A Viral Hamster Incident

I don’t know if you heard about this, but earlier in February, there was an incident involving Spirit Airlines. A young woman says that they told her she couldn’t bring her emotional support hamster on board the airplane, and suggested instead that she flush the animal down the toilet.

I’m not making this up.

I texted the link to a few friends, in the category of “people are crazy, y’all.” I don’t even know where to start listing all the things that are messed up in that story. That poor hamster.


There is plenty of crazy in the news these days, so I didn’t think any more about it. I mean, I had my first flight ever with Spirit coming up on the 17th, but I wasn’t attempting to bring a live animal of any description along with me. So it couldn’t possibly matter to me.

I got up stupid early on Saturday to catch my flight to Tampa, where Paul was picking me up, having driven down with the boys before me. He’s either insane or a saint. Possibly both. I didn’t even need the alarm that I set across the room to force me out of bed. I was at the airport in plenty of time, even awake enough to feel real empathy for the guy beside me on the parking shuttle who suddenly, awfully remembered that his passport was still at home. Bad morning, that.

With no suitcase full of medical equipment and no manic children in tow, security was a breeze. Everything was smooth like buttah.

When we hadn’t started boarding 15 minutes before we were scheduled to take off, I texted Paul and told him we’d likely be delayed. A few minutes later, a yellow lab walked by with great purpose, wearing a TSA-issued DO NOT PET halter, handler at a speed walk. Either somebody had to go to the bathroom or something interesting was about to happen. So I did what I do because I am a dork, and I cracked a joke about it on Facebook.

A couple of minutes after I posted, I looked up to see the pretty yellow lab standing next to the gate agent for my flight, patiently waiting out a very serious conversation. Um.

A couple of minutes after that, a black lab and handler joined the conversation, and the other passengers around me were starting to crane their necks rather obviously. Not me, though. I was minding my own business. I always do, after all.

Long story short (I know, I know, too late) we were delayed an hour so TSA could sweep the plane because of a security concern. I was armed with headphones, a laptop, and snacks, so the wait didn’t bother me even a little. After about a half second of wondering whether I should get on the plane, I decided that at this point it was likely the safest plane in the country, and stopped worrying about it.

We landed safely in Tampa, and even the people trying to make a connection to New Orleans had plenty of time. No harm, no foul.

I had considered deleting the dumb Facebook joke, but left it up because people had responded to it, and it wasn’t hurting anything. One of my high school teachers commented later that we’d made the news. So I looked it up.

It was because of the hamster.

That whole thing was because of that poor hamster. There was a note in the bathroom of the plane, I guess, referring to the incident, and the pilot wasn’t comfortable with the possible implications of the note. I’m not mad at the pilot or TSA. I appreciate them taking security seriously. I’m not mad at anybody. I just can’t quite believe that a bizarre news story about a hamster affected my actual life.

I was out walking early this morning and I crossed a couple of Beachy Amish folks on their three-wheeled bikes, and my mind started down rabbit trails, as it does. And I thought about life before motor vehicles, which is in the grand march of time really just a hot second ago. And I thought: If you could pick up a person from 1875 and sit them down in front of a newspaper (I was going to say a computer, but let’s try not to freak out our friend from the 19th century too quickly) and had them read the headline “Flight Delayed After Note Found Referring to Viral Hamster Incident” … they wouldn’t even be startled. Because none of that would make a lick of sense. All of those are words, but they don’t go together in that order. They couldn’t possibly.

And yet, they do. It’s a world gone mad.


I lost my mind in early December and signed up for a writing conference. It’s coming up in April, and there was an associated contest. I decided to enter, but I thought I wasn’t going to make it. The essay was due on January 3, and we all know how I feel about December. It was a little bit of madness even to try.

But our nephew got married on New Year’s Eve, and there was a little travel. We drove to Michigan, and by we I mean Paul. I discovered that I can write pretty well with the laptop propped on the door of an open glove compartment. Paul’s contribution (in addition to driving) was not talking to me very much, which those of you who have met him will know was a sacrifice.

I ended up with nearly 700 words, and the maximum allowed was 450. Gulp. I edited. Hard. I sent it to a couple of friends. They edited. Hard. I couldn’t believe it, but a few iterations later, it was under the limit. I slept on it, gulped again, and hit send.

Well … I didn’t win.

I wasn’t expecting to. There were a lot of submissions. A LOT a lot. But I like what I wrote, so I’m sharing it with you. You can decide for yourself what you think.

Essay below the picture, which will make slightly more sense after you read.


I had to go up in the attic. I didn’t hate it the way I hated the cellar, but still. Yuck. I’d married a bachelor farmer just turning forty, and he came with a farmhouse constructed around a 150-year-old cabin made of twelve-inch logs. The original cabin was solid, but had become a little whopperjawed in the intervening years.

The coolness of the cellar would at least be refreshing in the summer heat. It was going to be sweltering up under the uninsulated roof. I was tempted to strip to my underthings to climb the attic stairs, but I just needed a couple of suitcases. I’d be quick.

I was prepared for the mounted groundhog staring dully at me as I reached the top of the narrow staircase. I was not prepared for him to move.

I shrieked, and discovered I’d descended the stairs, though I’d made no conscious decision to retreat. I took a breath, put a foot on the bottom step, and looked up. Stuffed groundhogs did not move. Was I hallucinating in the heat?

I crept back up and checked my furry friend. He was motionless on his side. Huh. I reached toward him and motion exploded again, but this time I held my ground.

A lone starling was sheltering behind the groundhog. We locked eyes.

“You don’t scare me,” I said, and moved toward the suitcases. A second later, I was at the bottom of the stairs yet again.

I was standing there contemplating cowardice when my husband, Paul, arrived. “Are you being murdered?” he asked. My startled shriek had brought him scurrying up from the cellar.

“There is a bird,” I said, pointing sternly upward. “Get rid of it!”

Paul looked up and cocked his head.


He turned dubious eyes on me.

The silence stretched.

“Are you sure?” Paul asked. “I mean, did you see the bird?”

I stared, dumbstruck. We were newlyweds, true, but surely he’d learned something in those five months.

“There is,” I enunciated, “a live bird in the attic. I was going after suitcases. You get them!”

I left to wash my hands and pretend I couldn’t hear the crashing, the cussing, or the pitiful chirping above my head. Shortly after things fell silent, suitcases splattered with fresh bird droppings appeared at the bedroom door.

The incident wasn’t mentioned again until months later when Paul came in after parking the tractor in the shed. “I swear I saw a bald eagle when I was working!” he said. “Just a glimpse and then when I looked again he was gone.”

“Oh?” I said. “Are you sure? Did you see the bird?”

The Long Night

It is the darkest day of the year. There are literally fewer minutes of sunlight today than any other day all year. And … it feels dark, too.

For so many people, December is hard. They are navigating grief, brand new or a few months old. It is the first Christmas with that particular hole in the heart. They are going somewhere to celebrate Christmas with people they love but will never quite understand. They are spending Christmas alone. Maybe for the first time. Maybe for the fifteenth. The HO HO HO is hard to take. For so many, the soundtrack to December is in a minor key.

For those who find the dark days difficult, it would be nice if the sun would burst into the sky with a fanfare of trumpets and bring us hours and hours of brilliance in which to bask. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

But tomorrow, there will be just a minute more in the early evening. The next day there will be just a little bit more. It is slow but inexorable, the return of the sun.

This is the worst day. Remember that the minor chords of Advent are not rooted in despair, but in the longing of our souls for something better.

It is winter, and it is very dark. But the light is not gone forever.

Here We Go

The first sign of Christmas at our house is always the Advent calendar. The first day is tomorrow (December is comin’ on like a freight train, y’all), and I put it up on the mantel after the boys left for school this morning.

They’ll discover it sometime today while I’m at work, and despite repeated talks about waiting until the morning of each day to check for their Advent activity surprise, they are unrepentant cheaters. When they were little, I could load up the whole calendar and forget about it, but now I have to do each day’s note the night before when I’m sure they’re asleep.

Because all of these things are true, I made a special note and put it in the box for December 1.

I’m a little sad we don’t have a nanny cam, so that I could capture their howls of frustrated outrage for posterity. I’ll just have to use my imagination.

I was born at night, my darling, impatient, sneaky sons. I was. But it wasn’t last night.


A couple of years ago, the boys broke the doorknob on the door from the garage into the house. Paul replaced it, and the new doorknob worked. Sort of. It was always stiff and weird, and people would think the door was locked. Lately it had gotten a lot worse. I was throwing my hip into the door to get into the house.

I’m not sure why we put up with this for so long – maybe we’re both fatalists and believed that we somehow deserved a rotten doorknob – but it finally gave up the ghost the other day. It wouldn’t work at all anymore; to get the door to stay closed we had to throw the deadbolt.

I got on Amazon and ordered the doorknob with the best reviews I could find (“HANG THE EXPENSE!” I said, which I may never have said before in my life. “I’m getting the best doorknob there is!”)

The new doorknob arrived yesterday and Paul installed it after supper.


Isn’t she beautiful?

What has happened is that we cannot shut up about the new doorknob. “I can’t believe how easily this is going together!” Paul gushed, screwdriver in hand. “The other one was a pain to install, I remember.”

He got home from work today and I said, “I can’t believe how nice the new doorknob is! It even feels completely different in your hand! And the door just shuts behind me!”

Later, Paul came back in from the garage after taking out some trash. “This is so weird!” he said again. “It just feels so great!”

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is except perhaps that you get what you pay for. Also that our family is easily pleased. And sometimes a little too cheap for our own good.

The Nature of Hair

I’ve been getting a lot of comments about my hair lately. Mostly because I’ve been letting it grow — it hasn’t been this long since I was in college — and when it gets long, there is rather a lot of it. And it is not hair that lies down and looks glossy and demure.


I was at church on Sunday and someone else said something about my hair and then asked, “So is it hard to work with, curly hair?”

“Kind of,” I said. “I used to have a lot of trouble with it because I wanted it to do things that went entirely against its nature. As I got older I learned to work with it instead of against it, and we’ve made our peace.”

I’ve said that or something like it a number of times over the years, and it wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me. Do you know what else besides my hair is no good at acting demure?


I think it would be fantastic to be like Grace Kelly and be perfectly put together at all times and glossily, smoothly serene, but that’s never going to happen. I’ve tried, you guys. I have tried so hard to be quieter and stop with the irreverent jokes and care more about my flowerbeds. (Don’t drive by to look. Just … don’t.) You know what happens when I try to be Grace Kelly? I am miserable, and so is everyone who has to deal with me. Like my hair, I’m hard to work with if I’m trying to do things entirely against my nature. But it is so much harder to make my peace with this than it has been to make peace with my hair.

I know this goes the other way, too. Paul has a cousin that has probably never said anything tactless to anyone in his life, because before he opens his mouth, he thinks things over for a nice long time. Like maybe a day or two. It’s a nice trait that no one in our nuclear family possesses. Some years ago, Paul was astounded when his cousin told him he’d always been a little envious — because Paul can just talk to anybody, anytime. Straight or curly, we all seem to want some of what we haven’t got.

I don’t mean this to say that I can’t change at all, or try to get better at things. How depressing would that be? But I do think things go better when I work with what I’ve got.

I will never tame my hair. There will always, always be strands that sneak out around my temples when I pull it back, and those weird Jane-Austen-era ringlets that form at the back of my neck. My hair will not behave on humid days no matter what I try.

But most days it’s fine. Probably most days, so am I, and so are you.

It’s Not Just You

I just sent this text to a friend.


It helps to know we’re not the only ones. This is the greatest gift we can give one another, the gift of it’s not just you. I feel like I say this all the time (feel free to roll your eyes at me), but I really only write about it when I have to be reminded myself. If it happens a lot, it is because I am a slow learner.

We had a rough day yesterday here at the Circus. This morning wasn’t great either. I watched the boys clamber onto the bus with guilt-riddled relief. Some of what’s been happening is, I am certain, because of our recent changes in routine. Soccer is over. Paul and I were gone over the weekend. I want to be careful about sharing too much about my children’s demons in an effort to exorcise my own, but a quick Google about “adoption” and “routine” will turn up article after article about the way this can affect adoptive families.

When we have days like this, I am tempted to crawl into my metaphorical cave and pick at my wounds all by myself. Obviously, if I were a better parent (a better Christian, a harder worker, more physically fit … what, you wanted logic?), we wouldn’t have these kinds of days. If only I were perfect in every way, everything would be fine. It all makes sense in my head, and it feels safest to stay there, flaying myself, because at least then no one else will know about my spectacular failures.

The best antidote that I know is talking to other people. People who aren’t in your situation, who can say, gosh, that stinks, and hey, as someone who isn’t down in the trenches right now can I tell you you’re maybe being a teensy bit hard on yourself? People who are in your situation, who can say, yeah, I don’t really know what to do either, but here are some things I’ve tried, and we have that too, and it’s not just you. People who, no matter their situation, can say, whether they use these specific words or not, I love you. I’m with you. Solidarity, sister.

It isn’t always easy to reach out. It isn’t always convenient to stop and listen. But I am convinced that we need to. Really, really need to. One of the best things we have is each other.