Marilyn came bursting through the door to our Valley Stream home, out of breath from running the two blocks from school. “I don’t have time for lunch, and I need a dollar right away,” she panted. She was aglow with anticipation. “Wow, only a dollar to complete her total happiness?” I thought. She’s a good kid, what could be so awful that I should refuse?
She was my third child and I had built up immunity to children’s enthusiasm by now. Tread slowly. “Yes?” I hesitated. I needed details. Third-grade children don’t always make the wisest choices.
She responded quite openly, sure that when I knew, I would grant her request. “The first one back with a dollar will get him,” she explained.
“Him” is a word that covers a broad number of definitions. “Get who?” I needed to know. She was too young to get married and adoption laws are strict, so those were ruled out. She was quick with the answer: “The white rat.”
Again, I hesitated. I didn’t scream, “NO absolutely not!” I’m sure, though, that my body language showed my panic. A photo would have shown a horrified facial expression as I backed up several paces in anticipation of this monster entering my house.
Marilyn clearly wanted the rodent and couldn’t understand why any mother, and hers in particular, wouldn’t leap at the opportunity to house a rat over Easter vacation.
Aiming for my guilt button, she reminded me that her two brothers had been allowed gerbils, and that I had actually coached her younger brother to help him break down his dad’s resistance to getting a puppy. She had never, in her whole life, had a pet of her own.
I countered by reminding her that she had plans to go on vacation with her friend’s family for a few days. “It’s all taken care of; one of the boys in my class will come every day and feed and clean him,” was her instant retort.
I was clearly losing ground. We were still far apart. I was thinking of horrible beady eyes, sharp teeth and a long hairless tail, and she was eagerly anticipating this darling white pet.
Intuitively she reached for another weapon from her argument arsenal. It does come with food and a lockable cage. The rat can’t get out.
There is an old saying that he who hesitates is lost. I quickly packed her a sandwich and handed her a dollar. The dollar was in lieu of a note of admission that I was gullible enough to pay to mind the class mascot for 10 days.
After school she arrived home and introduced me to the young gentleman who would be caring for the pet rat in her absence. Evidently, she beat all of her classmates with her dollar. Were they disappointed? Well, not with her. She not only arrived early, clutching her dollar, but she was the only one who responded; or perhaps I should say, I was the only mother willing to house a rat.
I imagine there was some talk about my stupidity among the mothers who said no, but I am sure that I became a superhero to the kids. Whose approval did I really care about?
I would like to think that many years later, this experience was indicative of my daughter’s confidence in her persuasive techniques. She entered law school and became a prosecutor, with many criminals convicted as a result of her work.
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