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My kids have been petitioning for a dog as long as I can remember. As much as I adore dogs (really I do!), I just couldn’t imagine taking care of one while managing my childrens’ hectic schedules and my own, which this upcoming year will include fundraising for school, organizing and overseeing the children’s activities program at my weekend community, schlepping my eight year old Maier to his travel soccer games and tournaments most weekends and holidays, exploring equestrian shows in which Maya will compete….. Sound familiar? Now, add work in the mix too (not to mention starting a company) and it’s a wonder I even have time to write this, much less take care of a dog!!!
The thing is, I had a dog growing up. Shana was the love of my life until my husband and children came along. I had her for 17 years and know well the benefits of having, loving and caring for pets...I also know the commitment. I just didn’t think I had the bandwidth to handle caring for a dog, right now.
Maya took it upon herself to petition hard. She enlisted her seven year old brother Maier, and off they went to research pets. They both wanted a dog — and if a dog was too much work, they were committed to finding a pet that was less work and more practical for now. They presented several powerpoints on a variety of potential pets. At first, we were shocked they knew about PowerPoint, much less how to use it!! Once we got past that...we focused on the presentations themselves…
We already said no to a bird and a snake..which left us with a rabbit .. . turtle….and hamster…
Think Tortoise and the Hare (slightly different than a turtle and rabbit but analogous for our purposes)...neither won the race in my house, despite the elegant PowerPoint presentations on each!
PowerPoint #1: The rabbit - we live in nyc and the rabbit’s cage of about 40” long will inevitably overtake any of the kids’ bedrooms — in both cage size and smell (!) Beyond that, rabbits supposedly need the run of the house for exercise for about three hours per day, and they are drawn to electrical and phone wires, books, baseboard molding, door jams, and plants. Really, I now have to hire a daily babysitter for my pet, not to mention, safety-proof my house all over again!!! We had to say no to Bugs Bunny.
PowerPoint #2: The turtle - interesting and low maintenance— but possible spreader of salmonella and — this is the clincher —they can live up to 100 years!!! Even if 40-50 years is the average life span in captivity, it’s unnerving to think that the turtle will survive me possibly, not to mention that my kids (and their kids!!!) will inevitably outgrow the pet, leaving me as caretaker at a time in life when I will need my own caretaker! Turtle was nixed.
Powering #3: The hamster - low maintenance, small, average life span 2-3 years. We came to learn that Chinese Dwarf Hamsters are the easiest to care for and have the best temperament for kids. We got past the fact that it is a rodent...and rewarded Maya and Maier for their outstanding research and presentation by agreeing to the hamster…So now my kids are proud parents of Sugar.
And this is what I can tell you. Both kids are forced to work together, in harmony to care for Sugar. They have to feed him every day. They have to thoroughly clean his cage each week. While maintenance for a hamster is much easier than a dog (and manageable by the kids), we also thought it would be a good indicator for how they would manage caring for a dog in the future. So far, so good.
The best part of having Sugar is his teaching the kids how to be responsible for another live being that is totally dependent on THEM. Sugar’s well being is in their hands. And they know it and take that quite seriously. They love Sugar. This tiny, sweet Hamster is teaching the kids some big, critical skill sets, like how to be —together as a team — independent, self sufficient and responsible. These powerful values will serve them well. Perhaps it will also act as a foundation of sorts for how they treat others who need their help and support in different contexts entirely. A pet is by no means the solution to teach sensitivity or responsibility— but it can and will certainly be a salient factor in doing just that.
I believe that learning how to be good caregivers lays a foundation for the kids being good people and citizens, gaining a sense of responsibility and sensitivity toward others -- and that is the very essence of positive feminism -- i.e., women supporting other women and men supporting women as allies.
So when your child(ren) start begging for a pet — and you know they will — I invite you to think about PowerPoint presentations and powerful life lessons before saying no.