Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Hamster Teaches Life

Today I wonder, when life hands you a Plan B, how do you step up and shine anyway? How do you gracefully dance to another tune, though it wasn't the one you wanted?

Two months ago the water bottle attached to the hamster's cage leaked. Husband bought another and I recommended the children immediately change the cage.

"We will...right after we finish this game," they answered.

Jack, our hamster, at that time perfectly healthy, didn't occupy their minds as much as Lexi, their neighborhood friend.

Previously...Jack? Peter cuddled with him, gave thanks for him, loved him, showered him with attention. But then came Lexi, interesting, animated, fun. Poor Jack drifted into the background of Peter's heart.

The board game, finished, went back on the shelf, Jack forgotten. And my mind, occupied with the present care of children and home, went on to the next thing, Jack's cage forgotten.

At regular cage cleaning time two days later, the children discovered mold clinging to one of the cage toys. How long had it been there? How long had that water bottled leaked? How could the children fail to notice such mold, for surely it hadn't developed in two days time?

Not long after, Jack aged before our eyes, laboring to breathe, slowing his daily activities. His furry chest made heartwrenching motions as his breathing faltered.

Oh...how we mourned, husband and me, especially after research taught us that Jack probably suffered from a respiratory illness, possibly brought on by moldy bedding.

It hit us. The leaky water bottle! We hadn't caught it in time, and the boys hadn't listened to my warning to immediately change the cage, as they attached a new bottle.

We are the adults here, ultimately responsible for every pet brought home. We can train, admonish, but as the only adults, the outcome depends on God and our responsible supervision.

We failed.

A few days later, Jack took his last breaths, my husband holding and comforting him in the last moments. Peter just couldn't do it. Jack became part of our family in December 2010, gracing us with a lot of sweet, even funny, memories.

Though he seemed in mourning, Peter wanted a new hamster within twenty-four hours. He'd never liked Jack's color and he looked forward to picking out his very own hamster...not one chosen by his brother Paul, who subsequently decided hamsters weren't his thing.

But that Jack? He was the picture of gentleness, never biting, and Peter easily put the black color and rodenty face into perspective, declaring love within the first week Jack dwelled here. I tell you that hamster seemed to purr like a cat when handled, especially while sleepy. For our family he was the perfect pet.

Fast forward two months, an acceptable time to mourn Jack and learn our lessons. Wanting to extend the same grace our Lord extended to us, we agreed another hamster could share our home, so long as the care remained exemplary and voluntary on Peter's part.

A two-month's wait proved long and in his typical ADHD way, Peter obsessed for days, knowing his mourning sentence drew to a close soon. He searched Internet hamster photos, read up on care and caging, talked incessantly of the upcoming day.

When at exactly two months there were too many appointments to make a pet store stop 30 minutes away, he got ugly, following me around the house, pushing, in typical ADHD fashion. If you ever find yourself feeling unduly pushed by someone who can't seem to fixate their mind on anything but what they want, you may have an ADHD brain in your midst.

No, they don't mean to drive you into despair and frustration. Usually. Yes, they might feel guilty about your stress, though still not stopping. The impulse control to stop their obsessing is absent from their brains and even kids who are medicated only improve in hyperactivity, usually--not in impulse control. This self-control lack in the brain is the hardest thing to treat. There are advantages to this state of mind, just not interpersonal ones.

And the truth is, they're driven crazy as well by their desires, exhibiting stress signs and other physical symptoms, such as taking in too little food and water and sleeping poorly while their brain obsesses. It's a heartbreaking cycle--the more tired and stressed they are, they more their brain obsesses and the more you feel like you're trapped in a nightmare.

Last Sunday after church, with the neighbor kids going back to school and Peter needing a distraction to prevent him from bugging his siblings incessantly, Daddy and Peter ventured to the pet shop, bringing home an orangy brown hamster with a face not quite so rodenty and eyes nicer than all the others in the shop.

As hamster began settling in its new cage, moving the bedding around just so, Mommy and Daddy went about preparing for our beach trip. Our son was instructed not to pick up the hamster the first day. We already noticed it didn't exhibit Jack's gentleness. A bite on the hand was likely if we didn't give hamster a day or two to acclimate.

But this is Peter we're talking about, who unfortunately doesn't learn from his mistakes...namely, that obeying your parents in the Lord helps things go well for you.

He picked the new hamster up, bringing him onto the carpet for some Jack-style cuddling. I caught him, telling him to immediately put it back.

Twenty minutes later husband peaked at the little guy in the cage, right before we headed out to the beach, saying goodbye in an affectionate way, though he isn't especially fond of little furry things, after being bitten badly by a gerbil two years ago.

Noticing a funny gait, he brought the hamster out, putting him on the carpet to inspect his walk.

Immediately we noticed both back legs dragging around, though it moved at a quick pace and didn't appear to be in pain or notice the handicap. Having seen the hamster perfectly healthy in the store, husband fell to the carpet in grief and frustration, asking God how this could happen to us, scarcely an hour after purchase.

I shared in his moaning and disbelief.

Peter, also upset at the sight, told us he'd dropped hammy from a short height but it seemed fine when it scurried away. Apparently it nipped at Peter, shocking him and causing him to drop the hamster from a 15-inch height onto the carpet. Normally, a fall from a height like this does no damage. Hamsters crawl to the top of their cages and fall down all the time, and this hamster was not a baby...probably 3-6 months old with an adult body.

Peter mentioned he'd seen it go down backwards in the cage tube, and maybe the feet had gotten stuck?

Swearing the hamster appeared paraplegic, husband wondered sadly at God's will. And we were both frustrated at Peter's disobedience, offering no further grace should this hamster die. No more fragile pets.

Like so many things in our lives, Plan B stared us in the face with this hamster's injury. Hamsters can live in this state, apparently happy, unless they begin chewing their back limbs off from nerve pain. Antibiotics might become necessary for possible urinary tract infections and self-inflicted wound care.

Not what we all had in mind, when Peter ecstatically brought home a new furry love.

It might recover, just as humans sometimes do from paralysis. We're praying and God will decide.

And if Plan B remains? What then?

Peter is faced with a parenting reality much like my own. A situation he never would have chosen.

Having an ADHD child after an affected student in 1999 basically retired me from teaching? So not in my plan. That student was so difficult, my heart feared having another one like him.

I'm done with public-school teaching, I told my husband in 2001. I could never endure more of that stress.

And yet God gave me just that. A child for whom I have endless love, but one who makes my life a daily gospel. Sometimes I lay my life down and accept it in love. Other times I want to get in the car and drive 5000 miles away, alone.

This Plan B life I lead with Peter renders me a vastly imperfect parent.

I'd waited so long for marriage and children and I wanted to be a good parent. An exemplary one. By handicapping all of our nervous systems, driving them beyond their design most days, Peter's brain changes the quality of daily life here, through no fault of his own. It doesn't take long for guests to notice his differences and rarely does anyone stay more than a few hours, though Peter is loved by all. All would agree his heart is soft and golden.

Who better qualified than me, to guide Peter in how to love this imperfect hamster?  Right?

But I falter and fail in this job, apologizing often, asking Him for mercy daily.

How do I guide my son, then, on the road to "parenting" success? What bullet list of tips can I give?

Just this:

1. God
2. God
3. God
4  God

Lean on Him
Talk to Him
Ask Him
Let Him

Plan B? It was the right one in the first place. Right for God and his Glory.

The best plan we can have? Stay in the back seat.

Go forward in thankfulness, my son, with Him leading.

Let your heart soar in praise and worship of the Almighty Living God, your Father and Redeemer, not because the plan looks like what you wanted, but because the plan ends with Eternity. 

~ Practice obedience over and over.

~ Confess when you take a selfish detour.

~ Live a life poured out.

~ Set your gaze on Heaven.

~ Give thanks.

And when all else fails, just sit and cuddle with the little guy, watching the clouds sail by.

God photo credit

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