Last week, 5-year old Grace came rushing into the house from the back yard, clutching a stick. She thrust it into my face and asked, “Mommy! What is this?”
Clinging to the end of the stick was a small slug.
“That’s a slug,” I said.
“Oh! I love it! I’m going to keep it for a pet! Can I have a container?”
She kept the slug for approximately seven minutes, then shook it out of the Tupperware and said, “Mom. When can I get a hamster?”
Now, don’t tell her, but I have always had a soft spot for hamsters in my heart. When I was a schoolgirl, my friends all seemed to have hamsters in clear plastic . I, too, wanted a fluffy hamster to play with and watch as it crawled through the tunnels of its hamster-playground. cages
I asked my mother and to my great shock, she acquired not one hamster, but two. The problem was that instead of a trendy plastic, my hamsters came in a giant sturdy, homemade wooden box with a wire front. The box was divided into two sections because my hamsters–mother and son–hated one another.
The bigger problem was that the-green box was stinky and difficult to clean. Hamster urine soaked into the unfinished wood. (What were those grown-ups thinking?) Cleaning it was my job, of course, but I was just a child, probably eight or nine years old, and I couldn’t manage it.
I never did bond with my two hamsters. They were a source of anxiety to me and a distressing disappointment. My mother never quite understood my desires. Once, I asked for roller skates–my friends and I liked to go to the roller rink on weekends and skate. And my friend had her own skates. My mother gave me skates for Christmas, but my new skates did not have rubber wheels, but steel ones. They were just wrong, all wrong.
One fall, I needed a new winter coat. At a garage sale, my mother handed me a dark browncoat. The sleeves were too short and it was hideous. I refused it and felt my mother’s anger. She was probably not angry with me, but angry at a life that forced her to buy winter coats for her children at garage sales. (I am a bargain-shopper, myself, but I like the thrill of finding a good deal.) Still, I felt the sting of her fury.
These things I remember have no file in my mother’s memory. She can’t even remember the puppy, Midnight, that was given to me as a Christmas gift one year. Although we lived in the same home, we lived lives that only barely intersected from time to time. She’s can’t remember most of my childhood.
I hope that jotting things down here will help me remember not only my own life, but the slugs that make an occasional appearance in our home. My life as a middle-aged woman is about grasping the small moments, examining them and imprinting them on my memory. Later, I will say, “Yes! I remember that day with the slug!” and we will exult in our shared memories.
(What I will not save for later is the memory of my teenage son who is intent on driving me crazy with his lazy insolence. And he was so cute when he was little.)