habitrailThere was a period of time, while growing up in the Seventies, that I wanted nothing more than a pet hamster or two. But more than the critters themselves, what I really wanted to get my hands on was one of those elaborate Habitrail systems that allowed you to create this maze of interconnected plastic tubes and pods through which you could watch your pets scuttle.

I don’t know what the appeal was for me: Maybe it was my whole fascination with The Borrowers and little creatures living in a big world or I just loved all the nooks and crannies that the Habitrail offered. I probably had a distorted idea of what caring for a pet hamster would look like, believing we’d be bonding and that the fur balls would be anything more than frisky poop machines.

I also would have settled for SeaMonkeys.

But unlike me when I became a parent, my mom did not easily succumb to the pleas of pet-starved children and I never got my hands on a hamster, never mind the Habitrail. I think later, as we grew older, one of my brothers might have scored a slimy something and there might have been a bird or two but rodents never made the cut in our house.

Which, I’ve since been told, is a good thing. According to other moms I know who have caved to their children’s pestering and adopted hamsters, the rodents make a racket all night long. They apparently are nocturnal creatures, sleeping all day and then as the whole house settles in for the night, they come to life and start to play, scurry and eat.

But last night, after I powered down my Kindle around 10:00 and turned out my light, excited for a solid night’s sleep, I realized that, in an ironic twist, I was now living with creatures whose internal clocks mimicked those of hamsters.

I was living in my own goddamn Habitrail.

While my 10-year-old and I were calling it a day, the three older kids – teens and a 20-year-old – were just getting going.

Down the hallway from my room, my 16-year-old and her pal who lives across the street were hooting and hollering all gansta “yo yo”s and “what what”s. Something big must have been happening on Instagram.

My 19-year-old daughter saw 10 p.m. as the perfect time to take a bath and settled into the tub after turning the radio up as loud as it would go.

When I lumbered out to knock on the bathroom door and ask her to turn it down, it became a comical “Who’s on first?” routine.

Me: “Turn it down.”

Her: “I can’t hear you.”

Me. “Because you need to turn it down.”

Her: “I still can’t hear you.”


I got back into my bed and then heard the yelling and pounding of last night’s episode of True Blood playing out in the den, located right under my room. By then, too tired from the exchange with the bather, I simply rolled over and texted my 20-year-old to turn the volume down. Within minutes, I heard the crinkling of plastic bags as he foraged through the pantry searching for some late-night snack that I’m sure remnants of which will greet me – Tostito bits dribbled on the kitchen floor and a milk-coated glass stuck to the bottom of the sink – when I head downstairs today.

The house is quiet now, in the early morning hours, but I’m sure to be tiptoeing around until my little critters start to stir in their cages some time around noon.

So I say to any parent who has a child begging to bring a rodent into the house, simply tell your child that while they can’t have the furry variety now, some day, if they play their cards right and become parents themselves, they’ll be the proud owners of creatures who spring to life at night and sleep all day.

It’s in their nature.

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8 thoughts on “Welcome to the Habitrail

  1. I only have one nocturnal creature in my house but occasionally he will multiply when his friends arrive at around 9:30 or 10 and then the opening and closing of doors – hysterical laughter at the latest episode of Arrested Development begins. Just great.

    • Don’t even get me going on the in-and-out, up-and-down, comings-and-goings of these people. They should be so energetic when the sun is shining.

  2. At midnight I was pushing husband over to stop his snoring, telling my son to turn off the kindle, setting my alarm to get up before the roofers, settling in after a long day/night of work and three teenage girls came up from the basement to make brownies…welcome to the habitrail.

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