When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town in 1991; people wanted to hear about my adventures. When I started this blog I promised to republish some of those old pieces, then I got sidetracked.
Today I’m revisiting one of the articles that I think has stood the test of time. Or at least is a change of pace. I don’t intend to do much in the way of editing, but may make the odd comment in italics. My daughter was commenting not long ago that she wasn’t featured in the articles. The reason for that is simple: the column was axed due to budget cuts relatively early in 1993, when she was about six months old if I remember correctly. So when I noticed this one in my computer archives I was quite surprised. I have no memory of writing it and don’t think it was published as it came from May 1995. Maybe I was just creating a memory. Or maybe my memory is gone and I was publishing material later than I thought.
When Paul was three he got a letter from his first pet.
It was the only contact he’s had with the animal he calls Worm since he set it free in his friend Ben’s garden. I had put my foot down; we couldn’t keep worms in the apartment. They just aren’t happy with high-rise living. Paul, being only three didn’t understand. He liked the apartment, so why wouldn’t Worm?
Actually I might have let him keep the creature if I had thought it might survive, but my suspicion is that no matter how well you feed a worm, the constant handling that comes with being owned by a child would result in a short life. So Worm went free, and I think the letter that arrived a few days later was written by Ben’s father John; the handwriting looked familiar.
Pets seem to be an inevitable part of growing up, for the most part, assuming economic circumstances allow it.
We’d thought Paul’s first real pet that he’d be able to keep would be a white rat. Vivian has heard good things about them and lobbied for one for a few months. I’m not sure whether it was for Paul or for her. Not being overly thrilled with the concept of rats (white or otherwise) except as cat food, I stalled until the idea died on its own.
There was also the possibility of a hamster, something I was willing to consider. After all, I had one when I was three. However, the mother hamster did what hamsters sometimes do to prevent hamster overpopulation and we didn’t get the promised baby. No disappointment – we hadn’t told Paul yet. Good thing too. I can just see myself trying to explain why some mothers eat their young.
Recently we’ve been ducking kittens. At first Paul was too young, then Janice was too young. Recently though Janice has been rather tender when confronted with kittens at friends and relatives houses. So the question looms again. We’ve managed to avoid a couple of birthdays with no cat, but somehow I think it’s coming with the new school year.
When I was a child I had at various times a hamster, goldfish, cat and dog. What I learned from the experience is that pets are great, but they do tie you down. Children grow up, and you can take them with you on vacation. I never had a cat that liked the car, and my dog hated the beach. Pets are definitely a hassle and a lot of work.
That being said, I’m all in favour of pets. And not just to teach a child responsibility, making sure they feed and care for whatever pet you’ve chosen.
No, I’m in favour of pets because they help children explore the world around them in a new way. Some pets, like dogs and cats, are able to return a child’s love and that is wonderful to see.
Goldfish, on the other hand, don’t seem to return any emotion, but they can provide hour after hour of entertainment. There’s something soothing about watching fish swimming away in their tank.
Pets can also introduce children to the harsh realities of adulthood. There are litter boxes to be changed, walks to be taken and yes, animals die. I don’t remember being that traumatized when
I lost a goldfish, but was a bit more moved when my hamster died. My cat and dog I acquired when they were very young, so I was older and more able to take their deaths in stride.
When we get our kitten, the real winner isn’t going to be the children. Nor is it going to be Dad, who is the most likely candidate for litter box duties (a job that ranks right up there with diaper changes). The person who will get the most out of a pet will be Vivian. That’s because she never had one when she was growing up, so the whole experience will be as new and as wondrous to her as it is to the children. That I’m looking forward to seeing.
(Twenty years after acquiring the first kitten I now have some regrets. From the first Vivian was besotted with the animal. She vowed to never again be without a cat. Given that our cats are less than well behaved at the best of times, and there is no-one in the family except me willing to discipline them, maybe I just should have said “no.”)