Children love animals, I’ve noticed. Well, mine do, at any rate. I probably shouldn’t speak for others’! But my three kids ADORE animals, and would make each one that they encounter, a ‘pet’, if they could. But they can’t. Because of me.
You see, I’m a middle child. Of three. Who had always promised herself that she would never have an odd number of children. (Whoops! That one didn’t work out too well, did it?!!) and something else I had decided in my pre-kid days, was that I would try my utmost to keep things fair in my parenting. To keep it consistent.
To that end, when I was pregnant with Miss 7 all those years ago, I sat down and wrote out a list. The ‘ages and stages’ at which things would happen. How much pocket money, how often, at what age, and for what types of chores. When they would be allowed to get their ears pierced. When they would be allowed to go out with their friends, with no adult supervision. When they would start cooking a weekly meal for the family. That sort of list. And also on the list was ‘when they could get their first pet’.
As they have grown, we have often spoken about the list, and they enjoy adding to it when they want something but know that they’re still too young. Thus ‘going in the chicken pen by myself’ (a desperate ‘need’ when she was just 4) Miss 7 gave an ‘age 6’ and ‘driving a tractor’ (again – Wha? Huh?!) got 18, and so on. And because these new additions to ‘the list’ are negotiated prior to being written down, everyone’s happy, knowing that the same rule applies to everyone.
It’s the rules that I made up, so many years ago now, that appear to be a sticking point. Rules like: ‘first (individual) pet when you turn 13’. Because, as I’ve blogged before, my children all receive pocket money (well, from the age of 3, so Mr 2 won’t start getting any for a couple of months yet) and it’s really quite difficult to say ‘no’ to a pet when they can save up and buy one themselves, if they’re disciplined enough. And Miss 7 is.
When she was 5, the nagging started. “Please, Mummy, can I buy a pet? Please?! I really want a pet!” ad nauseum, with all the promises of ‘taking care of it’ thrown in. She wasn’t satisfied with the ‘we have family pets’ argument, and – let’s face it – she was determined enough to save up sufficient pocket money. So I caved, and at the grand age of five-and-a-half, she became the proud owner of ‘Snappy’, a Venus Fly Trap. Apparently Snappy was a girl, although I’m still unsure to this day whether carnivorous plants are gender-specific. She lasted a week. She drowned, literally, in too much love.
Devastated, Miss 5 wanted something hardier, so she begged until I submitted and allowed her a fish. So she started saving, and paid for tank, filter, pebbles, food, and fish out of her own pocket. Really, with such diligence, how could I not reward her!? And several months ago, she became a pet owner once again.
Whitey, the goldfish, is now a prized possession. And the lessons on responsible pet ownership were learned quickly and with good grace, on the most part. But try as I might, I couldn’t convince her that she was feeding Whitey too much.
“Why does my fish tank need cleaning more than yours does?” “Because you feed your fish too much” was met with disbelief. Perhaps too much reading of “A fish out of water” by Helen Palmer – a favourite story, with illustration at the top of this post – had convinced her that she could feed Whitey lots, and he wouldn’t grow like the fictional Otto had. Nevertheless, Miss 6 continued to feed him a large pinch of fish food, twice daily, and by the time we were decorating the house for Christmas, Whitey had grown fat and difficult to see in his often dirty tank.
Two days ago, Miss 6 turned into Miss 7 and, as Whitey’s tank needed cleaning, I asked her if she would like me to do it. (It’s normally a job we do together.) Of course, she said yes, so I cleaned the tank, remarking on Whitey’s weight, and comparing him to Max, our very old and sadly, very fat Labrador who we buried just three weeks ago. I reiterated her need to feed him less.
Yesterday, Miss 7 was looking at Whitey’s tank, when she called me into her room.”Mummy, I can see what you mean now! Whitey’s fat, isn’t he? I think I need to feed him less. Will he ever lose weight?” An answer in the affirmative had her smiling. Then she added, “And he keeps on decorating his tank with lots of poo. Look at it all!”
I had to laugh. Lesson learned, maybe?