None of that counted for much with Phoebe. All she knew, as the summer wore on, was that she still didn't have a dog to come home to. For a while, as part of her sustained lobbying effort, she'd made a point of reminding us which of her friends and classmates had or were about to get a dog.
She'd go spend the afternoon with Laurie after their Saturday soccer practice or game and come home with stories of romping through the house with Laurie's Airedale, Spencer. Emily had a frisky white terrier named Popcorn. Molly had Lola, an immense, affectionate hound of some kind. Lily, whose parents were divorced, had Bagel the dog at her mother's house and a cat at her father's apartment, with a promised dog on the way there as well.
And then there was the troublesome case of Tobias, whose chocolate Labrador, Mia, died when the kids were in fifth grade. Minutes later, it seemed, Mia was replaced by Oscar, a dachshund puppy who made an appearance at school one afternoon when I was there to pick up Phoebe.
As a swarm of kids crowded around the squirming, undeniably adorable Oscar on the playground, my daughter walked stoically by and headed for the car.
"Don't you want to ... ," I started to ask, and then realized that I was the intended audience for her performance.
We drove home in a well-orchestrated silence. From time to time Sally and I would enter into discussions with Phoebe—actually, they were more like inquisitions—about our dogless state. Did she really think she was ready to handle the responsibility?
Would she feed him and bathe him and walk him, even if it was raining or she had too much homework or she just didn't feel like it? Did she realize that a dog wasn't just something you could pay attention to when you wanted to and ignore the rest of the time? Did she know it was a lifelong commitment?
Yes, yes, a thousand impassioned, ardent, and ultimately weary yeses to all those questions. I can remember Phoebe rolling her eyes once about that lifelong commitment line. She knew perfectly well, by age five, that a dog didn't live forever.
You had it and loved it with all your heart for a while and then it died, and that was that. For all her romantic fixation on the subject—the dog posters on her walls and sheets on her bed, the dog calendars and sweaters, her ceramic collection, and stuffed dogs of all breeds and sizes—Phoebe may have been more grounded and realistic about having a pet in the house than we were.
Sally and I would sometimes lie in bed with the lights out and confide all our worries and worst-case scenarios to each other as Phoebe slept soundly, dreaming of dogs, no doubt, down the hall. I was especially keen on running actuarial studies in my head and sharing the results with Sally.
"Let's say we get a dog now," I'd figure out loud, "and he lives for fourteen years. Phoebe's going away to college in six.
That means we'd have the dog on our own for eight more years. And he could live twenty years. Dogs do that, you know. That would be fourteen more years for us. You'd be seventy, and I'd be seventy-two."
Sally, an English teacher for whom numbers are largely meaningless, didn't say anything for a while. I wondered if she was thinking about the two of us in our graying, slowing seventies.
"Dogs don't always live that long," she said at last. "He might die before she ever leaves for college."