And so... with our weekend away looming before us, I reflected upon the track-record of hamster survival under my parents' roof. It was not that they did anything deliberate to seal the fates of their small, furry guests... but it was undeniable that they seemed to induce the "touch of death" among all who visited.
"I don't know, girls... I'm thinking that this hamster holiday thing might not be such a good idea, after all. I think Pip and Freckle might have a much better chance at surviving a weekend with your father, than a weekend at Gramma's. Don't you?"
I watched as the penny dropped for Wee Three. She turned her enormous brown eyes to me.
"I don't think I want to go to Gramma's, either."
After assuring her that it was only small ANIMALS that were at risk, not small PEOPLE, it was agreed that Pip and Freckle would remain at home, in Child Number Two's bedroom, with the door firmly CLOSED.
"KEEP THIS DOOR CLOSED" read a large sign, scrawled in orange crayon, scotch taped to the door.
"Don't ferget to giv Pip and Frekle water and CLOSE THE DOOR," read a hand-written note, left on the kitchen table.
Wee Three even insisted on telephoning her father's cell phone every half hour or so, to leave messages reminding her father of all his various weekend duties. (As well as being the Hamster Police, Wee Three also patrols the activities of Maude and Charlotte, the cats, and administers love and attention on guinea pigs Toot, Puddle and Cupcake. She's our resident Doctor Doolittle.)
We had a blissful weekend. Perfection. The weather was lovely, the theatre was in full swing, we visited all manner of toyshops, chocolate emporiums and farmer's markets. Then, as daylight faded, we lay on our backs on the grass in my mother's back garden, listening to crickets chirping, and watching shooting stars streak across the sky.
It could not have been better.
To top it off, the husband was reporting complete success on the home front: no animals had yet perished, and everyone was happy and well fed. Doors that were supposed to remain closed, remained closed. Everyone was present and accounted for.
We made our triumphant return on the Sunday evening. Husband was helping me to haul the luggage from car to back door, as the children went pealing into the house to greet their furry friends.
"Everything REALLY ok?" I asked, as we crossed the threshold.
Before my spouse could respond in the affirmative, their was a blood-curdling shreik from upstairs.
"PIP!! Mummy!!! My hamster is GOOOOONE!"