There are rites of passage in every child’s life. Taking his first steps. Saying his first words. Learning to ride a bike. Asking for a puppy—usually at the moment you’re simultaneously poaching eggs, packing Pb&J sandwiches and scrambling for a missing left shoe.
When Aidan began this rite two years ago, at age 6, he started slow. Instead of a “puppy,” he asked for a “pet.” One chaotic morning when he asked, I caught him off guard and suggested a fish. Aidan said he wanted a pet he could love and take care of. “Fish are perfect for that!” I proclaimed. “But can you pet a fish?” he countered. Well, not technically, but I was under no circumstances prepared to get him anything bigger than a minnow.
Now, I’m no dog-hating ogre. My reasons for pup aversion were myriad and logical: Mess. Cost. Time. I work. I travel, a lot. who’d walk the dog? Feed it? And when I traveled, when the family traveled? Then what?
So off to the aquarium store we went. I’ll spare you the details, but Ginger the goldfish didn’t last long. Neither did Ginger 2.
There were tears for the first fish death. For the second, a few months later, a bit less. in between, before, during and after our fishcapades, my little pumpkin kept pressing for a pet. Hey, I’m not really dense. I knew all along that “pet” was code for “puppy,” but I had sworn I would never introduce these things, like Chuck E. Cheese and Xbox, to my kid. Acting dense would save me from hours of arcade and gaming madness, and by Jove, it might also spare me from a puppy.
When Ginger 3 assassinated the two frogs the pet store assured us could cohabitate in the bowl, my son lost his patience. That’s when I got the letter.
“Dear Melissa,” it began (not Mommy). “May I please get a dog/I will take full responsibility/I will walk the dog and feed it/I will even clean up after it/I will use my money to pay for everything the dog needs”—and here was the kicker—“I will teach him to be very kind.”
Teach the dog to be kind. What kind of defense did I have against that?
I caved. We got a puppy. The kind with sad eyes and droopy ears, rescued from a shelter on Christmas Eve (I know, I know). Dog walker, vet, doggie day care and boarder have invaded my speed-dial list of babysitter, pediatrician and teachers.
There have been low points, like the day I came home to find that the dog had eaten a bag of lollipops and enjoyed a sugar-fueled destructive romp around the kitchen, shredding not only the wrappers but his dog mat all over the floor—then throwing up at my feet.
But now in the morning, instead of asking for a pet, Aidan kisses puppy Pepper goodbye, usually with the words, “Be good. I’m going to school, and when I get home, I’ll tell you everything I learned about.” It’s kind of hard not to love that.