“Mom, can we get a pet?” my third-grade son, Luke, asked.
Luke had just attended a birthday party at Pet World, where he spent 90 minutes man-handling baby pythons, snapping turtles and other creatures and, apparently, forgot all about the three sisters, the dog and the one remaining hermit crab at home.
“No,” I replied without hesitation, knowing full well he was just beginning his pitch.
“How about a snake?” Luke asked. “My friend Craig has a snake.”
“Doesn’t Craig have a lizard?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said, “and a dog, too.”
I shook my head.
“Can I have a lizard, then?”
“What about a hamster?”
“Aww,” he said dejectedly. “Why not?”
The reasons were endless. Aside from the care, keeping and aroma of a caged animal, I remembered the trial and error from my own youth.
My younger brothers, identical twins and the babies of our family, had somehow convinced my parents to buy them pet hamsters. My mom, wanting to make sure reproduction would not be an issue, wisely requested two males from the pet store.
The plan was brilliant. Two bachelor hamsters, living happily together in a cage in the basement, free to burp and scratch themselves as they pleased, with no women around to complicate things.
Unfortunately, the teenage clerk running the shop that weekend sold my parents two females — two pregnant females, actually.
We did not know this, though. While we were all impressed with their appetites and could not believe how quickly they grew, none of us had any idea what was really happening to Han Solo and Mr. T.
My mom made the shocking discovery a couple of weeks later when she found Mr. T in one corner of the cage surrounded by tiny hamsters, snacking on the smallest newborn for a little postpartum nourishment.
Han Solo, meanwhile, was camped out in the opposite corner, breathing heavily through what appeared to be the transition phase of labor.
Dad took the new mothers and what remained of their offspring back to the pet store that evening, and we never had another pet again.
“What about a cat?” Luke asked, unfazed by my inclusion of every imaginable gory detail. “I could get a gerbil ball for the cat to run around in so it won’t shed in the house!”
I thought for a moment about taking him up on it, just to watch him try to stuff a calico into an exercise ball. But I had an even better idea.
“Here’s the deal I’ll make,” I offered, “You keep your room in perfect condition for a whole month, and then we’ll talk. But just know there is a four-leg limit, and I’m not playing doula to anything that lives in a cage.”