The following post contains two stories that may seem pretty incongruous. They have no apparent connection to one another, other than the fact that they both happened last night. But hey, that’s the way our lives work around here. There are almost always two (and often three) completely disparate conversations happening concurrently as we work our way through a day. It’s not always easy to live, and it may not be easy to read. But it is life as I know it.
Katie’s hamster died last night. We’d only had her for six weeks or so, but there she was, not moving a whit. Luau took her out of her cage and gently prodded her. It took what felt like a lifetime, but she took a breath. Or convulsed. I have no idea. What I can tell you is that for over two hours, Luau held that hamster in his hand. He fed her sugar water through a straw as we’d been advised to do, and he stroked her fur. She even seemed to perk up for a little while. She began to move around ever so slightly. She sniffed the carrot that we held under her nose. That little bugger fought like hell until she couldn’t fight anymore.
Yes, it was a hamster. Yes, this all probably sounds absurd. But watching her die was awful.
Having to tell Katie this morning was far worse.
A month or so ago, Luau and Brooke dropped by a friend’s house to drop something off. Luau got to talking with the mom and Brooke played with the little girl. Luau came home completely out of sorts. The little girl had very vocally refused to share any of her toys or games with Brooke. She had gotten pretty aggressive about making sure that she didn’t touch anything in the house. I knew how he felt. A few years ago we sat through a ‘family play date’ that went much the same way. It’s hard to watch another child get away with discarding all the rules of social interaction. Particularly when your child has had to painstakingly learn them the way that ours do.
Last night – one month later – Brooke brought it up for the first time.
“Samantha wasn’t nice to me when we went to the Smith’s house,” she said.
Luau was in Katie’s room holding a dying hamster. Katie was holed up in my room – afraid to look. And Brooke was processing – finally – a play date from four weeks ago. Uh huh.
“She yelled at me,” she said.
I asked her how it made her feel when Samantha yelled at her.
‘I feeled mad,’ she said.
She has her verb tenses down pat. They were out the window. It didn’t matter. She was telling me how she FELT.
“She yelled at me because I stoled her toys,” she said.
I took a deep breath. For over a month she’d believed that she had STOLEN toys that she had been HANDED to play with? What else is in there? What other misconceptions float in that little head waiting, just waiting to process? It kills me to think about it.
I explained that she had not ‘stolen’ the toys. I reminded her that the mom had offered those things to her to play with. I told her that good friends share their things with guests.
“She yelled, ‘MINE!’ at me,’ she said – using her best monster voice for the ‘MINE.’
I asked if she thought that was OK. She said it wasn’t. We talked about what it means to be a friend and what it means to make people feel welcome in your home. We talked about sharing and being a good person. I wondered why we were the ones having the conversation.
This morning, I woke Katie to tell her the news about Marshmallow. I laid down with her and held her as she cried. Together, we came up with a vision of marshmallow in heaven. She sleeps on a cloud of crunchy vegetables and runs on top of her exercise wheel all day long. (As she had a strange penchant for doing in life. Dang little critter liked to do things her own way.)
“She’s happy there, right Mama?” she asked. “Can you promise me she’s happy? Do you really KNOW that or are you just guessing? Please tell me you can know.”
I told her that I believed that she was happy. That was all I had.
She asked me about criminals and down there. “What if they murder people, Mama?” she asked. “I mean, can someone go to heaven if they kill someone? What if they go to jail and get out and kill someone else? Wouldn’t they have to go down there?”
I told her the truth. That I find it really hard to believe that there is a hell, but that I just don’t know.
She asked me why. “Why did Marshmallow have to die?”
I told her that we’re too small to understand why sometimes. “But Mama,” she said, “you’re not small.”
I told her I’m a whole lot smaller than God.
“But how big is God then?” she asked.
“Far bigger than anything we are capable of imagining,” was my answer. Because honestly, I can’t. I can’t imagine that there is a God that big. But I want to believe it. And far more urgently, I want HER to believe it. So I answered on a technicality – that God is bigger than my imagination.
“Bigger than this house?” she asked.
Of course, baby. Far bigger. Bigger than the whole world.”
“With all the people on it?”
“Bigger than the Milky Way?”
The UNIVERSE?” Her eyes had grown wide.
“What about the aliens?”
“Yup, bigger than them too.”
“I wonder if there really are aliens, Mama,” she said.
I was happy for the distraction from her grief. I pretended to be an alien. Sorta. I put my hand over my face (I don’t know why; it just seemed kinda alien-ish) and said in a robotic, alien sounding voice, “Hello earthling. I am an alien.”
She barely restrained an eye-roll. “Mama?”
I kept up the alien voice. My hand was still over my face after all, so it seemed appropriate. “Yes earthling?”
“An alien wouldn’t call itself an alien. An alien would just think it was a normal human being. Or – you know .. whatever. WE would be the aliens to the alien. Because WE would be the ones who were ‘different’. Know what I mean?”
I smothered her in a hug. In a decidedly non-alien voice I told her that I want to be her when I grow up. She laughed at me.
And then she started to cry again.
“Mama,” she said. “I’m just really sad.”
“I know baby. I know. It’s OK.’
“No it’s not. It’s not OK.” She was starting to yell. “I want Marshmallow back! I don’t want her to be dead!”
“I know, honey,” I said. “I meant it’s OK to feel it. Whatever it is that you feel is OK.”
She cried. I held her.
The words came to me.
I’m helping her cry.
I guess I’m getting more mileage out of that e-mail than I’d thought.
This post has been dedicated to the memory of Marshmallow – a heck of a hamster.