I'd like to introduce you to our new family member, Henry.
Almost a year ago The Girl Child's grief counselor had recommended that The Girl Child get a pet. I guess many times children who are bottling up their emotions will talk to animals in ways that they won't talk to other people, and a big part of their healing process is being able to talk about what happened.
Unfortunately our budget has not really been conducive to bringing a pet into our home, but in the best interest of my daughter it was definitely something that I hadn't completely written off either.
I thought about it... a lot.
I love animals, always have, and I've always been surrounded by them, but as things got bad near the end of my marriage I was forced to re home the animals we had because my ex was abusing them. Gone were my cats of ten years, gone was the pug who had stolen my heart a decade before (and bit my daughter twice after my ex hit him), and gone was my bunny of 12 years — a bunny that I had gotten before I even knew my ex.
Cody and baby Simon
Cody and big Simon!
Charlie and "fake Charlie" as we called him, Charlie's favorite toy
So here we are, three years later, and I've really been weighing this whole "doctor prescribed pet" situation.
To be frank, I just can't handle a dog right now. My schedule is crazy and because we don't have a fenced in yard for a dog to play, I'd be forced to take the dog and both kids on a family walk everyday.
There is absolutely nothing about that which sounds appealing to me.
I did it for several years, I'm not doing it again.
My next thought was a cat. I love cats! I'm totally a cat person!
But cats are expensive. The food, litter, the vet bills, it all adds up!
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are time consuming pets to have. They still need routine vet care, you still have to neuter or spay them, they have litter box and food costs, and to top it off they need at least a couple hours out of their cages a day — hours they you have to literally watch them because they chew everything. Why people seem to think rabbits are easy pets is beyond me.
(Raises hand) "Hi, 12 year rabbit owner here, verifying that my rabbit was more work than my dog and cats combined."
My attempt to gate Charlie in.
So what's left then? Uh... reptiles (NO), fish (I have an irrational phobia of fish and their unnatural unblinking eyes), birds (not appealing), and rodents.
Gerbils and mice are too fast so that's out because that just seems like I'd be asking for trouble, and that narrowed it down to a hamster.
You guys, I thought about this a lot. A LOT. I'd had a hamster for 4 years over a decade ago, Harold, and he was awesome, but even the thought of buying food and bedding, cleaning the cage, and being responsible for another living creature seemed... overwhelming. I know that sounds ridiculous but I'm just so busy and it is what it is.
But... I really do think a pet is what The Girl Child needs to help her process some of the things that she seems to be unable to tell me, and so after wrestling with this for a while I decided to get her a hamster.
....Then I walked into the pet store and about had a heart attack when I started adding up the costs to "start up" a hamster habitat.
I really did not remember it being that expensive!!
As I'm standing there adding up the costs on my phone, the manager came up behind me and asked what I was shopping for. Because I have absolutely no filter whatsoever, I blurted out "Hi, yes, thanks. Um... look I am really trying not to be rude and I totally understand that you have a business to run, but my daughter's grief counselor really thinks she needs a pet, but looking around I'm realizing that even a hamster might be out of my budget. Do you know anyplace where I can get any of this stuff cheaper? I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just really trying to figure out how I can make this work."
Just then The Girl Child, who had been on the other end of the aisle (out of earshot), came bounding up to me and said "what color will the hamster be mom!?"
The manager looked at me and walked away.
Until he came back with a cart, bent down to my daughter, and said "we have a black and white one that is really friendly."
He then started loading up the cart with hamster essentials, turning around once to say "don't worry about this, I'm going to make it work."
I wasn't totally sure what he meant by that, but I was willing to play it out — fingers crossed that I wasn't setting The Girl Child up for the disappointment of her life.
Twenty minutes later the manager was ringing up and then canceling out my bill.
I started tearing up... and then so did he.
"Don't make me cry" I said, to which he countered back "don't make me cry."
Back in the car I did cry, but thankfully the tears that were rolling down my cheeks were rolling down around a smile. I looked at The Girl Child in the backseat, clutching a little box that contained her new best friend, "Franklin Stein" she said, totally impressing me with her creativity.
"And I'll tuck him in at at night, and feed him, and take care of him, and mom he's getting out" she said in a sentence that barely had breaks in between the words.
"No, do not take him out in the car" I practically yelled at her.
"I'm not taking him out, he's getting out by himself."
Sure enough, there is Franklin Stein, CHEWING HIS WAY OUT OF THE BOX.
I think I crossed like 4 lanes of traffic at the speed of light while trying to pull over and get Franklin into the open top-tank style-cage we had gotten — only to have him get out of the box, stand up on his hind legs, reach the top of the cage, and begin to heave himself out.
Oh hell no.
"Well this isn't going to work" I said to The Girl Child, while frantically dialing the pet store number on the business card that the manager had given me when I left.
"Hey, this is Eden," I said when I heard the manager answer. "You'll never believe it, but the hamster got out of the box AND out of the cage. This is kind of awkward for me since you did something so nice for me, but I think I'm going to need a taller cage. Is it OK if I bring this one back and buy a bigger one? You saved me so much money the least I can do is return your merchandise and spend a little money in your store!"
The manager laughed, told me to come on back, and I spent the next 15 minutes playing a gentle game of whack-a-mole as I attempted to keep Franklin contained inside his box.
When I got there the new cage was waiting for me, already paid for, and there was an envelope inside with my name on it — an envelope containing the sweetest note from the manager, reminding me that in life sometimes things get tough, but if we focus on the positive we will always find a reason to smile.
I cried again.
This guy had absolutely no idea of my story, I had given him no details whatsoever, and yet he cared, just because he cared.
On the way home Franklin's name was changed to Henry Houdini (Yes, I know Houdini's name was Harry, but of all names I'd already had a Harold hamster). Franklin, Harry, Henry, whatever you want to call him, I can't believe the change in not only The Girl Child, but in our whole family.
First of all, this hamster is weird.
Like I'm pretty sure he doesn't know he is a hamster.
He wakes up at 5 o'clock pm on the dot (hamsters are nocturnal), and then he goes through his morning routine. First he gets himself a drink, then he takes a hamster bath, and then he has breakfast. When he is finished with that he stands at the front of the cage, paws pressed against the glass, and looks at us.
It was unsettling at first and reminded me of all the reasons why I do not like unblinking fish and their judgemental eyes (they stare at you!!), but because he has fur, I was a little more willing to give him a chance. After a day or two of him staring at me, I found myself talking to him — which I realize makes me sound a bit nutty, but oh well, I can own it.
"So... uh... do you want to get out or something?" I said to him one night while peering into the top of his cage.
The little dude started hopping up and down on his back feet with his tiny little hamster arms stretched up towards me.
WTF, this hamster is asking to be picked up.
So I did.
I've barely put him down since.
He is the sweetest hamster I have ever seen and there is something about him that is just... special. I say this as a seasoned pet owner and someone who admits to thinking that a "hamster family pet" comparison to a cat or dog is like comparing a toddler bike with training wheels to a motorcycle, but this little guy really has become a part of our family. The kids play with him constantly and he is happy to oblige. He never runs away from us, in fact he runs towards us. He is happier sitting on our laps taking a nap than he is running around.
Tonight The Girl Child played with him for an hour and a half, and then he climbed into her lap where he sat for a solid 45 minutes before drifting off to sleep.
I was telling my "Future In-law" friend today, "I can't tell if we have the most awesome hamster ever, or if I'm really starting to lose my marbles. I mean I find myself laying on the couch at night with a hamster sleeping on me, and on one hand I feel kind of crazy and on the other hand I really love that little guy."
I made breakfast this morning for the kids and then I made breakfast for him (like a real breakfast, not pet store hamster food). He sneezed and I googled "is my hamster sick?" I'm now stockpiling empty toilet paper tubes because I have visions of the obstacle courses I am going to build with them. I actually rushed home tonight because I felt bad that he had been alone all day.
I bought him a hamster playground, cursed the ever living light out of it when 57 pieces fell out of the box, took an hour to put it together, and I made Henry a playground.
Yes, a playground.
When I get home from work, Henry gets out of his cage and goes into what the kids and I call his "playground," and he plays in there until I go to bed (or..eh hem...until I take him out to snuggle with me...)
And admitting all that feels strange and very "cat lady with rocking chair" ish... AND I DON'T CARE.
Well I did care at first. I cared a lot actually when I found myself lying on the couch last Saturday night, watching a Lifetime movie, sipping a glass of wine, and trying not to spill any on the hamster sleeping on my chest.
That was a frightening moment of self-reflection...
I think the grief counselor was right.
I'm seeing her understand what I've been trying to get her to understand for three years; that when you really love someone, you know that you will never leave them because you love being with them, and you even love taking care of them.
She loves taking care of him.
She tells him all the time, "I will never leave you Henry" and in turn I remind her, "and I will never leave you."
He's getting her to talk about everything that I haven't been able to get her to talk about in three years, and not even just talk about it, but truly understand it.
I think she and I have both felt a sense of renewal. I realized the other day that in terms of a family unit, we are what my ex left behind. We are the same three people, in the same house, functioning in many of the same ways, but my ex has moved on. We have all felt not only the absence of the pets we lost along the way, but the absence of his presence in who he should have been to us.
He has moved on to a brand new life and we have forever been the people he left behind; salvaging the destruction he left in his wake.
Henry, as tiny as he is, is the first big change in our family dynamic since my ex left.
I had not realized how much we needed that change until he arrived. Someone else to really care about, something that — in real speak here people — seems to want to be with us. A new little life that has brought about some really big changes. A tiny little creature whose physical existence can only be measured in mere ounces, but whose presence in our home brings with him my family's first change from the three he left behind, to the four we have become.
Someone left and someone arrived.
He's not a father, or a husband, but he is a life, and as I remind you all the time, no matter what your skill set or perceived level of importance, every life brings with it the power to change the people around it.
So please meet Henry, the most awesome hamster ever, our teeny tiny, new family member, a much needed addition.
Hamster or not, Henry is what this family needed and I am thrilled that he is here. I know that makes me sound a little crazy, but here's the thing: I don't care.
I really don't.
It's like what the pet store manager told me, "don't question it, just know that if it's what you need, it's what you need," and that is SO true! Oftentimes in life we feel the need to justify ourselves and our decisions to the people around us in an effort to be accepted and affirmed in the choices that we have made.
Too many of us are basing our life decisions such as career paths and future spouses on what other people will think of our choices, instead of what we ourselves think of our choices.
Do you know why?
"If they think I'm making the right choice, then I'm making the right choice. If this is what they think I need, then this must be what I need."
We all want to be accepted, but the acceptance that you should be seeking is your own affirmation of the choices that you make, not basing those affirmations on the acceptance of others.
While our family and friends often have our best interests in mind and we should at least consider their opinions for things that we may be blind to seeing, we also need to consider one factor more than the rest; what you yourself think of your choices.
I say it all the time, you create the world you live in.
Your life is based on the choices that you make.
I am the proud owner of a hamster and many of my friends think that I am a nutcase for making him such a big part of our family, but I know that what my family needs right now is for Henry to be a big part of it.
So I don't care what they think.
You are going to spend a lifetime being pulled in a million different directions by a million different people, who want and need a million different things from and for you, but at the end of the day the path that you walked was yours and yours alone, so make sure you stay on the path leading to the destination in which you have in mind.
Don't look for outside acceptance to create your inner affirmations, instead affirm yourself and give the world a reason to accept it.
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