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The Hamster Wheel in My Head:
Reflections on a Dead Rodent

By Jessica Doody

Hamster in a wheel By Daikorax (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Editors’ note: We love this little story, not only because of the wisdom that Jessica passes on about staying both in the moment and in the heart, but also because of where she learns it. If we remain beginners, ready to learn without the prejudice that we “know,” we can keep growing and learning more. And this idea that we don’t know it all, embracing the feminine quality of receptivity to not only teach our children, but to learn from them, is one mark of a wonderful mother—being a goddess is not a goal, a full point to reach and stop. It is a process of unfolding, of becoming, of flowering, and being open to understand and grow with all the wisdom life offers us when we are ready to accept it.

I would never call myself nurturing. I don't like details, and smelly little rodents are low on my totem pole of priorities, but I felt terrible when I discovered I may have killed poor "Hammy" cold in his cage.

golden goddess

I have a daughter who happens to be crazy, over-the-top, out of her mind in LOVE with living things of every kind: reptiles, insects, rodents, mammals, you name it. The girl even likes slugs. For Christmas this year she finally received a pet of her own from Santa. After a year of catching and reluctantly releasing many squiggly things, and begging and pleading for one of her own, my husband and I decided that Santa would deliver a hamster instead of her requested snake as a "starter" pet. She was thrilled. True to her character, my mini-veterinarian has loved, played with, fed, watered and doted on her "hammy" daily since the moment she set eyes on him. Perfect, right?

Late last Sunday night we returned from out of town at an epic 60th birthday weekend for my mother-in-law. We promptly escorted the kids straight to their beds. Exhausted, I followed suit. As I was snuggled up cozy in my bed I heard my husband gasp, "Oh no!" from the adjacent playroom.

I instantly knew what the "oh no" was about. My stomach wrenched and my heart skipped a beat, but my mind…. wow, it did a few hundred rounds on the hamster wheel.

Pensive, Władysław Czachórski, 1883 Pensive, Władysław Czachórski, 1883

It went back…

Did I forget to feed the hamster?

Did I forget to water the hamster?

Why didn't I double check his cage before I left?

I always do things like this.

I'm such a bad mother.

I'm so irresponsible.

I never should have taken on another stupid pet!

It went forward…

My daughter is going to be crushed.

Should we just replace the hamster?

How am I going to explain that we killed it?

What will I say to make it not hurt her?

Maybe she won't notice for a few days.

How can I avoid this conversation in the morning before school?

Anxiety set in! I had myself spinning in self–torturing somersaults over a dead hamster-- Just imagine what my mind can do where people, money, or love are involved!

When we finally confessed to my 6-year old daughter, you know what she said? As we held our breath and broke the news, she looked my husband straight in the eye and said, “It’s okay, Dad. It’s the cycle of life,” followed by some brief sobs of grief.

My children really are my teachers. I had spun a big story about my suitability as a parent, my shortcomings, how my daughter would never recover, how I would have to deceive and take massive action to “protect” my daughter, when really I probably just needed a little cry. My daughter, by contrast, just spoke the plain, simple truth, and felt the pain so that it could pass. She gently demonstrated how to stay off the mental hamster wheel.

This was just one more reminder of how my mind can mess with me! Everything is always worse up in our heads. Don’t believe everything you think. Breathe, stay present, notice you are okay and take kind action (honesty). Simple-- that’s all there is to it!

As it turned out, the death was purely accidental, a mishap with the water bottle, and no amount of nurturing, attention to detail, or love of rodents on my part could have changed the outcome.

Pay attention to when your mental hamster wheel gets rolling; just observe. Then breathe, stay present, notice you are okay and take kind action.

About the author

Amirah Counts

Jessica Doody is a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach, serial entrepreneur, a mother of two amazing daughters and a girl who loves to make ideas happen. She works with women who want to reinvent themselves. She helps them create a life and business they are excited about (including their busy home and family) at Jessica Doody Coaching.

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