I was nursing my Beth at naptime when it happened.
"Harry bit Mary and it's real bad!"
Racing out of Beth's room, I brace myself for blood and tears. Instead, I find a timid Mary. Too quiet, considering the bite drew slight blood.
"Why did Harry bite you, Mary?"
"I don't know", she answered quiet, not looking at me.
I washed the wound and consulted Google about hamster bites before deciding on ointment or dressing.
"Peter, you didn't leave Mary alone with Harry, did you?"
"Well....yes. I got distracted", Peter admitted. "But I told her not to touch him!"
Minutes later, applying hydrogen peroxide, I hear Peter say, "Harry isn't moving much."
I finished up and went to check on the hamster, who seemed to be cuddling down for a nap. Satisfied, I left to interrogate Mary.
A little later, "Something's wrong with Harry!"
Alarmed, I rush to check him again.
My heart beats wild as I watch an obviously wounded rodent. He depends on us for everything, I lament inside, and we let him down.
Internal despair makes me more insistent with Mary, who is still slow to respond to my inquires. "What did you do to Harry, Mary? I think he's dying."
Feeling this was Peter's fault for leaving such a young child alone with his fragile pet (he'd been warned many times), I assured Mary she wasn't in trouble.
"What were you doing when Harry bit you?"
Fifteen minutes later, the truth. She held him and tried to feed him a sunflower seed--something she'd seen brother do many times.
Harry loves sunflower seeds. Writing that pains me now.
Harry bit her and she dropped him. She was standing up at the time, on our laminate wood dining-room floor.
My heart in knots, I check on Harry again. "No pain for our little friend, Father, please."
Google tells me that, yes, it's common for hamsters to die after falls. Their bones are so small, a two-foot fall is like a two-story fall for humans. Oh, Father, he must be in pain. Take it away!
Heart sick, I tell Peter we were wrong. "You're not mature enough to have a hamster. You left Mary alone with him, after many warnings. "
Harry passes away about an hour later. Our day goes dark.
In my head I wrestle for hours.
Was I too harsh? I wonder if we should get another hamster the next day. Peter will miss him dearly. He's a troubled kid, what with his various neurological challenges. He needs a pet to help him relax.
Peter and Mary both, at times, held Harry while standing up. I warned them to sit down, but toddler Beth is a full-time job, taking me from room to room often. I couldn't stand guard consistently.
And we didn't know the seriousness of falls for these little pets.
My mind searches. By replacing Harry, am I risking another pet's life? Isn't that selfish, to want to appease my children, at the expense of a defenseless rodent? Peter disobeyed. He needs to learn a lesson and go without a pet for several months.
Toward evening, something happens in my heart. Jesus.
I always give you another chance, you know. Why are you without mercy? Extend it, and grace too. (no punishment, and another pet)
My heart stills, finally. I know this is the right thing.
I called him earlier in distress, telling him the dark news. At that time we both agreed that Peter is too immature to care for a mammal.
But Jesus had spoken to husband, too.
"Honey", he told me, "I think we should give him another chance. And another and another and another.
I just cry. "Yes, Jesus told me the same thing."
Peter waits anxious as I hang up. "What did Daddy say?"
"You're Daddy is a good man, Peter. He loves you with grace, as your Heavenly Father loves you. He said it before me. I think he deserves another chance."
My boy smiles relief.
We all miss Harry. Sometimes we think we can hear his wheel running. We enter his room, see his empty cage, and the grief comes. He was just a pet, I know. We'd known him since November 4th.
He brought more life here.
And in the end, he brought grace.