The Common Good
November 1994

Raising Kids with Minimal Hamster Loss

by Ed Spivey Jr. | November 1994

It started with the kind of silence that makes a parent sit bolt upright in his bed; an unnatural awakening, a feeling of something wrong.

It started with a silence, not a noise. The kind of silence that makes a parent sit bolt upright in his bed; an unnatural awakening, a feeling of...something wrong. It was 3 a.m. when I got up to check on the girls, but they were sleeping comfortably, as evidenced by the fact that they were both completely tangled in their sheets, heads dangling over the edge of beds, arms splayed in painful angles across their faces...in short, at peace. No indications of the tragic drama that had just occurred.

What had awakened me was the absence of the usual nocturnal scratching that our pet rodent made, that annoying chewing and scratching that once scared the life out of me when I was up late under the covers reading Jurassic Park by flashlight: "The velociraptor approached almost silently, the only noise coming from the click of its central claw on the floor...."

Scritch... scritch...

I didn’t realize it was only the hamster in the next room until I’d already leapt into the closet, yelling back to my wife, "THERE’S SOMETHING HORRIBLE IN THE HOUSE! GO GET THE KIDS WHILE I WAIT IN HERE!"

But no noise tonight, and that could mean only one thing. (Well actually, two things, if you count the fact that my wife’s "Learn French While You Sleep" tape had stopped. Why? Je ne sais pas.) The silence meant the hamster had escaped.

And there it was: an empty cage with the top askew. Dangling from the side was a crude little rope made of tiny hamster sheets tied together. In the morning we would go through the tearful motions of searching for the errant rodent. But I knew the odds were against us.

You see, we have cats. Smart, very alert cats. My kids call them "Blackie" and "Whitey‚" but on the street they go by "Black-E" and "Why T." Tough cats. Not the kind of cats who’d catch a hamster and just give it a good talking to before putting it back in its cage.

It’s hard to know who to blame in these situations. But senators Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Phil Gramm (R-Hades) live in the same town as us, so I think I’ll blame them.

But seriously, it’s difficult to comfort young girls with a loss like this. Boys, one assumes, would mourn a short time, perhaps a second, then say, "Okay, let’s go get another one." We don’t have boys because of that, and also because boys eventually become teen-agers and my wife says that we already have one adolescent in the house.

I wonder who she means?

The Ravages of Time

I want to make it very clear that I don’t hold any of you personally responsible for my becoming 45 this month. No. I blame my parents for my slipping prematurely into another demographic group—the dreaded 45 to 60 segment that advertisers think are only interested in laxatives and Buicks. Had my parents given birth to me much later I’d still be a young man now. But no, they had to get married and immediately have a baby six years later.

Be that as it may, as a "pre-senior" I need to stand and face my new responsibilities in society: to buy a large recreational vehicle that uses only premium gasoline; to be in my pajamas by 8 p.m. (an hour earlier than normal), and to dream of a magical place known, simply, as "Florida."

And speaking of time passages, this month also marks my 20th year with Sojourners magazine. I’m beginning to think my earlier plans of being a cowboy may not come to pass.

But it’s been a good 20 years. In fact, in honor of my longevity here and my approaching senior citizen status, the appreciative editors are dedicating this issue to me. It’s about people in their 20s.

That’s okay, though, because another 10 years and I can take advantage of Sojourners’ generous retirement package, which consists of a commemorative squeegee and a map of Washington’s best intersections. Something to look forward to.

Hail to the New Crew

We’d like to welcome our new interns as they begin their year of service and community. It is always encouraging to meet these fresh spirits as they come and assume their various duties, which hopefully include clearing off the ping-pong table.

We also hope they abide by the Number One Rule for incoming interns: Don’t talk to the outgoing interns—those hollow shells of humanity that wander the halls searching for...who knows what.

No, it’s best the new interns not consult with their predecessors, or make any sudden moves toward them. They’ve been through a lot and they frighten easily.

More Farewells

n The old interns aren’t the only ones we bid a sad farewell to this month. We also must say goodbye to our venerable copy machine, which was finally retired after more than a million copies and at least as many service calls. It served us well, both times it worked.

The Editor and the Internet

Jim Wallis—Mr. Computer, we call him around here—has started using E-mail when he’s away from the office, which is a good thing. Except that recently he addressed a message to a Sojourners "public conference" instead of a staff member’s private mailbox, which meant that the communication went out to thousands of people. Fortunately he didn’t reveal anything personally embarrassing, like the fact that he’s seen the film Free Willy 12 times, or that he moves his lips when he reads the TV Guide.

No. We keep those things pretty well hidden.

Study Questions

How big were hailstones before golf balls were invented? Discuss.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director for Sojourners.

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