My daughter the Mini-Pirate came into my office the other day while I was working. She stood in the doorway, watching me while I typed. I sensed she was gauging me for… something.
“Did you spill something?” I asked without looking up from my monitor.
“Break something? Mark up something? Burn something?”
“Then what’s up?”
She stepped into the room and laid her hand, like a delicate teacup, on my shoulder.
“Daddy, “ she asked in an angelic voice, “can we pleeeaaaase get a dog?”
My wife and I had been waiting for this. The Mini-Pirate is eight, which is prime dog age — the age when kids suddenly realize that their lives are incomplete without a floppy-eared puppy to call their own: a companion, a nighttime foot-warmer, a furry shoulder to cry on after a hard day at school.
But I was not inclined to grant the child her request for a fuzzy-nosed best friend.
“You know what, sweetheart? I don’t think so,” I said.
Her face fell. Her lip trembled. “But Daddy! Why?” She looked instantly crushed. it was all very dramatic.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re completely right. I am a mean, horrible father. Maybe the worst one on the market today.
You’d think I myself was denied a dog as a boy – that my Dickensian hard-heartedness stems from a dank, cold, loveless childhood of my own, possibly in some sort of factory or work camp… but that’s not true. It did take a few years of pleading to wear my parents down, but they ultimately got me a dog when I was nine. And that dog was beloved, for sure.
But here’s the thing. As part of my begging strategy, I did what all kids do. I swore up and down the walls that I’d be responsible for that dog. I’d feed it, walk it, take care of it, and most importantly to my parents, clean up the dog crap in the yard as often as necessary. Even if the dog contracted some sort of intestinal parasite that made its bowels squirt something vile and green five times a day, I’d take charge of the clean-up. It would be all me, I assured my folks. I was completely sincere. And in the end, they relented.
My parents quickly learned, of couse, that I was completely full of it. Yea, I did love that dog. But within two months of owning her, I was complaining about all the work. The daily responsibility. Most of all, the dog shit. I bitched and moaned and bitched and moaned, and my parents repeatedly said, “You promised you’d clean up after that dog. Pick up that pooper scooper and GET OUT THERE.”
So I was thinking about all this as I looked at my daughter’s eager face; about how much begging I was going to have to hear from her over the next however-many years, how she’d probably promise, like I did, to be the sole Dog Caretaker of the household, how she’d swear on her own eyes to scoop dog poop whenever required, walk the dog every day, yaddah yaddah and more yaddah. Should I just give in now? Should I make her put in a few years of begging first like I had to?
“Well,” I said slowly, channeling my own father, “you know that a dog is a lot work, right? If we got one, you’d have to be the one to feed it and walk it and scoop up the dog poop in the yard. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Mini-Pirate’s expression changed. “Poop?” she asked.
“Oh. Never mind.” And she turned and walked out of the room.
I was left staring after her, wondering how I should feel about what had just happened. On the one hand, I’d just dodged a bullet. On the other hand, my kid had decided that the responsibility of having to scoop dog poop into a little bag outweighed the comfort of a loyal, canine buddy sleeping at the foot of her bed.