When I was thirteen years old, and throughout my teen years, I was more than occasionally employed as a baby sitter. Unbelievable as it was, responsible parents left their beloved children with me, in my care, for periods of time long enough to allow them to dine at restaurants and see entire feature length movies. This was obviously before nanny cams. I was trusted to perform duties like bathing children, feeding them and tucking them in for the night. I did all of this for a mere dollar an hour plus benefits. This doesn't sound like much, but those benefits were spectacular. After the children were safely snug in their beds, I got to help myself to potato chips of all flavors, ice cream and cookies. I was free to watch TV, and, if I was at the right house, I could carefully and breathlessly thumb through their copy of The Joy of Sex, which was right there on their living room bookshelf for god's sake, right there in plain view. "What kind of people are these?" The best part, however, is that I got the telephone all to myself with no parents listening and I got to stay up late without getting in trouble. It was also an ego trip to be looked up to, literally, as a big kid, a teenager, by the little kids I was in charge of. Baby sitting was so many things. It was a chance to make some money, to be thought of as a responsible young adult; it was also a fun excuse to dip back into the recent past that I had somewhat reluctantly left behind. At home I was too old to color, play Hungry Hippos and Barbie dolls, but when I was baby sitting these activities were part of my repertoire of professional skills. And then, of course, there were the after bedtime hours that provided a hedonistic oasis of junk food, pop culture and sexual education.
Six year old Daniel was fun to babysit for because he had a basement playroom full of toys, where we would spend most of our time together. On one particular day, however, he bypassed his toys in order to excitedly show me the hamster he had gotten only the day before. Walter was a pudgy tan and white ball of requisite rodent cuteness. Ah yes, a hamster. I was a pro at hamsters, having gone through many at this point, each coming to his own tragic end, each named Cinnamon, followed by a corresponding Roman numeral. I was eager to share with Daniel the joys of hamster ownership, especially my copyrighted trick, Hamster Trampoline. The way that Hamster Trampoline works is that you put the hamster on the front of your nightgown which you have pulled taught in front of you and you proceed to bounce the hamster up and down while gleefully exclaiming, "Wheeeee!" Since I was not wearing a nightgown at the time, I was forced to improvise. I put Walter on my outstretched t-shirt, and vaulted him up in the air. I was pleased to note that the t-shirt provided a more than adequate bounce.
Daniel watched, delighted. Up and down. Up and down. Hamster Trampoline is not something that six year olds tire of quickly, nor thirteen year olds, at least not this one. It is really a sight to see that hamster flip and turn in the air. After showing Daniel how it was done and going through safety rules, (Hamster trampoline does not equal hamster catapult.), it was Daniel's turn to try it out. Daniel took to Hamster Trampoline quite eagerly, bouncing Walter up and down gaily, both of us firm in our belief that Hamster Trampoline was a win-win situation for all: thrilling for the bouncer and bouncee alike. Up and down. Up and down.
A minute into it and Daniel's shrieks of glee were replaced by shrieks of surprise. "He's having babies!" he cried excitedly. "He's having babies!" I took in the situation. Walter was bouncing up and down. Daniel was shrieking. Coming out of Walter's body was a little bald, blind, pink creature. In addition to the one sticking out of Walter, there was another one rolling around on Daniel's t-shirt. Up and down. Up and down. It took me a moment to process this scene. Up and Down. Up and Down. Two little pink, bald, blind creatures on the t-shirt. One more wiggling creature sticking out of Walter. Daniel shrieking, "He's having babies!" He was right. We were witnessing the miracle of birth right before our eyes. I joined him in his excitement. "He's having babies!" I exclaimed. We both shouted, "He's having babies!!!" "He is having babies!!!!"
Then we paused, looked at the three squiggly bodies on the t-shirt and the one wriggling out of Walter, looked at each other and in a sudden moment of recognition, we said in unison, "SHE'S having babies!"
I thought of that hamster years later after I delivered my son. All us moms have our labor stories to tell. Mine was the most intensely painful experience I could ever imagine. I was in labor for 24 hours. Four hours of pushing and still I ended up having a C-Section. When we moms get together and exchange labor stories, I get a lot of sympathy for my tale. Then, I guiltily remember Walter, and I imagine her little voice interjecting, "Oh come on. You think that was bad? Let me tell you about when I had my first five kids...."
(Post Script- As writers do, I took liberties when retelling this tale, for dramatic effect. To be completely accurate, there was no sudden realization that Walter was a girl hamster. We just sat there dumbly in silence. I, at 13, soon after recognized that Daniel had pegged the sex incorrectly, but who knows when Daniel figured that one out. One would have to think that he has it straight by now.)
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