Sunday, July 5, 2009

My son's hamster almost died in my care

My son and I have been at odds over the setup of his hamster cages. We keep them in large, plastic bins, to avoid getting hamster bedding — and poop — spread all over the family room. He likes to leave the sides of the cages open, so the hamsters can wander in and out at will. I like to keep the sides closed. The bins are tall enough, so they can't get loose, but I figure all it takes is one super-bionic hamster jump, and we've lost a pet. With my son, I pick and choose battles, so I decided to let him and the hamsters win this one.

We have two hamsters now — Christopher Ryan and Mary. We had to separate them into two cages because Christopher is mean. He scratches and bites when you try to hold him, and he was putting a good beating on his female counterpart. Mary is sweet. She loves to be held and petted, and will stand on her hind legs and squeak when someone approaches. My son loves both of his hamsters, but obviously Mary is, hands-down, the preferred rodent in our household.

When my wife and son left for Las Vegas last week, I was left in charge of caring for my son's pets. I didn't mind. It was a chore that didn't require much of my time — I fed them daily, checked their water bottles, that was it. I didn't sign on to play with them, but I did look in on them daily. Everything seemed fine, until yesterday.

Late last night after I finished painting for the day, I was cruising the internet when something — intuition, maybe — told me to check on the hamsters. I sat my laptop aside and went to look. As usual, the mean one was working his cardio on the exercise wheel, completely ignoring my presence. Rat! I checked his water bottle, and it was mostly full. Then I added a bit more food to his bowl.

I looked towards Mary's cage, expecting her to be up on hind legs, begging to be picked up. She wasn't. She likes to sleep in an empty paper towel tube we keep in the bin next to her cage. I figured she was asleep, though I thought it strange because both hamsters are very active at night. Her cage smelled fowl, but then, too, it hadn't been changed in over a week. I returned to my computer.

Today, before heading into work, I checked on the hamsters again. Chris was asleep, and Mary was still in the paper towel tube. I thumped the side expecting her to come out. But nothing. I knew something was wrong.

Her bowl was still filled with food, so I hadn't starved the poor thing to death. And her water bottle was still mostly full. But when I looked at the sides of her cage, my heart sank: My son had capped the openings on either side of her cage. She had been locked out for more than a week, and while I had checked her water bottle every day, I didn't know she couldn't reach it. Nine days is a long time for a golf-ball-size creature to go without water, especially when it's been 100-plus degrees outside everyday.

I turned the tube on its side, but Mary didn't come out. Oh my gosh, she's dead and stiff and stuck inside this damn tube! I knew if my son returned from Las Vegas to a dead hamster, he'd blame it on me. After all, he'd left his precious Mary in my care. That's not the story I wanted told for years to come.

Looking through the end of the tube, I could see her silhouette, so I shook it again. She tumbled out, stood up on her hind legs, but then sluggishly fell over on her side. It was like she was drunk. Was she on the brink of death or simply groggy from a nap? I didn't know, but she had lost a lot of weight and didn't look good. I snatched up her water bottle and offered it to her. She drank like she hadn't had anything to drink in a week because, well, she hadn't.

I held her and stroked her back. I felt bad because in the past I'd refused to hold her. The idea of holding a creature that licks itself clean. Rodent saliva . . . um, yuck. She trembled, but soon return to her normal self.

The incident made me late for work, so I put her back in her cage and dashed out the door.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Breaking for basketball

I am not a basketball person at all. But K is. So I took a break from painting today, to get in a quick game. We ended up playing all afternoon. Huh!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring break

It's spring break, and we're having quite an entertaining week. My mother-in-law is visiting from Las Vegas, and she brought along our niece, my wife's sister's daughter, who is about the same age as my son K.

K has been excited for weeks, anticipating his visit with B, and talking about all the fun he would have with his cousin.

There's just one problem; B is a girl.

K's at that age where he doesn't like girls, and neither do any of his friends, at least the cool ones don't. But while K loves his cousin dearly, she proved to be a liability in the company of his buddies, at a family Scout outing this past weekend. "Eeewe," one of the Scouts said when my niece approached the craft area. "It's a girl." For most of the remainder of the event, K was repelled from B like a mosquito from DEET.

Funny thing is, B seemed to understand her cousin's dilemma. She gave him his space; she didn't pressure him to hang out with her. While he prepared to build rain-gutter boats with the Scouts, she played alone on the playground. She watched him from the swings with a forlorn look on her face. She felt bad about the situation.

Funnier thing was that K felt bad, too. When the Scouts began building their rain-gutter boats, he left the table where they were working and motioned me over to talk. "Daddy, she's playing by herself," he said, looking worried. He wanted B to join the Scouts, but he didn't want to be the one to open the invitation.

I called over to B, and she joined us, sitting at the opposite end of the table where K sat with his buddies. When it came time to race the boats, none of the boys wanted to race against B. "It's a girl," I heard them whispering. So she raced against the 4-year-old little sister of another Scout. Age doesn't matter; a girl is a girl.

Things went better when it came time to make and fly kites. I helped K and B make their kites, and then they ran all over the park flying them. But the faster K ran, the faster B followed behind him, and the higher K's kite flew. She became tired of distancing herself from her cousin, and began to hang close to him. He was confused and embarrassed, but didn't leave her to play alone.

After the event — once most of the other Scouts had left — K and B were back together again, like inseparable twins.

Only one other problem: Arrangements had been made for S, one of K's best Scout buddies, to spend a day with us this week— today! With school being out, his mother needed a sitter.

I took notes of our day today. It' made a funny premise for a story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The upside to losing cable channels

A couple of weeks ago, my wife had our cable TV downgraded to bottom-of-the-line, basic service. Hard times equal hard measures. Now we have just enough reception to receive a handful of useless channels. But while l miss my 24-hour news channels, I've discovered an upside: No more Disney Channel.

My son started watching the Disney Channel faithfully about a year ago. He'd watch it all day if we'd let him, which we have done on occasion — life gets busy. The problem is, this channel — which I thought was supposed to be about Snow White and Donald Duck— is simply not.

Not long ago, my wife and I started to notice some changes in our son. He'd say little things that didn't agree with us. He developed certain mannerisms, ways that seemed too mature for a 7-year-old. He became more concerned about things he considered "cool," and he'd flash bizarre hand signals and cop a pose whenever I tried to take his picture. Sometimes, he'd talk to my wife and I like we were little children and he was the adult in charge.

"What's up, yo, Dad," he'd say to me, slipping on a pair of sunglasses and tilting his ball cap to the side. "Am I cool or what?"

He stopped playing with his toys, and getting him to read beyond his required reading time (20 minutes daily) became a fight. We chalked it up to his preferring Gameboy DS and Wii.

One day while he watched TV, my wife and I looked on. We recognized the some of the mannerisms he'd been displaying. We heard some of the words and phrases he'd been using. There was no Winnie The Pooh. That's when I realized, The Disney Channel is not for little kids, it's for teenagers — and older teenagers at that.

Last week, I almost added the extended channels to our cable. I miss those premium channels, and I need my Morning Joe. But over the weekend, I noticed my son playing with his Hotwheels cars again, and he's back to watching his videos — Veggie Tales, Tom & Jerry, Dora. He pulled out his Moon Sand and molded a purple snowman, and he played with his Legos. Yesterday, I actually caught him reading a book!

That alone is reason enough to keep our home cable basic.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pre-church conversation: "You half'ta kill her first to get the baby out?"

This morning on our way to church I was in a funk, so we drove in silence until suddenly my son blurts out, "Daddy, I'm glad I'm a boy and not a girl."

I looked at my wife, knowing he was about to disrupt my bad mood, possibly even make me laugh.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because when girls grow up they have babies. Then they gotta have their stomachs cut open to get it out."

I decided not to press him for further explanation, but he continued anyway.

"Is that true, Dad?" he asked. "Women have their stomachs cut open to get their babies out?"

"Yes, sometimes babies are removed from their mother's stomach."

I refused to use the words "cut out."

"Do they use knives to cut the baby out?" he asked.

I'm not a doctor, but the term "scalpel" came to mind. Not sure if scalpels are actually used during cesarean sections, so I didn't offer the term.

"Yes, I guess they do use knives of sorts," I said.

"I don't get it," he said. So when a woman has a baby, you half'ta kill her first to get the baby out? Then you bring her back to life and sew her up?"

My wife and I laughed a little. I guess he was right. Under normal circumstances, cutting open someone's stomach could possibly lead to death. But I didn't answer.

"So when they sew a woman back up, she automatically comes back to life?"

His pre-church conversation was a little too heavy for my taste, so I didn't egg him on by discussing anesthesiology. And no telling where the term "putting someone to sleep" might lead.

"Yes, I guess you could say they come back to life," I said.

"I'm so glad I'm a boy and not a girl."

"Well, I'm glad you're a boy, too."

The car returned to silence, and my funk was lifted. Just a little.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Good hair vs. bad hair, hair thing: See I told ya so

For those of you who thought I was either making up the "good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing, or being overly sensitive, I found this video. It's a real thing.

Found on Shaudra's blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

KT has discovered the "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing

When KT and my wife came home last night, KT quickly brushed past me and headed for the TV. My wife had a grim look on her face. "Have a closer look at your son," she said. As I approached him, the first thing that stood out to me was that his hair was rough, like it hadn't been combed all day. He looked like he'd been in a fight. Then I noticed several dime-sized bald spots in his hair, on the right side of his head. It's Alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that attacks the hair follicles, I thought. I know about alopecia areata because I had a bad case of it about 7 years ago.

But it wasn't alopecia. Turned out, he'd been pulling his hair out.

KT has very rough textured hair. He's "nappy-headed" as we called it when I was a kid. And he's very "tender-headed," too. He yelps like an injured puppy dog when I comb his hair each morning. Sometimes he cries.

For this reason, I've always kept his hair cut very low. It's just easier to groom that way. But for the past year or so, we've let his hair grow because he complained about having to wear his hair so short.

When I asked him why he'd been pulling his hair out, he wouldn't answer. It didn't make sense to me. How could someone so tender-headed pull their hair out. Whatever the reason, I certainly couldn't send him to school like that, so I marched him upstairs and gave him a haircut. I cut it low, almost bald. Hair problem solved.

Well, maybe not.

While I cut his hair, I pressed him for an answer. I worried that it might be stress. Or psychological. Could a well adjusted kid who gets all A's on his report card be crazy, too? Finally he said, "I pulled my hair out because it was so tangled. Because everyone at school has soft, smooth hair. My hair is hard," he said. "Everyone at school has light-colored hair [blonde]. My hair is black. I don't like my hair," he said.

It was the Black hair thing. I know all about the Black hair thing. The "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing. It's kind of like the eye thing in the Asian community, except that the hair thing can be fixed with a $5 box of lye-mixed chemicals. Here's how it works: If you have straight hair, like White people, you're considered by many to have "good hair." If your hair is tightly curly — nappy — you don't have "good hair."

The "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing is a Black thing. And since there are only, maybe, 5 African-American students in his entire school, I'm not sure where it was coming from.

So, after I finished cutting his hair, he looked in the mirror and cried. Apparently, he hates bald heads worse than kinky heads. There was no win-win there.

I've been past the "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing for years. My hair is kinky, too, but I'm proud of my natural God-given hair texture. But I must admit, it took wearing dreadlocks to get to a comfortable place. Then I talked my wife — who swore by perms and relaxers — into wearing dreadlocks, too. And now she loves her natural hair.

So I'm wondering, will dreadlocks cure my son of the shame he feels for his hair? The better question is, will my son's school (Christian, conservative) be open to his wearing dreadlocks? Guess we'll find out.