and finally, finally, we were left with one, which went to live in the first grade classroom.
So if you ask me about hamsters, beware.