When my daughter, Molly, was three, she spent about half her waking hours pretending to be a dog: panting, barking, whining. She’d lick my face, or deliberately spill milk, and then slurp it off the floor. Then one morning, from out of her adorable little mouth: “I want a puppy.”
“You have a puppy. You have Hard Clifford,” I said, reminding her of her little red wooden dog on wheels that she carted around, put down for naps, and covered with Hello Kitty Band-Aids. She did everything to Hard Clifford that you could never do to a real dog.
“What kind of dog do you want?” I asked.
“A little white one.”
“You think you want a little white one, but believe me, a real puppy is no fun,” I said.
Molly dropped to the floor, whimpering. I ignored her, washed the dishes, yelled at my older child, Toby, to get off his computer, and decided this was the moment to scrub the red Sharpie off the kitchen counter. Eventually, my daughter stood up, took Hard Clifford out the back door and threw him into the snow.
“Toby has a pet,” she said the next day.
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Toby has a fish.”
“A fish is not a pet. A fish is just . . . alive. Like a plant.”
“I forgot to tell you this,” I said on day two of the Hard Clifford Lockout. “I'm allergic to dogs.”
“No, you’re not, you’re 'lergic to cats.”
“I might be allergic to dogs. They do have fur."
“No, you’re not, you’re 'lergic to cats.”
Before children can speak, they live in the cocoon of their parents’ decisions. A one-year-old may not like your choices, but you never feel obligated to reason with them: your way is the way. But then at around three, they learn to talk. And by talk what I really mean is talk back. It’s at this moment that you realize you are negotiating with a very tiny, very intelligent human being. They are listening. They remember. You are accountable. And it’s heartbreaking, because suddenly, just like with every other complex relationship in your life, you must lie, cajole, convince, play dumb, scheme, charm, and occasionally acquiesce to your daughter’s desires.
That evening, I summoned up little white dogs on the iPad, thinking maybe it would ease the tension before I put her to bed. She scrolled down expertly, until she landed on an impossibly adorable puppy wearing a pink ribbon.
“I want this one.”
“That dog doesn’t exist. That is only a Platonic ideal of a dog. Like a model on the cover of Vogue.”
“I want her.”
Tucking her in that night, I suggested that perhaps Hard Clifford might be cold outside with his head buried in the snow.
"He's not a real puppy," Molly said.
Because we order practically everything except food and medicine using Amazon Prime, it makes sense, in retrospect, that when my daughter pointed to a dog on a computer and said, “I want that dog,” she expected it to arrive within two business days. I didn’t realize this until two business days later when some new winter boots arrived in a box just large enough to theoretically accommodate a puppy.
“My puppy! My puppy!” my daughter shrieked.
Picture the scene when she saw the box contained only boring grown-up boots. I left Molly in a puddle on the floor, trudged out into the snow and brought Frozen Clifford back inside.
"Look who misses you!” I said.
That night, instead of watching “The Good Wife”, my wife and I had a grown-up conversation about puppies.
“I don’t like dogs,” I said. “I don’t want a dog.”
“Because of your childhood?”
“No,” I said. “Because dogs have needs. There are too many needs in this house already.”
“Definitely your childhood,” she said.
She had a point. I'm American, but mostly grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal. Long story short, dogs are not treated the same there. Here they're family, practically sacred; there, cows are sacred and dogs are most often stray, mangy and/or rabid. People keep pet dogs, but they live outside and eat scraps. As a child, I had a little white Lasa Apso named Lakpati whom I loved intensely, until one day the Mastiff next door jumped the wall, grabbed her by the throat and killed her. I found Lakpati's lifeless body when I came home from school. My parents replaced her with an identical little white dog, which we named Lakpati 2. I loved that dog even more than L1, until one day the Mastiff next door. . . well, you know what happened. So we got Lakpati 3, and moved across town.
“You think I’m damaged?” I said to my wife.
She didn’t answer. That night, dead little white dogs haunted my sleep.
As I write this, my daughter, now eight, and her dog, Dash, stare at me from the sofa. People say he is a very cute dog—a toy Golden Doodle—and Molly adores him. I am kind to the dog. I scoop his steaming poop on frigid winter walks. I pet him when he looks up at me with absurd quantities of love I don’t deserve. “Good boy,” I say. After all, he doesn’t know that his very existence in our family was the result of my daughter’s grueling three-year campaign to wear me down. That’s right: three years. And there’s mounting evidence that since my daughter’s Puppy War victory, she has broken me in other ways. Just two weeks ago, she said: “Can I get my own Chromebook?”
“You don’t need a computer,” I said.
“Toby has a computer.”
“And he got his laptop when he was two years younger than I am now.”
“Is that true?”
“You know it’s true, Daddy.”
I pause, which is always the fatal mistake. Never let ‘em see your ambivalence. One short hour later, an affordable Chromebook is ordered and on its way. Amazon Prime, of course.