How do you deal with an abundance of maternal instinct, if you have no children to channel it towards?
In friend groups, I am always the mother. The one that rushes to get everyone out the door in time for the dinner reservation. Who checks the train schedule and pretends departure is ten minutes earlier than it actually is, just to be safe. If you come over to my apartment, I will ask you at least ten times if you want anything else to drink or eat, and as soon as you leave I will consistently badger my boyfriend as to whether you guys had a good time. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But I am the Mum of the group. I have been for years. And it isn’t just with friends, it’s group projects when I was studying, carrying a heavier workload in event planning, taking the brunt of housework from roommates. It’s apparent with my boyfriend on a daily basis.
“Have you had any water today? You should have another glass of water, here I’ll get you one!”
“Did you have enough to eat? Are you still hungry? You really need more fruit in your diet.”
It is exhausting. I carry the mental load of everyone surrounding me, and it is completely self-inflicted. Sure, people probably like it in doses, it allows them to take a backseat more often. But I choose this role, I always have. If you ask my therapist, she would probably say it is linked to a lack of maternal consistency when I was little, bottling up emotions with no caregiver available to share them, etc. But whatever the cause, I am a Mama. A Mama without any children. And at 23, I am personally pretty happy to keep it that way, I don’t feel like I am emotionally capable of that pressure and change in lifestyle. But even with this rational thinking, my maternal needs are filling to the brim, aching for an escape.
Until February 2020.
So I have always been obsessed with dogs — this isn’t a complete tangent, I promise! I can’t pass one on the street without stopping to pet it, with the owners permission, of course. Countless times my boyfriend has been speaking to me and my attention is lost, gaze set on a nearby good boy. I want a dog, I want a dog so badly. But I rent an apartment from a landlord who is obsessed with their “real African wood flooring” and included a ban on pets in my contract. This is why you should always read the fine print! Just kidding, I was desperate for housing so it seemed a worthy sacrifice at the time.
So with my maternal instinct only strengthening, I was left with a dilemma.
- Screw the contract, get a floofer and try to hide it when the landlord visits.
- Cry every single night and use the excess maternal love on your already irritated boyfriend
- ….do smaller animals count as pets?
My boyfriend was away for a week, visiting a newly-single friend in Glasgow. And I don’t do well alone — which has been quite the experience during self-isolation as you can imagine! So two days after he left, I was already googling possible pets. Dogs are so tempting, but we both work full-time, and I could never leave my baby alone for so long. I’m allergic to cats, and feared their effect on the precious wooden floors. Allergy to guinea pigs as well, and their cages take up a lot of space. Reptiles, nope! Birds are loud, and it makes me feel sad.
But then I googled “the best pets for people who work a lot”.
And there it was. On my screen, the answer. I needed a hamster. Because they are fluffy and cute but very low maintenance. There was an FAQ section to the page where someone asked if your hamster is okay if you don’t play with it one day, and the response basically said “They couldn’t care less.”
Hamsters are nocturnal, so my little buddy would be sleeping while I was at work, and ready to play in the evenings. I could love them and care for them, but also still enjoy dinners out after work or weekends away. It was perfect. But now I had two important decisions to make.
- Do I ask my landlord for permission?
- Do I ask my boyfriend for permission?
Nope and nope! They would find out soon enough. So on Day 3 Post-Boyfriend, I ordered the cage. I got a huge glass and wire one, which would allow me to see the little furry guy but also give him plenty of privacy, space and digging possibilities. Also, it would look super cute in my apartment, and this is my first place so that was important to me.
The cage arrived on Day 5, with two days to go until said boyfriend comes home. My extensive research had shown that hamsters required the first 48 hours alone in their cage to adapt to their new surroundings. This was the day that Storm Ciara hit the Netherlands, but I was not deterred. I battled through the elements to the closest pet store, but alas they were all sold out of hamsters. Was I deterred? Not for one moment. I had a mission. And I didn’t want to spend another evening alone without my new best friend. So I took two different buses, walked through pouring rain, and arrived at the only other pet store.
I entered breathless.
“Do you have any hamsters?” I managed to plead between gasps for air.
The pet store worker looked alarmed, I was quite a sight by this point. But slowly, hesitantly, he nodded.
“We have one left. But it’s already two months old, and people usually want one younger than 6 weeks so we’re getting a new batch in a few days if you want.”
Not only would a few days not do, but abandoning this child was out of the question. Pet Store Worker led me over to the cage, and there he sat. My future love. A furry little ball, grey and chubby. Pet Store Worker gave him a gentle nudge and the hamster yawned, blinking up at me.
And I knew, I knew that this was my hamster.
I bought him on the spot, a mere €7 (one day, let’s discuss how alarmingly cheap that is for a living creature). He was packed into a small cardboard box with shavings and a few pieces of food.
“Will he be okay with the wind?” I was worried, I had just found him, and now I had to somehow bring him home through the worst storm to hit the Netherlands.
“He’s a Russian Dwarf Hamster, it’s way colder there.”
“And he’ll stay in the box?”
“Unless he chews through it.”
Barely comforted, I took my box of joy, bundled it under my jacket and began the trek home. By the time I was on the first bus, he had stopped moving around. I was terrified, and needed to peek in just to be sure. But once I carefully opened the box, his beady black eyes were focused up at me, reassuring me that he was not having a good time, but doing okay. He was holding on, dreaming of the promised land I described to him.
We reached home, and as tempting as it was to cuddle him and hold him close to me, I resisted the urge and instead released him into his new duplex. After a quick exploration, which included using the ramps as slides on his tummy, he was home. He went to sleep to recover from the ordeal, and when I went to bed I heard him testing his wheel. Testing it for hours. Squeaky, to say the least. I got up twice that night to go check on him, to ensure he was okay, hadn’t escaped or injured himself.
My boyfriend arrived in the morning, and tried to greet me lovingly, but the nerves had been chewing me up for days now. What if he wasn’t happy to meet our newest family member. A close friend had assured me that I could probably return him, I responded “My boyfriend? I hope so.” Because that little furry boy was not going anywhere.
He finally spotted the cage in the corner, and walked over in shock, a hand to his mouth. He slowly shook his head, a smile catching his lips.
“Well, I didn’t expect this, but I’m not surprised.”
“Do you want to hold him?”
It was never a question, but if it had been, it would have been answered right then. Hamilton was here to stay. Full name: Alexhamster Hamilton. He is not throwing away his treat.
I’d like to say I’m a chill hamster Mum, but I am a full-on helicopter parent. I feed him fresh spinach and cucumber with the skin removed (his preference), I created a maze out of old toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and Oatly cartons, which I fill with sunflower seeds. My boyfriend was once holding Hamilton and accidentally let him jump out of his hands onto the floor. Hamilton was unharmed, but I refused to let him near the cage for the two days that followed and only then with a strict warning. Hamilton is my baby, I am all that he has. I take that responsibility seriously, as I am here to protect him. And he trusts me to do that, he runs over to see me and climbs into my hand, he takes food directly from me, and he knows that I will always catch him.
Maybe it isn’t the best way to confront my excess maternal instincts, but it certainly redirects it, gives me an outlet. It ensures that I’m not over-sacrificing to friends or family, that the thing I devote myself to never takes too much from me, as people have in the past. To me, a pet is a home, and Hamilton has helped me feel less alone on my own. I now like alone time, quiet evenings at home, because Hamilton is always a presence.
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