There’s a point in the life of every kid raised around hunting or animals when the anthropomorphized innocence of childhood meets the hard reality of predator and prey.
For farm kids, it might be the reality of growing animals for food. For hunting kids, it’s probably the first game animal they kill. And for hunting kids who are not yet quite old enough to hunt the point can be graphically illustrated by housecats and hamsters.
Several nights ago I was awakened by my son nudging me and saying “daddy, my hamster cage is on the floor and the hamster’s not in it.”
One glance at the upturned and now-open hamster cage, the tiny little bloodstains on the carpet and the smug, “What, me?” look on the face of my wife’s cat told me all I needed to know. My son’s brand new baby hamster, which he had brought home just that evening, was now on the fast track to our litterbox.
We sat him down and tried to explain to him, in the gentlest way we could, that his hamster had just been eaten by the cat, and why he shouldn’t be mad because it was only the cat’s nature to do so, and if he felt anger toward anything, it should be toward Mommy and Daddy for not making sure the cage was secure, because you can’t blame an animal for doing what comes natural to it.
Now since he was old enough to toddle around behind me my eldest son has watched me bring home and cut up all manner of dead critters. He’s watched red-tailed hawks feed on squirrels. He’s watched big fish eat smaller fish. The kid is no stranger to how nature works. Until that moment, however all that had been an abstraction. But here, scattered on his bedroom floor, was nature in all its sometimes cruel reality.
My son did what any eight-year-old would do: he cried for his hamster. And then he accepted it. And he grew up a little right there before our eyes.
Now that’s the kind of life lesson that can’t be taught; it can only be experienced.