I have always considered myself to be a reasonably intelligent woman. I got good grades in school, was valedictorian of my high school class (even if it WAS only a class of 101), graduated from college with high honors. I have a good vocabulary; I can balance my checkbook (theoretically), I have a good working knowledge of computers as long as DOS and HTML do not rear their ugly heads in more than a token gesture of intimidation.
None of these attributes have provided suitable preparation for taking apart a hamster cage.
I remember the good old days when we had gerbils - a nice glass aquarium with a metal mesh lid - the hardest part was catching the slippery little characters for removal, and hoisting the slightly unwieldy container to the sink for cleaning. And gerbils have tails, which proves to be advantageous to the human doing the catching.
But Gidget (the hamster formerly known as Jitterbug), whom I inherited from my daughter Kate when she moved to South Korea last month, is no gerbil. She's tiny, independent, and tail-less. Never a fan of hands reaching into her domain, she can skitter off into one of the plastic tubes of her spacious, Animal Planet-sanctioned habitat to escape the invasion like a flash. And it's tough to win her over - she's not into carrots, or crackers, and she's not susceptible to natural curious urges to sniff the intruding entity.
She is, however, exceedingly fond of her pink nesting "fluff." No fluff goes unpawed in Gidget's domain. She pulls it all over to the corner and it becomes her refuge (and upon closer examination of the fluff corner this afternoon, it became evident that it is also a storage closet and perhaps a garbage can for Her Jumpy Highness as well). Once ensconced in fluff, Gidget is not as wary as she is in the open expanses, and therefore, vulnerable.
Another advantage of the "nest" (kindly note and mentally applaud my refraining from the typical rodent-geared modifier, here) is that it renders aforementioned slippery, tiny, and rear-appendage free creature far less... well, slippery. It became relatively easy to grab the fluff AND the stuff, which happened to include Gidget, and pop them into the utilitarian cardboard transport box provided by the pet store.
That, however, was the easy part.
At this point, I would like to stress that I did not choose this pet. I did not purchase this pet. I did not shop for this pet, and I did not (and this is key to my sense of self respect) READ THE DIRECTIONS FOR ASSEMBLING THE CAGE for this pet. I have never received tutelage in the assembly of said habitat, and I have never been granted the opportunity to OBSERVE the assembly of this plastic piece of wizardry. In short, I am an Animal-Planet-sanctioned-small-animal-habitat ingénue, ignorant of nearly every aspect of this Design Triumph For The Small Rodent immortalized in jewel-toned clear plastic. And yes, I am whining (it's a process).
Kate was effusive in her praise for the new "house" the first time she cleaned it. Words such as "easy" and "quick" flew fast and plentiful. I smiled and nodded. I didn't care. It wasn't my job. I had fulfilled my only requirement in finding it on a Target endcap, drastically reduced in price. Beyond that (and the purchase of two snazzy "a la carte" tube extensions for my "grand hamster," also on sale) I remained above the fray.
This has worked to my detriment. Kate left at the end of July, thoughtfully providing a preparatory cleaning for the pet in transition. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later as my husband and I were preparing for a trip out of town that I felt it necessary to effect a full cage cleaning, upon which task I embarked with a whimsical sense of optimistic adventure.
Whimsy and adventure are highly overrated. Let me be clear on that point. No One Told Me How to Get The Cage Apart. "Easy." "Quick." "Impossible! (it's best to imagine this final adjective voiced in one's best indignant French accent)"
I had labored under the misapprehension that the tubes just unscrewed from the main body of the cage. It was something of a shock as well as a disappointment to realize that a full thirty seconds of turning had not changed the general location of the tube in any way, shape, or form. This required a closer look, which was difficult, because I had hauled the cage to the garage as the logical place to discard ... well, what I needed to discard. The drawback of this logical location was that the garage is rather warm on an August afternoon. And by that, I mean it's freaking HOT, and it wasn't a great expanse of time before I, too, was hot, and considerably bothered, not in a small part because the current pair of glasses is just a tad behind my increasing myopic curve and the only way I can really see well up close is to remove glasses completely and shove my nose virtually on top of the item I need to examine. And in this case, the item I needed to examine didn't smell particularly enchanting, and my hair kept falling in my eyes and sticking, because, did I mention it was HOT in the garage, and I have enough trouble with momentary experiences of heat as it is, being a woman of my particular age?
After about 12 minutes which felt like thirty minutes, and probably was only 3 minutes (I mentioned I was good with math, right?) I decided that I needed help. And because my idea of help is to Google, I googled Animal Planet sanctioned small animal habitat. Well, sort of. The actual search item was something like how do I get the stupid tubes off the stupid hamster cage, and an item containing the familiar name "Habitrail" popped up, and I glommed onto it like it was chocolate and searched further. I found PDF owner manuals of rodent environments, none of which really looked like Gidget's, but I didn't have the luxury of being picky, so I browsed them all, to no avail. I wasted another 3 minutes (which felt like 12 minutes and was probably really thirty minutes, because the sweat on my forehead did kind of get dry and itchy) searching and then finally decided I was smart enough to figure it out and marched back to the garage. With my glasses on top of my head, and my nose against the plastic (jewel-toned), I pushed, pulled, pried, cried (a little), and wrenched in frustration, and somehow got the offending tube to be in a separate place from the main body of the cage. Emboldened by my [accidental] success, I forged forward to separate the bottom tray from the airy (and jewel toned) second story and voila! the heady spice of victory! Oh, no, the heady spice of the garbage, nevermind. I quickly dumped the contents, washed the tray and the exercise wheel (which Gidget, in her rodently wisdom has decreed to be the best place to assign for, er, necessary eliminations, it being of the solid (jewel toned) plastic sort rather than the open wire configuration. Whatever. Washed and dried (less tenderly than it would have been if this had been the easy and quick process I expected it to be), I somehow fumbled through putting it back together (I w ould explain how I did this, but to be honest my hair was hanging in my glasses-free face the whole time, and I'm not entirely sure HOW it went back together), distributed fresh pine shavings, filled the food dish anew, and filled the water bottle. Wasted another 3/12/30 minutes getting slippery and resentful rodent back into plastic (jewel-toned) Animal Planet Sanctioned Small Animal Habitat and slamming the plastic hatch SHUT.
That was a couple of weeks ago. Today I realized that I could no longer be comfortable with the string of excuses I had been using to avoid cleaning Gidget's cage. Lurking beneath the assurances I have been making to myself, often, firmly, desperately, that the next time I will know what I'm doing and it will be "easy" and "quick," has been a deep seated fear that the Cage will defeat me again. So I girded my loins, scooped fluff 'n' stuff, carried to the garage...
Have I mentioned my excellent vocabulary?