When I was a child I had two really ugly hamsters called Salt and Pepper (one name) and Gingerbread. We were told that they were both boys. They were not. One afternoon on my way out the door to my dreaded piano lesson; I noticed a strange stench I had never smelled before. It seemed to come from their cage. I happened upon Gingerbread giving birth to 13 little baby hammies. Over the next few days, unfortunately she didn’t care for them and started to eat their heads off. My mom said it was time to remove their mean mommy and sell them all back to the pet store. Now, I was hoping to make some quick cash for candy at 7-11, but no – pet store made us GIVE them back. My sweet tooth was sad.
I have not seen or interacted with a hamster since that day, until yesterday.
It was a special “READ-IN” Day at our school where the students could wear their PJ’s and bring either a pillow or blanket or stuffed animal to school to snuggle with while we read together as a class for a half hour or so. I washed and hung my cute pink polka dotted jammies for the occasion, grabbed my pink blanket in my back pack and was off to school for a fun day of literacy.
My third grade students all wore their PJ’s, had some stuffed animals, blankets, pillows, and were excited as usual. We took a few minutes to share our PJ’s and special stuffed animal friends with each other – oooing and ahhhing over little teddy bears and kitty cats. After some math and writing and PE and Recess, it was finally time for the READ-IN. Kids prepared their books and blankets when quiet little Johnny (not his real name) came up to me.
“Mrs. Grible, ah….ah…ahhhhh…my Dad no understand your email. I think I got bad in my bag.”
“Oh, OK, that’s alright – do you want to show me?”
“Uh, yeah….(reaching into his backpack) here… my Dad put hamster here,” expressed Johnny nervously.
“What?” confused teacher responded.
Johnny handed me a small Tupperware container with a REAL brown shorthaired hamster in it. I quickly opened it noticing that this was one of those amazing Chinese airtight Tupperware containers and it had been in Johnny’s backpack for hours. I doubted the little guy was still alive.
To my amazement and relief, he was. Of course, we were late now – the kids wanted to go to the READ IN and I had a live hamster to deal with. Not wanting little Johnny to feel like a total idiot for bringing a REAL animal instead of a STUFFED animal (English is not his strongest language) and not wanting to insult his father who he SAYS put it in there…
“Oh, I see, well….I guess we can’t bring him to the READ IN, and we need to leave the lid open to this little Tupperware so he can breathe some air (it was the exact size of the hamster – I’ve never seen a Tupperware container so small! It was actually a really cute little casket) we better make a cage for him really quick before we go. Do you see something in the classroom we could use to make a cage?”
(Note: teacher technique of asking questions for child to solve own problem, not teacher – especially when teacher has no idea how to solve problem.)
Of course by this time, the whole class wanted to see the hamster and they were so bummed that they had only brought stuffed hamsters and were calling Johnny “so lucky “ that he had a REAL hamster at school and why hadn’t they thought to bringing a REAL one and maybe next year they too would bring a REAL animal.
Johnny and I made a cage out of two book baskets, put the Tupperware inside with the hinged lid open (it snapped secure on three sides and one side had a hinge) and taped the baskets together in case he somehow pushed the top off. There were small slits in the baskets and I was sure hoping he wouldn’t be able to escape through the slits. They were VERY skinny slits and the hamster was at least twice their size…
We jetted off to the READ-IN, late, hurried as I was thinking very confusing thoughts in my head about this child and his family for sending in a REAL hamster in a small air tight container in a back pack for hours to SCHOOL. “What were they thinking????!!!!”
Upon returning from the READ-IN, I forgot to check on the hamster for a few hours as we teachers have a few other things to do… like teaching. At the end of the day when the children were getting ready to go home; I heard the dreaded words…
“Mrs. G – come quick – the hamster’s all bloody and stuck in the Tupperware!”
OK, that’s not what I expected to hear, but…
Holy Crud! – Not another bloody hamster, flash backs from my childhood hit hard. Where’s my mom to deal with this? My Dad, the doctor, would surely know what to do. I quickly went over to where the make shift cage was and surveyed the hamster situation. This was what I saw…the little hammie guy somehow, someway got his little hammie leg stuck in the hinge of the cute little Tupperware container. He was hanging off the edge of the Tupperware making a little hamster squeaky noise. There was blood everywhere. His little leg was unrecognizable. God only knows how long he had been hanging there (hours?) and how in the world was I going to free him.
Poor Johnny and I took the cage out into the hall so the other kids couldn’t see the gruesome sight as we hurriedly untaped the top basket. I checked out the little guy and quickly looked around for an ayi (like a custodian) or hoping the big buff vice principal just happened to be walking by to rescue us all. No, the halls have never been more vacant. Johnny looked at me with eyes I will never forget. He did not have the English vocabulary to express himself, but he didn’t need any words. The plea in his face to help his little hammie was deafening.
Quick! Think! Hinges. Forward? Backwards? Open? Close? How do they work? If I move it forward will it make the space bigger for his mangled leg? Will it squish it more? Backwards? Is that the answer? Oh crud! (I was not really thinking “crud”.) Let’s just try and pray one of these ideas works…
I moved the lid down to close it – crud, no - that was not it.
I moved the lid back to open it – crud, no - that was not it. The little guy just squealed louder.
Crap!!! I took a breath and said “F-it” in my head and ripped off the lid of the Tupperware with all the might I could muster. Of course I had to lift the Tupperware up off the ground when ripping it so when the hamster’s leg was released, he fell to the cement floor. Oops.
I quickly picked him up off the cold dirty floor and plopped him back into the now lid-less Tupperware pit when he bit me with the little adrenaline he had left. I don’t blame him one bit; I would have too if I was him. Little Hammie immediately curled into a ball, in shock, and started licking his wound.
School was officially over five minutes ago – the kids were alone in the classroom wondering what in the world was going on outside in the hall with the hamster. They had all convinced themselves that he was dead, killed by his teacher.
Johnny and I entered the classroom to dismiss the students to be greeted by, “Is it dead?” “Did you kill it?” “Are you bloody too?” “I never knew hamsters had so much blood in them!”
I coolly responded, “OH, NO – he’s fine…just a little boo-boo on his leg. He’ll heal up real fast just like you do when you get a skinned knee.”
Yeah, right. I’m sure he was dead before Johnny made it home on the bus.