When you find yourself force-feeding Pepto Bismol into your child’s constipated hamster, you figure you’ve faced one of your greatest challenges as a parent. In fact, over the years, it has become the measuring stick by which all family crisis is measured:
“He backed the car into a tree? Well, I suppose it’s still better than dealing with a constipated hamster…”
In fact, the only crisis that has come close — appropriately enough — involved the same hamster. It was a moment that began with a simple statement from my daughter.
“Dad, I can’t find Squiggles.”
Those words, uttered just three nights after the constipation incident, transformed a quiet Wednesday evening into a full-scale hamster hunt. Within minutes, our team was assembled around the kitchen table for a briefing.
“There’s no telling how long he’s been on the outside,” I said. “There’s a good chance he’s already assumed a new identity — perhaps as a mouse or gerbil. Keep you eyes open.”
A collective nod from the team.
“We’re going to concentrate our efforts in the area between the guest room, hamster cage and attic,” I said. “It’s called cross-triangulation.”
“I see, like the Bermuda Triangle,” my oldest daughter said.
I gave everyone their assignments, then dispersed the posse. “Let’s go do some good!”
Excitedly, my then two-year-old son broke from the group and rushed through the kitchen with his flashlight — then promptly sat in our dog’s water bowl.
Things pretty much went downhill from there.
What makes hamsters so hard to catch is that… well, they’re small. And they can make themselves even smaller just by thinking about it. They also have no bones and can run in excess of 70 mph. None of this is covered in the handbook, which portrays hamsters as funny, quizzical characters with special little pouches for storing food on either side of their jaws. What the book doesn’t tell you is that those “little pouches” can actually stretch to accommodate food items much larger than the hamster itself, similar to an anaconda’s ability to swallow the entire Budweiser draft horse team.
It was this thought that surfaced as I scooted belly-first through the crawlspace in our attic with a flashlight wedged between my teeth. I’ve never been keen on tight spaces, so when I caught the reflection of black eyes peering back at me from the insulation, I wasn’t thrilled to discover that my rear end — which had slipped forward through the crawl space with minimal effort — was now meeting resistance similar to an elephant backing into a shower stall.
In front of me, Squiggles was preparing his pouches for something really big.
“He’s over here!” I called out in a tone my daughter mistakenly thought was a scream.
“Where are you?”
“Purgatory. Or the crawl space in our attic, I forget which.”
“Can you see him?”
“Yes, and he looks hungry.”
“Can you grab him?”
“Not exactly; I can’t move.”
“This is bad, Dad.”
“When’s the last time Squiggles ate?”
Fortunately, I learned a couple of things during this recovery mission. First, given a choice, hamsters prefer fruit rolls to fat rolls. I also learned that cooking spray is as effective as WD-40 when it comes to loosening grown men out of tight spaces.
And even though Squiggles is no longer with us, he lives on.
I don’t mean in the walls.
I mean his memory helps me keep perspective whenever there’s a family crisis. Especially if there’s Pepto Bismol involved…