Remember Johnny the Cow, the hamster? It was about one year ago that we took Sam to the pet store, after he'd become successfully potty-trained, and allowed him to pick out a small, furry rodent of his very own.
For a brief period last fall, Johnny practiced his escape skills religiously. He was like a tiny MacGyver, fashioning a rope out of bits of his fur and creating little parachutes out of scraps of lettuce and carrot tops. At least, that's what I assume based on the fact that he kept managing not only to get out of his cage, but also to drop the 4+ feet to the floor without ever getting hurt. In fact, I was starting to think he was invincible. Once, he managed to escape unnoticed while I was folding laundry. Then I saw the dog start tossing around one of his squeaky toys, but upon closer inspection I realized that it was actually Johnny. I screamed and monkey-clapped my hands while Happy dropped the hamster and ran to hide under the chair, freaked out at my display. Whatever works.
Johnny was perfectly fine, in spite of his wild adventure. I put him back in his cage, and wound industrial-strength packing tape around his cage everywhere there was a seam. That finally did the trick. All else was fine until a few months ago, when seemingly overnight, Natalie took an intense interest in poor Johnny.
She'd push a kitchen chair over to the bookshelf on top of which Johnny's cage rested. Then she'd climb up on the chair, pop open the latch to his cage, and take him down to love him, and pet him, and squeeze him, and call him George.
I'd remind her that she could only take Johnny out if mom or dad were there to help. She took my advice under consideration but ultimately decided she could handle it herself. I reminded her that if she chose not to listen, she'd spend some time in her room. She took my advice under consideration and decided that she would start being sneaky about taking Johnny out.
So then. One day as I was in the office checking my email, she brought Johnny's exercise ball in to me and said sadly, "Johnny has a bad owie". Poor Johnny was lying limply in the bottom of the exercise ball, all life gone from his tiny body. Natalie told me she "squished him in her hand". I have no idea what that means, since I know she wouldn't have intentionally hurt him. My best guess is that she tripped while she was carrying him, and...well, you can guess the rest.
I'm still sick about it. He was such a friendly, trusting little thing and I should have done more to protect him. Sam took it pretty hard, too, and that night we had some pretty deep discussions about what happens when you die. I think what broke my heart the most was when he started asking where he would live when Mom and Dad die. Even though I tell him that Mom and Dad will almost definitely be around for a very long time, he continues to worry.
Since "the incident", I've been borrowing a lot of kids' books from the library on death and dying. I should be embarrassed to admit this, but there's one called A Story for Hippo that had me sobbing by the end. I hid that one away so Sam wouldn't ask to read it again. There's a reason why I've never watched "Beaches" or "Terms of Endearment" a second time, as great as the movies were. I am a mess.