It was a routine trip to the pet store that turned into an epic battle of wills.
All I needed was a new light bulb for my fish tank. I took my 11-year-old daughter along because ... I'm not sure. Nevertheless, she was there in the car when I arrived, so I thought what the heck, I'll let her out.
Somehow, I'd forgotten what happens when you take a young girl to a pet store.
Unlike when I was a kid, pet stores are now the size of small airplane hangars. Dogs and cats, which used to be able to survive on grocery store food, now need specialty brands that are probably from France, or even Europe. They have food for young dogs and cats, old dogs and cats, midsized dogs and cats, dogs and cats with bad breath (find me one that doesn't), vegetarian dogs and cats who are gluten-intolerant, dogs and cats who like cheddar cheese, etc.
So pet stores now are big and confusing. And while I was wandering around, leaving breadcrumbs so I could find the front door later, my daughter's cuteness-sense kicked in, magnetically pulling her to a small section against the wall, holding cages of kittens.
"Dad-DEE. Dad-DEE." Come look."
That's never something a father wants to hear from his 11-year-old from the other side of the store. Suddenly, instead of "Dad," "Tony," or "Hey you," I magically become "Daddy" again. It's a warning shot across the bow.
I put on my best "this isn't going to happen" face and strolled over. Before I could respond, she said "Daddy, ohmyGodlookatthesekittensIwantonecanwehaveonepleasepleaseplease?"
I offered my standard line: "You have a cat and three dogs, two rats, seven fish and probably a few other wild mammals living in your room I don't know about because I haven't seen the floor in 18 months. You barely spend any time with them. So why would I get you another one?"
"But look," she said, as if she was making sense. "They're so CUTE."
"Oh, well then," I said. "Let's take all four of them."
"REALLY?" she asked.
This is a child who, along with her 11-year-old sister, has pretty much one regular task: walking the dogs. That is a constant battle in my house, as if dog-walking is the equivalent of surviving a gauntlet of flames and sharp objects. Only an hour earlier, I ended a half-hour of polite reminders to walk the dogs by yelling at everyone in sight, including the toaster and a couple of neighbors. One would think walking dogs at 9 a.m. on a Saturday is the modern equivalent of getting up before daybreak to milk the cows, slop the hogs -- whatever that means -- and bring in the harvest.
She then tried convincing me our current cat would want a buddy.
"Of course," I said. "Our grumpy 17-year-old cat, whose hobbies include sleeping, hissing and throwing up on clean laundry, wants a little friend to play with. No, this isn't happening."
The exchange went on as I got out my GPS to find the dog food section, and continued through checkout and until I literally had one foot out the door. It was time to play the heavy in public, which is never fun. Well, it's fun when people don't look at you like you need a good talking to by Child Protective Services. "Let's go," I called firmly. "NOW."
As I fantasized about sending her to live on a farm, she hung her head in defeat and shuffled to the car. She'd lost this one. But we wouldn't have so many pets if she and her sisters didn't win now and again. And there undoubtedly more battles ahead.
Never say never when it comes to a girl's sense of cuteness.