I was looking around on Al Gore’s Internet when I came across a story titled: “How to Tell Your Kid the Goldfish Died.”
If you have kids, either by choice or the decision of the court, you have most likely come across the demise of a small pet. Fish, hamsters, the lovable pet dog, cats, and occasionally the small moose, are all part of the family who bite the dust much too soon — except in the case where we had cats. Those two couldn’t croak fast enough for me. They pooped on my pillow. I hated them. A man’s pillow should be poop-free.
My daughter Jennifer had a hamster. She named the hamster “Brooks.” I don’t know why you name a hamster Brooks, but Brooks was a fine hamster — as far as they go.
One afternoon, during a tea party with my daughter in her room — at the very small table and chairs — I was sitting in the really small chair, talking to my daughter while sipping something she said was tea but tasted more like gasoline, and wondering how I was going to get the really small chair off of my butt, which was now tightly wedged into said really small chair.
Brooks lived in a cage on top of Jen’s dresser. He, like other hamsters, was an accomplished wheel-runner. When he ran, the wheel made a noise. It was something that we were used to hearing in her room — especially at 3 a.m.
As I sipped the tea that tasted more like napalm while trying in vain to shake off the really small chair, I noticed there was no wheel-noise coming from the cage. I looked up and over my daughter’s shoulder –as she poured more oozing death in my cup — and confirmed the wheel was, in fact, not moving.
I sort of half-stood up to get a good look and then saw that Brooks was lying very still in the cage. Not good.
As my daughter asked me if I would like another cup of liquid rat poison, I realized that there was no doubt: Brooks was history, gone, yesterday’s news, wallpaper, worm food and now referred to as an ex-hamster. He was dead — belly up, feet-up-in-the-air dead.
I sat back — painfully so, now that the small chair had become a torture device. I was now faced with two options: Convincing my daughter that hamsters hibernated — starting today; or I could be a responsible parent and tell her that Brooks had gone to the great Critter-Trail-Snap-On Comfort Wheel in the sky.
Soon after she failed to buy the hibernation story, I sat my daughter down and talked about the great cycle of life, using flowers, as opposed to dead hamsters, as an example. She cried. I cried — mostly because of the really small chair.
When rat, mouse, hamster, parrot or ant farm tragedies happen in your family, let your child cry for a while and then immediately ask them for help in planning an elaborate memorial service. Most of the time the child will get caught up in the planning of the service and their attention will be diverted away from, in this case, a deceased rodent.
We decided to hold a service in the back yard. I got the traditional shoebox (11½”) and we all stood around and reminisced about Brooks and the three months that we knew him — or her — or whatever.
It didn’t take long. Brooks was laid to rest in the box, in a hole, under the pine straw, where the flowers would be planted in the spring. By then, Brooks would be paying dividends as a part of the rich soil.
It took about a day for Jennifer to recover from the loss. Soon she was back to normal. I realized I had successfully learned a valuable lesson about dealing with a child’s feelings.
I was about to learn another.
About a week later, we were sitting on the back porch. It was summer and it was a nice evening. I was facing out toward the back of the yard. Jennifer was sitting across from me, her back to the yard. As we talked, our dog came in from the back yard and I noticed her tail wagging much more than usual. She had something to show us.
Second valuable lesson: Dig a deeper hole.