I went seven long years saying “no” to my daughter’s big brown eyes every time she pleaded with me for a pet.
Nothing against pets, we just live in a condo without a yard, and we’re so busy that I was worried we wouldn’t have the proper time to give. Finally this past Christmas, when her grandpa wanted to get her a hamster, I caved.
This girl loves animals like no child I’ve ever seen. And my resolve at depriving her of this joy had worn thin. I was finally willing to trade the hassle for the life experience, and overjoyed does not begin to describe her emotional state when she uncovered her eyes and saw the cage.
Michelangelo Gerard Prado III, “Mikey” for short was a character and a half. (The first Michelangelo being the great artist, and the second being the Ninja Turtle, of course.) He was just about the sweetest little rodent I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. He was cuddly, and active, and a bit of a dare-devil. We would frequently find him scaling the wire walls of his little habitat, or jumping off of his platforms and tubes just for the fun of it.
Among our favorite things to do was to give him baby carrots and watch in amused fascination as he would try to carry one in each side of his cheeks. He would climb down the tube on one side of his cage and up the tube on the other side, all with carrots sticking awkwardly out of his little mouth. No matter which side we put the carrots on, he would bravely start his quest to move them to the other side. It was the challenge of the thing. Mikey had heart.
My daughter and I were a bit taken-aback today when we opened his cage and he was not moving. Still curled up in his little sleeping corner, he must have died some time in the night. We had only had him for three joyful months. And just yesterday he was happily exploring the corners of our house from his plastic ball and chowing down on blueberries. But hamsters have a short life span, and it’s just one of those things.
We had a dumpster-side funeral and said a prayer for the tiny life. My little girl was of course upset, but I was surprised that I myself was so affected. I thought my “adult” maturity prepared me to deal with such things in a healthy and distanced manner. The death of a pet is a part of life after all.
But as I sit here and contemplate, I think part of the reason for my tears is my own voice ringing in my head saying things like- “put him away, you need to do your homework”, and “don’t open that cage, we’re leaving in two minutes”. Had I known we would only have him for such a short window, I would have allowed that extra two minutes here and there that brought such a big smile to my girl’s face. I would have let her stay up to feed him just one more apple slice. I would have let the homework wait a little longer.
But the deeper thing is, my baby girl is already seven and it seems like that happened in the blink of an eye. She started out as a 5 pound little bundle that you could hold in one hand and now she’s the tallest in her class. She is a beautiful, articulate, young lady. All traces of the little girl she was are vanishing by the day. And I think the voice that really bothers me is the one saying things like, “I can’t play Barbies right now, I have work to do”, “I don’t care which outfit you wear, just pick something”, and “hurry up!”. Always “hurry up!”.
Now, I’m a busy single mama trying to make ends meet, have a modicum of a life, and raise a child. So I do have a certain amount of grace for myself because I know my balancing act is not easy. And I know my heart is in the right place most of the time. But when I think of all the moments I must have missed with phrases that squelch instead of inspire connection, I feel like I’m mourning a death. I’ve lost precious moments forever. Moments I wasn’t even aware I was losing.
In another blink she’ll be off to college and I could be left with my own voice ringing in my head and regrets about all of the memories I could have captured but didn’t. Even with all our great moments, there are so many more that just pass right by. And I want them. All of them. Because tomorrow comes more and more quickly each day. And today is not even a good day without all of the little magic moments to break up the struggles and heartaches of life. Those are the moments that make life worth living and make all of the ugly parts okay.
So tonight as I dump wood shavings in the trash, and find a place for the hamster cage that is out of sight, I resolve to wake up just five minutes earlier tomorrow so that we can eat breakfast at the table instead of in the car. I am inspired to let the phone calls go to voicemail for just ten minutes after school so we can have an adventure in the Barbie mansion. I am resolved to make picking out an outfit for school a fun girly game instead of a chore. And I am convicted to hear my own voice for what it is when I’m squelching a magic moment, or even just an ordinary moment that I’ll never have again. It will all be over too soon, and all I’ll have left are the precious memories I allow to happen today.
Thank you for the lesson little Mikey. Rest in peace.