From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

The Great Rescue

No man stands so straight as when he stoops to help a boy.

Knights of Pythagoras

It is nothing short of amazing to watch a child and see glimmers of a parent. Sometimes it’s just an expression or a gesture that suddenly reveals itself as familiar. Yet it is with frustration and eye rolling that I tell myself that my nine-year-old son, Alex, is his father’s boy. He’ll spend two hours on his homework and forget to hand it in. He’ll run upstairs to take a shower and wind up sitting in his room with some electronic toy in hand. He really means to get those clothes in the hamper . . .

One morning Alex was spending a little quality time with his hamster, Bamboo, before the start of the school day. I yelled up the stairs in the midst of the usual morning turmoil, “Let’s go, Alex! Shoes on. Get your lunch. We have to go!” Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when a few minutes later Alex came flying down the steps initiating the search for his sneakers.

Several hours later, when I walked into his bedroom, the glimmer appeared. My little absentminded professor had forgotten to put the cover back on his hamster’s cage. Bamboo is probably just asleep under the shavings, I told myself hesitantly. I nudged a few shavings. No hamster. Uh-oh. I dug through those shavings, parting clusters of bedding like a bulldozer. And then reality hit. Hamster on the loose!

I called my husband at work, since I thought he could relate firsthand to the absentmindedness. He suggested that I put a little food in each room to figure out where our fur ball might be. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “Bamboo will appear.”

“I hope so,” I responded. “And I really hope it’s before the school bus does.”

When Alex came home from school, I tried to be nonchalant. “Honey, you left the cover off Bamboo’s cage.” His eyes widened. “But I called Dad, and he said not to worry. Bamboo is friendly and smart. We’ll find him.”

“Oh, no!” he yelled, and bolted up the steps in search of his pet.

The search went on and on, and then at bedtime Alex just broke down. “It’s my fault,” he sobbed. “Bamboo could dehydrate; he could be trapped; he could be dead.” I couldn’t fix this one, no matter how much I assured him that we all make mistakes and Bamboo might be okay. He was inconsolable, and I realized that this weight he carried, this responsibility for another life, had made his heart heavy. I lay down next to him, engulfed in my own helplessness, as he cried and cried, then finally fell asleep.

It was around 2:00 AM when I awoke to the sound of Alex and his dad. I sat up, unable to comprehend why anyone would be up at this hour. I walked into Alex’s room, and my husband excitedly explained, “I was downstairs when I heard him in the ceiling. He must have fallen through a tiny hole in Alex’s floor that surrounds a pipe. Now he’s trapped.”

Alex, as awake as ever, said, “Mom, he’s alive!”

I sat down on the edge of his bed and watched while my husband moved Alex’s dresser and squished his six-foot two-inch frame into the little work area he had made for himself. And then, with saw in hand, he began to enlarge the opening in the floor. My husband is cutting up the floor now, I thought to myself. What next? 9-1-1 rescue team?

“I hope Bamboo has the sense to stay away from this falling sawdust,” he muttered.

Only I thought it odd that we were all up in the middle of the night cutting up the floor. This seemingly endless carpentry feat took only about twenty minutes, at which time the Search and Rescue Team shined a flashlight down the newly modeled hole.

“Alex! Come here!” my husband bellowed.

“What is it, Dad?”

“It’s Bamboo! I see him!”

Alex maneuvered himself into that diminutive crawl space, like some Alice in Wonderland character, clutching his flashlight. He aimed his light down into the hole. He smiled. “I see him, Dad! I see him! But how do we get him out?”

The effort continued. Alex was just able to fit his arm down through the hole, but Bamboo would not cooperate. “It’s really cold down there,” Alex reported. “This isn’t good.” Next they detached a toy ladder from its shiny red truck, lowered it carefully within the hole, and waited. Bamboo, always up for the challenge of a good climb, would not perform.

Oh God, I thought to myself. What if they just can’t do this? What if Bamboo really does freeze to death or dehydrate down there? I watched them in silence as they plotted their next move.

“Alex, go get a carrot and a string,” his dad advised. “It’s time to get this hamster.” Within seconds, Alex arrived with the goods and watched as his dad attached the carrot to the line and lowered it into darkness. Alex held the flashlight. They waited and waited. “No sign of him,” my husband reported.

“Alex, come back to bed,” I pleaded. “Tomorrow is a school day. This is crazy.”

“I can’t go to school tomorrow,” he told me, eyes bright with fear. “Not if Bamboo isn’t safe!”

He should not be getting his hopes up like this, I thought. What are the odds of retrieving a tiny, trapped fur ball with a mind of his own?

“Ssh!” my husband whispered. Carefully he lifted the string. It seemed to come up in slow motion, like a fish line taut with anticipation. And there he was, Bamboo, dangling by his mouth, pouching that carrot for dear life. “Hold your hamster,” he said to Alex. “He really missed you.”

Alex sat on the edge of his bed. His smile was back. He hugged Bamboo. He kissed Bamboo. Peace was restored in my house. It was on the tip of my tongue to say, Do you realize how lucky you are? Do you realize that most dads wouldn’t cut through the floor in the middle of the night to find a lost hamster? Do you realize your father is one in a million? But I stopped myself in time.

“Thank you, Daddy,” he whispered.

Carol S. Rothchild

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