My son, Austin, wanted a hamster for his 8th birthday, so off we went to the pet store where we chose a tiny, blonde, male (according to the sales clerk) hamster and purchased the cage with all the trimmings. On our way home, Austin decided to call his new pet Raptar, after Velociraptar, the dinosaur. I spent the ride home explaining that in order for Raptar to become accustomed to him, Austin would have to pet and hold him every day. Austin seemed quite excited with this theory and promised he would do just that.
Austin and his brother were going to their grandparents for a few days, consequently Austin was determined that Raptar would get familiar with him before he left. For three days Austin held and played with Raptar and by Sunday, the day he was leaving, Raptar was calm, which worried Austin, because Raptar could grow anxious again while he was away. He told me, “Mom, take care of Raptar like you take care of me.”
I gave him my word I would.
Late Sunday night, I checked on Raptar and noticed something was very wrong; the hamster wasn’t moving. I reached into the cage and pulled out the fur ball. He was listless and I immediately recalled when I was younger and my hamsters had acted that way—it was the hibernation of death! My heart lodged in my throat as I heard my son’s voice…“Mom, take care of Raptar like you take care of me.”
I went into my bedroom, sat on my bed, placed the dying hamster on my belly and laid my hand gently over its tiny body with the hope that I could warm it with my body heat and will my life’s force into it. Tears burned my eyes as I quietly begged the tiny creature, “Please, Raptar, don’t die.”
Although I held Raptar and spoke quietly to him for three hours, he died at two o’clock in the morning. I was heart-broken and knew that my son would be too, but there was nothing I could do at that hour except wrap the furry corpse in a paper towel until morning when I could bury him and then decide on how I would explain to my son that I had failed him!
The next morning I buried Raptar then went to work where I immediately called the pet store. I told the manager that I had purchased a hamster on Wednesday, only four days before, and now it was dead. The manager explained that hamsters sometimes get “wet tail” when they are moved to new surroundings and that they would gladly reimburse me. I told him that my problem wasn’t the ten bucks for the hamster; it was my son’s pet and I needed a replacement! The manager informed me that they didn’t have any more blonde hamsters, but would be willing to give me an in-store credit for when another batch of blonde hamsters arrived. I told him thanks but no thanks as that wasn’t going to help me now. I called another pet store– I was determined to find a “new” Raptar–even if I had to drive fifty miles, although this pet store was within a few miles of my place of employment. The clerk there told me that they had one blonde hamster and agreed to hold it until my shift was over.
I purchased the “new” Raptar, which, to my gratitude, looked exactly like the “old” Raptar, with two exceptions. The “new” one was a “she”and she was two times larger! I arrived home with the new Raptar and placed her in the clean cage then proceeded to call my dad, because I had a plan and I needed his assistance to make it work.
When my dad answered the phone, I rambled, “Dad, I need your help. Raptar died last night and I had to buy a new one. This one is two times bigger than the other one. I need you to tell Austin that hamsters grow really fast when they’re babies and they're fed special treats. I’ll tell him first but you play it up on your end.” Fortunately my dad understands my lightning-fast speech and caught the general gist of my scheme. After agreeing to be a co-conspirator, he gave Austin the telephone.
“Hi, Mom, how’s Raptar?” Austin asked as soon as he heard my voice.
“Austin, he’s doing great! I bought him these new treats and he’s been a piglet! He’s growing so fast! By the time you get home, he’ll be huge!” I had to play this up. Austin left a tiny hamster behind but was coming home to a full-grown one—with a sex change!
“Wow! I miss him.”
“I know and he misses you, too,” I told my son while crossing my fingers, toes and eyes in the hopes that my plan would work. I played with the new Raptar Monday and Tuesday night and then while waiting for my kids to return home Wednesday evening. I hoped that Austin would believe this little white lie. I’ve never lied to my kids before, but this was one time when I felt it was necessary.
I heard the commotion in the drive-way and knew the moment of reckoning was near; the boys were home and Austin’s voice was getting closer; he was coming to his room. I was sitting on his bed with the hamster cage when he entered with a big smile on his face, “Hi Mom!”
“Hi Buddy!” Austin headed right for the hamster cage and opened it. He reached for the blonde fur ball as I held my breath, hoping that the “new” Raptar wouldn’t shy away from his small hand.
Austin picked her up and inspected her. “Wow! He did get big!”
I let out the breath I had been holding. “I told you. But there’s a slight problem.”
“What?” Reservation was etched in his sky-blue eyes.
“You remember how tiny Raptar was when we got him, right?”
“When they’re that little it’s sometimes hard to tell if they’re boys or girls. The pet store made a mistake. Now that Raptar’s bigger, we can tell for sure and, um, he’s a she.”
“Oh.” Austin’s eyebrows furrowed together in contemplation as he held and caressed Raptar.
“Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay. I love Raptar even if he’s a girl.”
SCORE! I wanted to dance a jig! I sat on the bed and watched as my son held his pet and cooed to it. He spoke softly to her and told her that he missed and loved her and that he would take care of her forever. It was such a bitter-sweet homecoming. I knew in my heart that I had done the right thing in not telling Austin about the first Raptar. Hamsters didn’t have long lives to begin with, so he would learn the lesson of death soon enough, but at that moment, he was an innocent little boy with his beloved pet and life was good.
**The “new” Raptar lived with and gave us joy for 2 years and during that time Austin never broke his promise. He loved and played with her EVERY day. She escaped from her cage a total of 3 times, but never wandered from Austin’s room and when we reached for her, she didn’t shy away from our hands—it was almost as if she was waiting for us to put her back in her cage. Our dog, Kommit, loved Raptar, too and gave Raptar “kisses”. Kommit also stood “guard” over Raptar when Austin would let Raptar out of her cage to run around. Raptar loved Cheerios and would shove as many of those into her pouches as she could. For a hamster, Raptar was tops. If there was a best hamster award, Raptar would’ve won it. We still talk about and miss our Raptar.**