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By Sally Stratso

For years, the children, collectively, had asked for a hamster - three little voices in an entreating, plaintive cacophony. My husband had always been able to tune this out; after all, there was a finite amount of time that he spent with them. I, however, lived with this request day and night. What a small favor they were asking for. How mean was he, to refuse such precious children? A miniscule indulgence, albeit to relent was to welcome what has been called a “gateway pet” into a former furless habitation.

Finally, my husband acquiesced – sort of. One day, he told them, “When I am dead, you can get a hamster every Friday.”

A hamster every Friday! was all that they heard. That was better than they had hoped, prayed, and schemed for. What a bonanza! What a windfall! God does answer prayers! As if one unit, they began to cavort around the room.

“A hamster every Friday!” they shrieked in joy. My husband just stared at them, betrayed. He had been supplanted, and within seconds, by a tiny rodent.

“That’s after I’m dead,” he said, and they stopped and looked at him as if to ask, “When will this be?” but thought better of it. Still, they went in the backyard and began to prepare a home for this mythical creature. There were bitter mutterings about the loss of a sheep; I remember the sheep episode well…

An extremely arduous trip on a plane, followed by a long car ride, was what had provoked the uprising over the sheep. During the seemingly endless traversing through Oklahoma, we passed a ranch with a sign proclaiming that they were selling sheep. Only one of the members of the car seat brigade could read, but this was all it took.

“Dada, stop, they’re selling sheep!”

Eyes kept firmly on the road, the dada kept driving.

Sensing that time was running out, perhaps clued into this by the accelerated speed of the car, the other two also began to clamor.

“Stop, we want a sheep!” They began to kick their car seats. “Turn around, Dada!”

Knowing exactly how this was going to turn out, the dada made the definitive statement, “We’re not getting a sheep.” With a glance at me, he said, sotto voce, “That’s crazy.”

Children’s tender ears can hear things that adults with abused eardrums could never pick up. At this last insult, a riot ensued.

“We hate you, Dada, you are the meanest dada ever!” Then came the crying.

The selfish, stingy, self-centered man ignored the wailing of his heartbroken children and drove on, leaving the sheep staring after them, tears raining down from their own eyes.

Well, no, but this was how the children perceived the moment. They were totally unable to flash forward on the consequences of buying a sheep on a whim, even though said sheep would have had to ride in the back of the van, where it would have clambered over the seats and encroached upon the children’s car seats with its sharp little hooves. Then the children would certainly be singing a different tune, begging the dada to abandon the hysterical sheep on the highway and turning into savages when he refused. Like Jeff Goldblum’s character stated in the second Jurassic Park movie: “First there is the oohing and aahing, then comes the running and the screaming.” Likewise for the prospect of having a loose sheep in the van…

A cashier at the Dollar Store once remarked that she was always impressed by my patience with the children. While I appreciated the sentiment, I don’t think it was patience that mellowed me as much as the acceptance of the Hansel and Gretel aspect of my world, where toddlers rule, control is arbitrary and a hamster every Friday after one’s beloved father passes on is a thing to be noted on the calendar with crayoned smiley faces.

The hamster eventually made an appearance and no one had to die. In a collective spirit of defiance, the children and I made our purchase and thought that we could keep the hamster upstairs and the dada would never see it. We hadn’t reckoned on his far-reaching power, though. On the way home, the car unexpectedly broke down. We had to push it to a service station and call home. When he picked us up, the blanket covering the hamster in his cage fell off, and when the creature saw my husband’s expression, it froze in fear, its eyes wide. We all froze in fear. Probably because of the situation, the dada said very little and the creature joined the family. But the story doesn’t end there.

The children decided that they would make a fortune by breeding hamsters and selling them to pet stores. In theory, this worked for a short time but then we flooded the market. Then we were only able to exchange hamster babies for more hamster food. The hamsters now were downstairs, their condos encroaching on the entertainment center.

One day, there was a terrible smell, and a search uncovered a horrifying fact – when hamsters are being raised in crowded quarters, the mother will consume the babies. Not wanting to impart this information to the children, I just removed the evidence, and soon the hamster breeding operation was abandoned. My husband said little, bless him, but cats and dogs soon appeared. The curse of the Gateway Pet had come to pass.

Sally Stratso

Copyright 2020