“Walnut”

By Kathy Price
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hamster

 

Have you ever had a pet hamster? They’re cute, furry little things but they ARE nocturnal so one of the most important decisions when you bring one into your home is to decide where to put the cage.

When you’ve lived in a house for awhile, you become attuned to it’s noises: the furnace kicking in, the hum of the refrigerator, the tick of the old grandfather’s clock in the hallway. The noises disappear into the background and you just don’t notice them anymore. The house where I’m staying is not my home, but I’ve visited often enough that I have my own room. I am familiar with the home’s rhythm, with its heartbeat, with its quirks. Last night, however, there was something new.

The Friday before Thanksgiving I got a call from my son to ask if I could return to Utah. He was going through a tough custody battle for his daughter and life was hard for him as a single dad to a five-year-old. The challenges of going through it alone were almost overwhelming, so what’s a mother to do? I caught a plane the next morning and found myself in Salt Lake City. Instead of enjoying the winter in warm, sunny Mexico, I’d be spending it in Utah, where it had already snowed and been freeze-butt cold. The upside was that I’d be spending the holidays with family.

My granddaughter is, of course, as any grandparent would say, the smartest, cutest, most adorable little girl on the planet although she can, at times, be quite the handful. Her parents’ separation has been hard on her and she has been having behavioral issues in school as well as at home. Perfectly understandable. She wants things to go back to the way they were, when her mom and dad lived together in the same house and took care of her. Reality sucks. I am not a substitute for her mom and cannot be a spouse/intimate helpmate to my son, but I can provide some stability and basic housekeeping services along with patience, understanding, and a lot of love.

When I was growing up, I always had pets of one sort or another and thought my granddaughter would benefit from having a furry friend. A cat or a dog was out of the question, considering the situation, but Lydia enjoyed watching hamsters navigate intricate, complex mazes on YouTube. I thought it’d be great to get her a hamster of her very own – a living, breathing creature for which she could be responsible and provide care. We went to her favorite pet store and chose the dark brownish-gray one with a black stripe down it’s back. She named him “Walnut.”

The living room was designated as the best location for the Crittertrail hamster habitat – a place where my son and I could keep an eye on it (if truth be told, a location where we all could enjoy watching him) and his nighttime activities might not be too disruptive. When my son assembled the cage, he spun the hamster wheel and it seemed very quiet. I had been worried about that but also wasn’t sure how much time a hamster would actually spend running in a wheel. About 1 AM, though, I found out.

Now, my bedroom is in the basement at the far end of the house. The living room is upstairs and about as far away from my room as you can get. Still, I was awakened by a grating, rattling sound. I instantly knew it was the hamster wheel spinning in the metal cage. I went upstairs to watch Walnut for a bit and he was definitely enjoying his new home: spin the wheel, race up the tube to the upstairs viewing compartment, back down the tube, spin the wheel, scamper across the bedding and up another tube to the second floor where his food bowl was located, then back down and onto the wheel.

I must have watched him for 15 minutes before returning to my bedroom to try to get some more sleep. I managed but was awakened again at three o’clock. This time, I stayed in bed, trying to just let the sound blend into the background. Four thirty. Okay, at this point I figured I might as well get out of bed, go over to the office and write. I think, however, that today we’ll go back to the pet store and spend another $20 for the ultra-quiet, stand alone hamster wheel.

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