I took the hamsters on their first road trip today, to the school where I volunteer. As you can well imagine, they made quite the impression. I was deliberately open about the fact that the babies were up for adoption, that they needed homes--and soon. After I told this to the first grade class, a boy with a very serious face put up his hand. "Why don't you want to keep the hamsters? Don't you like them?" he asked.
I explained that Syrian hamsters are solitary animals, that, like leopards, they prefer to live alone. "Once they grow up, they'll begin to fight and would probably hurt each other." Or get frisky, I don't add. "I'll keep Peanut, of course."
He nodded and his frown dissolved. For a second there, I don't think he liked me very much.
Kids clamored for a chance to pet Peanut and the babies and, thankfully, the hamsters were more than obliging. Despite this being a poorly disguised ploy to off-load the rest of the litter, it turned out to be quite educational. Questions flew faster than I could answer them. The kids learned that hamsters are mammals, but also rodents whose front teeth grow throughout their lives much like human hair and fingernails. They also learned that hamsters are nocturnal, that they're herbivores, and, thanks to multiple impromptu demonstrations, that they pee and poop without warning.
But despite all my carefully worded explanations, some kids were left a bit confused. As I departed the kindergarten class, one girl stopped me to ask, "So, if someone takes a hamster, do they get to keep it forever?"
"Sort of," I said, "Hamsters don't live forever. These ones only live about two or three years. "
"Yes, but do they have to give it back?"
My mind leaped to the image of this child returning her dead hamster to me in two years time.
"No. They'd keep it forever."
In the words of Mighty Mom the First, "Keep it simple, very simple."