If You Give Your Kid a Hamster…

I’ve already had a couple of posts referring to the icon that was my hamster Shelby, but I think she warrants another post. You see, I was going through my old school stuff from the time where I actually had her, and it was hysterical to see. I was absolutely obsessed with her, but she knew how to piss me off.

Let’s start with why I got Shelby, my hamster. I so badly wanted a turtle after a trip to the Jersey Shore that resulted in me saving a baby sea turtle with my boogie board. It’s all I could think of for weeks at the beginning of 2nd grade. But a turtle is a lot for a family who’s never owned anything other than goldfish won at the church carnival, so I’m pretty sure my mom conspired with my dentist—who had turtles in his office lobby—to tell me that it was illegal to own turtles in the state of Pennsylvania. My dreams were CRUSHED and I never verified if that was true.

That awakened a new dream: to have a guinea pig just like our 2nd grade class pet. One of my best friends also had a guinea pig, so I knew I was destined to have one as well. I spent the first few months playing with the class pet everyday with my friends, and then FINALLY in early December, it was my time to take him home for the weekend.

My first pet dreams were crushed by my dentist, but the conclusion that I couldn’t have a guinea pig was one I came to all by myself. Those things are LARGE and smell bad. I ended up having stress dreams the whole time it was home with us that it was running around my room trying to get in my bed, and that’s when I knew I needed to move on to a different animal.

I was very into Littlest Pet Shop at the time, and the hamster character was absolutely adorable, so I had my new fixation. And on my 8th birthday, my parents caved and took me to the pet store. Shelby would be in our family for two-and-a-half years, and what a whirlwind it was. If you were wondering, she was named after the mean girl in A Cinderella Story.

I tried to give her a bath in a play dog bowl the first day, and she tried to bite my finger off. I would take her in the basement and my brother would chuck her from one side of the room to the other while I cried. I would put her in her plastic ball and take her on adventures outside on my play set in the backyard. I brought her to school for show-and-tell. I managed to spell her name in 15 different variations. She would run away in the house sometimes, and there was a solid week where we thought she was gone for good. But we always managed to find her, usually in my mom’s closet. I wrote about her in all my books, claiming her as my best friend while occasionally calling her a pest (she really was). I struggled with the burden of cleaning her cage because my mom was done with taking that responsibility for me. Shelby moved halfway across the country with us when we moved back to Naperville, where she got to meet all my other friends and have sleepovers with us. And, finally, she sent me off to summer camp for the first time. It’s just too bad she never got to welcome me back home.

And so while I have all the stories and the laughs and the craziness that has evolved from Shelby’s existence, her lasting legacy is giving 8-year-old me sleeping problems with her nocturnal habits. Who knew that would eventually turn into a full-blown sleeping disorder 14 years later?


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