Thursday, 7:03 a.m.: I left a message on my supervisor's voice mail that pretty much summed up the situation. "I'm gonna be a little late. There's a big puddle of water in the middle of the kitchen floor, and the hamster's cage is open and the hamster's gone, and there's water in the basement, and the kids are hysterical, and nobody knows what's going on."
It's morning in Parenthood.
As the first one awake, I had discovered all this, struck not only with the convergent shock of all these things gone wrong, but also – it being 6:53 a.m., seven minutes before my wife officially gets up – with the conundrum of whether to wake a sleeping she-bear or just let confusion idle until the stroke of 7.
I woke her. I used the same run-on sentence I later used with my supervisor.
Our daughters, ages 6 and 7, were frantic. The elder was the owner of the hamster, named Buddy, aka His Hamstership.
She wailed: "He's going to turn up as a brown splotch in the middle of the road!"
While I understood my daughter's concern, I didn't bother telling her that in 20 years of driving, I had never had to swerve to avoid hitting a hamster.
I also didn't tell her that I was the one, the night before, who inadvertently had left the cage open.
By 7:15, we figured out that Buddy had bitten the water line to the fridge's icemaker. Out the water had come, above and below the bite.
While my wife shut off the water, I took my daughter aside. I explained that it was my fault that Buddy was missing. I was feeding him, and I must have been distracted when the time came to secure the cage door.
She said nothing.
I left for work fearing the worst and feeling inept, a typical dumb dad who might appear in a second-rate sitcom.
Later, my wife called with a midday update: no Buddy. It wasn't likely we'd hear anything until nighttime, she added, hamsters being nocturnal.
"Buddy's probably asleep somewhere," my wife said. "In a wall, somewhere warm. I hope we find him before the girls go to bed tonight."
We didn't, but there was some good news. In the housewide Buddy search, my older daughter had found Mousie, a palm-size stuffed mouse that she'd received as a Christmas gift years ago and which, with her love, she had worn down to a gray scrap.
At least we had one rodent located.
That night, my wife and I tucked in our girls with kisses and assurances that we would find Buddy and everything would be OK.
Closing their bedroom door, my wife relayed the message that the older girl did not blame me for leaving the cage door open. And neither did she.
My wife went out that night with her sister. I quietly tiptoed around the house, listening hard, pretending I was in the jungles of Vietnam and that the slightest scratch meant the difference between life and death.
The kitchen was dimly lighted. We had pulled out the metal drawer at the bottom of the stove, and when I looked underneath it, there was Buddy!
I darted for the flashlight, shone it under the stove and – nothing.
Was I seeing things?
I lay on the floor and listened: scritch, scratch.
He was alive! I reached under the stove, unplugged it, and then pulled it out from the wall. Aha! Buddy had gone behind the Lazy Susan corner cabinet, wherever that led. My arm couldn't reach all the way round.
When my wife came home, she turned into MacGyver.
Taking the girls' hobbyhorse, she used duct tape to affix a makeup mirror to the pole end. Thus, she could peer around the curved corner of the Lazy Susan.
Yup, there was Buddy in a far corner.
It was now 11 p.m. At first, we thought we would have to keep an all-night vigil, waiting for Buddy to emerge.
Then it occurred to us that we could take a folding table and block off the area where the stove had been.
As my wife stood there, putting out lettuce and water, suddenly she cried, "There he is! Hurry, hurry, give me the horse!"
I handed my wife the hobbyhorse and, deftly, she reined in the hamster as he tried escaping behind the Lazy Susan. I couldn't believe she had done it, but there Buddy was, cupped in my wife's hands.
At that moment I was convinced that I had married Super Mom, Queen of All Women, Mrs. St. Francis.
My wife told me to get the camera, and I took a picture of the happy rescue. Buddy was back in his cage with his wheel and igloo and treats.
My wife and I double-checked the cage door's spring-locked hooks.
The next morning, I woke up early and drew a big cartoon of my wife as Little Bo Peep, hooking a wee, happy hamster. I posted it in the kitchen.
"I didn't really hook him," my wife said modestly. "I just blocked his path so he couldn't get away."
I didn't see the need to tell her that that's how she snared me as a husband. However she got me, I liked where I was.
And besides, we were all a family again.