marshmallow and a month old play date


The following post contains two stories that may seem pretty incongruous. They have no apparent connection to one another, other than the fact that they both happened last night. But hey, that’s the way our lives work around here. There are almost always two (and often three) completely disparate conversations happening concurrently as we work our way through a day. It’s not always easy to live, and it may not be easy to read. But it is life as I know it.


Katie’s hamster died last night. We’d only had her for six weeks or so, but there she was, not moving a whit. Luau took her out of her cage and gently prodded her. It took what felt like a lifetime, but she took a breath. Or convulsed. I have no idea. What I can tell you is that for over two hours, Luau held that hamster in his hand. He fed her sugar water through a straw as we’d been advised to do, and he stroked her fur. She even seemed to perk up for a little while. She began to move around ever so slightly. She sniffed the carrot that we held under her nose. That little bugger fought like hell until she couldn’t fight anymore.

Yes, it was a hamster. Yes, this all probably sounds absurd. But watching her die was awful.

Having to tell Katie this morning was far worse.


A month or so ago, Luau and Brooke dropped by a friend’s house to drop something off. Luau got to talking with the mom and Brooke played with the little girl. Luau came home completely out of sorts. The little girl had very vocally refused to share any of her toys or games with Brooke. She had gotten pretty aggressive about making sure that she didn’t touch anything in the house. I knew how he felt. A few years ago we sat through a ‘family play date’ that went much the same way. It’s hard to watch another child get away with discarding all the rules of social interaction. Particularly when your child has had to painstakingly learn them the way that ours do.

Last night – one month later – Brooke brought it up for the first time.

“Samantha wasn’t nice to me when we went to the Smith’s house,” she said.

Luau was in Katie’s room holding a dying hamster. Katie was holed up in my room – afraid to look. And Brooke was processing – finally – a play date from four weeks ago. Uh huh.

“She yelled at me,” she said.

I asked her how it made her feel when Samantha yelled at her.

‘I feeled mad,’ she said.

She has her verb tenses down pat. They were out the window. It didn’t matter. She was telling me how she FELT.

“She yelled at me because I stoled her toys,” she said.

I took a deep breath. For over a month she’d believed that she had STOLEN toys that she had been HANDED to play with? What else is in there? What other misconceptions float in that little head waiting, just waiting to process? It kills me to think about it.

I explained that she had not ‘stolen’ the toys. I reminded her that the mom had offered those things to her to play with. I told her that good friends share their things with guests.

“She yelled, ‘MINE!’ at me,’ she said – using her best monster voice for the ‘MINE.’

I asked if she thought that was OK. She said it wasn’t. We talked about what it means to be a friend and what it means to make people feel welcome in your home. We talked about sharing and being a good person. I wondered why we were the ones having the conversation.


This morning, I woke Katie to tell her the news about Marshmallow. I laid down with her and held her as she cried. Together, we came up with a vision of marshmallow in heaven. She sleeps on a cloud of crunchy vegetables and runs on top of her exercise wheel all day long. (As she had a strange penchant for doing in life. Dang little critter liked to do things her own way.)

“She’s happy there, right Mama?” she asked. “Can you promise me she’s happy? Do you really KNOW that or are you just guessing? Please tell me you can know.”

I told her that I believed that she was happy. That was all I had.

She asked me about criminals and down there. “What if they murder people, Mama?” she asked. “I mean, can someone go to heaven if they kill someone? What if they go to jail and get out and kill someone else? Wouldn’t they have to go down there?”

I told her the truth. That I find it really hard to believe that there is a hell, but that I just don’t know.

She asked me why. “Why did Marshmallow have to die?”

I told her that we’re too small to understand why sometimes. “But Mama,” she said, “you’re not small.”

I told her I’m a whole lot smaller than God.

“But how big is God then?” she asked.

“Far bigger than anything we are capable of imagining,” was my answer. Because honestly, I can’t. I can’t imagine that there is a God that big. But I want to believe it. And far more urgently, I want HER to believe it. So I answered on a technicality – that God is bigger than my imagination.

“Bigger than this house?” she asked.

Of course, baby. Far bigger. Bigger than the whole world.”

“With all the people on it?”


“Bigger than the Milky Way?”


The UNIVERSE?” Her eyes had grown wide.


“What about the aliens?”

“Yup, bigger than them too.”

“I wonder if there really are aliens, Mama,” she said.

I was happy for the distraction from her grief. I pretended to be an alien. Sorta. I put my hand over my face (I don’t know why; it just seemed kinda alien-ish) and said in a robotic, alien sounding voice, “Hello earthling. I am an alien.”

She barely restrained an eye-roll. “Mama?”

I kept up the alien voice. My hand was still over my face after all, so it seemed appropriate. “Yes earthling?”

“An alien wouldn’t call itself an alien. An alien would just think it was a normal human being. Or – you know .. whatever. WE would be the aliens to the alien. Because WE would be the ones who were ‘different’. Know what I mean?”

I smothered her in a hug. In a decidedly non-alien voice I told her that I want to be her when I grow up. She laughed at me.

And then she started to cry again.

“Mama,” she said. “I’m just really sad.”

“I know baby. I know. It’s OK.’

“No it’s not. It’s not OK.” She was starting to yell. “I want Marshmallow back! I don’t want her to be dead!”

“I know, honey,” I said. “I meant it’s OK to feel it. Whatever it is that you feel is OK.”

She cried. I held her.

The words came to me.

I’m helping her cry.

I guess I’m getting more mileage out of that e-mail than I’d thought.

This post has been dedicated to the memory of Marshmallow – a heck of a hamster.

18 thoughts on “marshmallow and a month old play date

  1. Awww, I’m sorry about Marshmallow–it’s hard to lose a pet friend. We get the lag in processing things like that too–I’m always startled when the Roc brings things up from the past out of no where. It always makes me wonder what else is inside his beautiful head.

    • You know, Gail, he was incredible. Had I focused more on that in the post, we’d all be in tears. He was so tender with that little life. But what really got me was this morning. He came into Katie’s room and bent down over the bed where we were snuggling to kiss his little girl. As he stood up, I pretended not to notice that he’d teared up too. He is ‘one heck of a dad’ indeed.

  2. don’t be surprised if at some inexplicable time those feelings resurface for Katie. feelings reemerge at times you never think they would, they just do. my guess is that you will have all the right words again and maybe an alien voice too.
    God Bless Marshmallow!

  3. I still remember when my first pet, a fish due to my allergies, went to fish heaven. My dad helped me bury it in the backyard. Your daughter will remember your collective kindness, and associate that with death and loss. That is a beautiful thing.

  4. Ahh Jess, your stories so often trigger my dearest and most bitter sweet memories of our kids growing up. These conversations about God and death, heaven and hell, I had practically forgotten all about them. But I shall never forget Fluffmick the hampster, Princess our beloved cat, the baby squirrel we tried so hard to save, the countless goldfish we said Kaddish for, Gerry the Gerbel. Hearts were broken and tears were shed for them all, but I wouldn’t have missed a single one! Keep on spreading all that wisdom!

  5. oh sis… i’m sure you don’t remember this, but when i was nine i had a hamster named rocky (no idea why i named him that). he lasted slightly longer than marshmellow… while re-filling his water tube i dropped it in the sink and it broke. so in my infinate nine year old wisdom i grabbed a novely shot glass that we used for juice, filled it with water and placed it in rocky’s cage. well, hamsters aren’t meant to drink out of novelty shot glasses – rocky’s little head got stuck while attempting to finish off the last of the water and that was how we found him the next day. i cried just like katie for a couple of days, but the bright side to all of this is now that i’m in my 30s i’m able to look back with humor on the whole thing. i get great mileage out of that story at parties as i am able to laugh at myself and drink a little toast to rocky.

    my little niece will be just fine as she is much funnier than i ever was or am now 🙂

  6. When I was way younger than Katie, my dad, the softie when it came to pets, allowed me to take home one of our class hamster’s babies, against my mom’s wishes. A few weeks later, my parents somehow forget to make arrangements to have the hamster fed while we were away for vacation. Of course, the first thing I did when we arrived home was to run to the hamster cage. My parents panicked internally and put on a good face, telling me he was sleeping. As my mom marched me off for a bath, she gave my dad the “you did this” evil eye. He raced to the pet store, arriving minutes before it closed, but the only hamster they had that looked like mine was three times the size. He bought it anyway. In the morning, I rushed to the cage again and exclaimed, “wow, look how much he grew!” I still give my parents a hard time about it.

  7. Sorry you had a bad night. I just wanted to thank you for your blog. It makes me feel less alone with the same daily struggles.

  8. Tanya nailed it. My less-astute but related contribution — you and your girls have the most amazing conversations.

    I’m sorry about Marshmallow. It’s never easy to say goodbye to a little furry family member.

  9. Re: Gail’s comment and previous posts along this line – from your stories I am consistently amazed at what a wonderful Dad you have, and what a wonderful Dad your daughters have as well. Lucky family!

  10. “An alien wouldn’t call itself an alien. An alien would just think it was a normal human being. Or – you know .. whatever. WE would be the aliens to the alien. Because WE would be the ones who were ‘different’. Know what I mean?”

    She is so freaking smart.

    RIP Mr. Marshmallow.

  11. Hi there! Thanks so much for the invitation. I’d be happy to guest post some time. Just let me know with as much warning as you can as things get pretty crazy around here 🙂 i’m not sure that i have the capacity to add to the tips as well, but it’s a great idea. if you want to add me to a list of folks getting the e-mail or however you plan to do it, i’d happily contribute ideas when possible. as for 3 things i wish our ped (in our case neurppsych had told us, i’d opt first for things i wish she HADN’T have told us :))

    have a great night. and thanks again!

  12. What Michelle said.

    And Marshmallow? What love he had in his last moments of earth hamsterhood. That love is out in the universe now….and multiplying.

    Love, love, and more love….

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