In the summer of 2018, our home was blissfully pet free. With five children to look after, and two parents working from home, summer break tends to feel a little overcrowded in our ranch-style 1965-built house anyway. We had recently said good-bye to our first family pet — Bubbles the beta fish — and I was feeling good about our petless state.
Then our sweet neighbor girl picked out a hamster for her 9th birthday. An awesome gift, to be sure, and one that my own kids could go over and enjoy. There was something special about this hamster though — she was pregnant. My five kids joined the four neighbor kids on “hamster watch” as they awaited the arrival of the little rodents, excitedly running over to check on them day after day until finally the good news arrived: Hermoine the hamster had birthed her litter.
After a few weeks, four teeny tiny baby hamsters were available for adoption.
“You know…” I started to remark to my husband.
“No,” he replied flatly.
“Okay,” I retreated.
But soon the little hamsters had visitors — people interested in having the babies as pets of their own. When the first baby hamster was adopted, my children panicked.
“They are all going to be GONE and one is supposed to be OURS!” they cried (like, actual tears). They had loved these hamsters since the day they were BORN, after all.
I didn’t want a hamster. I did NOT. But I also saw the extreme emotional investment my kids had already made in this litter of strange rodent babies and it warmed my heart.
“You know…” I tried again with my husband.
“Yeah… I know,” he sighed.
“They’ve been asking for a puppy. This is much easier than a puppy. Plus, when they don’t take care of the hamster we can use it as a lesson as to WHY we cannot get a puppy,” I pointed out, feeling especially smart. He sighed again. A hamster was living in our house within 24 hours.
“Remember, this is your hamster. Dad and I are not going to take care of it,” I told the kids, repeatedly, those first few days. My daughter who is 9 said that she would be in charge.
“I will take care of him. I really will,” London said.
“Yeah right,” I thought. “We’ll see about that.”
Do you know that child has cleaned the hamster’s cage every.dang.time over the past 10 months? Not ONCE have I had to do it. She even takes the used litter out to the trash can. Outside. The kids take turns filling his food bowl and water bottle and let us know when he’s low on food. London makes him fresh salads of carrots and kale, painstakingly cutting small pieces of the vegetables into an aesthetically pleasing display. She also cleans him and carries his around in a fluffy hamster towel as he dries.
Nike Coconut is the first being my kids say good morning to and they take turns telling him about their days at school. I’m not sure how it happened, either, but somehow we ended up with the sweetest, calmest and most patient hamster on the planet. He endures the handling, and being woken up, and all of the snuggles, with ease. As much as I hate to admit it, this hamster does seem like he was destined for our home and my kids.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though. Quickly after Nike moved in, my husband discovered he was allergic to him so the kids keep him contained to a small portion of the house. My husband’s eyes are permanently a little more itchy – a small price to pay, he says, for the happiness of the kids.
Nike has escaped his cage twice. Once was the first week we had him and he scurried across my toes in the bathroom the next morning, dark and early. I wasn’t sure how to pick him up so I grabbed a bath toy to trap him in and then ran yelling through the house “I found him! I found him!” until a groggy child helped me return him to the cage, which was later secured more purposefully.
The second time we think his cage door was kept open accidentally. We found him the same day, camped out in my husband’s closet (of all freakin’ places), snacking on some cashews.
As I see my kids interact with this little ball of fluff, my heart is full. They really do love him and they are actually doing an excellent job taking care of him. Bonus: They’ve stopped asking for a puppy, for now. And despite my initial determination to keep Nike at a distance, I’ve actually fallen in love with the little guy too. I looked down the other day and he was snuggled in my hands — and I swear I have no idea how or when he got there.
Nike is the family pet we didn’t even know we needed until we did. He’s the perfect pet for us, in this phase of life, and tailor made for our family unit.