Thursday, April 3, 2008

How many ways are there to say no without actually saying no?

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, “I Don’t Know How She Does It’ by Allison Pearson. I love fictional Kate Reddy’s struggles with career and family in some very familiar real life scenarios. In this case, Kate is describing her experience of dealing with the fact that she will not be putting her five-year-old daughter Emily to bed (again) that evening and trying not to disappoint her (again) for the absences Kate’s demanding career were having on the family. In my case, my desire to say no but also to not disappoint is related to the decision of taking a family pet. You see, my son wants a dog.

There are so many reasons to say no to this request. First, we are a family of two adults and four children and a cat. We have enough mouths to feed as it is and with our astronomical grocery bill being what it is today, we may all soon be eating dog food. Second, there is not enough time in the day already to tend to the needs of the human inhabitants of our home much less the furry four-legged critters. Our cat, Maggie, is the sweetest, most tolerant cat on the planet. Frankly, I do not know why she sticks around. She is mauled by my toddler and is only fed when my three year old remembers to dump out her food that I have to hide in the laundry room behind the door (so she can eat a meal in peace away from my none-too-gentle toddler). Most days, she subscribes to the fend-for-yourself meal ideology we have at our house – she brings in lizards (dead and alive), birds (dead and alive), mice, butterflies, cicadas, and who knows what else. Her favorite place to play and eat is under our dining room table. We have a dark carpet there that allows her to hide her recent kill without too much notice. Before every major holiday, we have to do a carcass sweep so as not to offend visiting guests. Which brings me to my third point, I’m not much of a housekeeper, obviously, and having dog hair, dog smell, dog footprints on my white tile floor would most certainly put me over the edge of this fine balance I am trying to maintain as a modicum of clean in my home.

There is part of me that wants to say yes to my son’s desire for a dog. He is the sweetest, most sensitive little boy I know and I know he would take good care of a dog and play with it (when he is not at school or at friends homes, or at baseball, football, swim practice). He is also the only boy in the middle of three sisters and is completely out numbered – a dog for Travis might make up for some of the estrogen that threatens to overwhelm our house some days. Travis brings home his journal from school weekly for me to add a response to his entries. So far, he has asked for a dog, a hamster, a fish, and a ferret. I have to keep saying no and I fear one of these days I will cave and we may end up with ….. a parrot?

Whenever I have a moment of weakness, however, all I have to do is stick my head out my door to see the dog walkers out at 5am with a leash and a poop bag and then I have my resolve back. I am just a few months away from getting my last baby out of diapers and the last thing I want to do is to start scooping poop off the sidewalk at all hours of the morning or night. My son insists that this would be his job but I am an old, wise woman of 38 and I know how the world works when it comes to kids and pets. Moms gets a majority of the tasks related to pet maintenance
and right now my ‘to do’ list is full.

My son came into my bedroom, which doubles as a home office for me and my husband. When we first moved into our five bedroom house, we had one child with another on the way. We wondered how we would fill the space of our house. Like too much closet space attracting clutter, we were able to fill all the bedrooms of our home with children and now have to make use of our master suite to house two desks, computers and printers, and files cabinets. I had a photo frame sitting on the floor (an incomplete dusting project) and Travis picked it up. There is a little blonde boy with blue eyes and a cowboy hat holding a golden retriever puppy. Travis was pestering me – who is this boy? Who is this dog – they are so cute! I told him laughingly, ‘It came with the frame’. He keeps this empty photo frame by his bed so every night he can see the happy boy with his pet dog – an unfulfilled dream for now.

When Travis asks about a dog, my current response is “Let’s talk about it tomorrow” and that usually does the trick. Travis is starting to learn about follow-up, though, so I will soon need to change my tactic and say no without saying no. We are not a dog family – never had one, never wanted one, but who knows, that may some day change. When we adopted our cats from a local PetCo several years ago, I recall calling my husband as I was looking at this darling duo of brother and sister kittens. I told my husband then “Talk me out of taking these kitties home.” Tom was unsuccessful at saying no to me then – perhaps Travis is taking his request to the wrong parent!

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