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is a virtual pet a real pet?


Our six-year-old daughter wants a pet. She is fixated on getting a dog as she is allergic to cats and has asthma. Before we had children, we had two cats -- faux children as my husband calls them. We got rid of the older one in 2003 when our second daughter was born. Our oldest daughter remembers that cat, Chloe, and the lie I told her about Chloe.

I told her that Chloe did not get along well with children (true) and that she went to live on a farm that has no children (not true). So my kid, who has a memory like an elephant, will talk about Chloe every so often. She will ask what the farm is like and who lives there. I don't like having to spin such an elaborate web, so I try to keep my answers to the bare minimum.

The second cat, Clive, was with us until the fall of 2004. He was a casualty of the asthma. He now lives in the lap of luxury with my husband's cousin. We provided a pretty good life for that cat and I do still love him, but he has moved on and no longer loves me back. I believe the break up was harder on me than it was on him. But, we get to visit him often so he's still an active memory in my kids' lives.

Answering questions about him are a breeze.

So my kid wants a dog, since she knows she is allergic to cats. I keep telling her that a dog is very much like a child and I already have three (small) children to take care of. This is when she promises me -- contorting her body to and fro in illustration of how strong and adamant her vow really is while drawing the word "pleeeaase" out as long as possible -- that she will take care of the dog.

I tell her that she will not be able to walk barefoot in the backyard if we have a dog, as it will leave packages that need to be cleaned up. She swears she will clean up after the dog.

I tell her that we will not be able to go up north to visit Nana and Popa because we will need to find someone to take care of the dog while we are gone. She tells me we can bring the dog in the van with us. It will make the road trip that much more exciting and the dog will gladly sit on her lap the entire way there.

Side note: She recently saw a 20-something woman at Walmart doing her best Paris Hilton impression and decided she wanted a small, portable dog that would fit inside a purse -- like the chick at Walmart. While we were in line at Walmart, I told my daughter that it was not a real dog it just looked like a real dog. That's when the Paris wannabe informed us that, yes, it really is a live dog. Isn't he cute?

Thanks, Paris wannabe.

So then I tell her that it is by my efforts alone that her Tamagotchi is still alive. I feed that thing, take it to the doctor, discipline it and clean its poop. I play with it to earn it points and keep it happy. The kicker is that I kept it active last night, so it would "grow" a year older, rather than put it on pause.

Whenever the Tamagotchi needs something (like its waste cleaned) it beeps. The beep is pretty loud and involved when everyone is asleep. Usually I pause it over night so that annoying beep won't make my "real" baby wake up.

So last night I put the Tamagotchi somewhere downstairs and my real baby started squeaking around 1:30. I was trying to wait her out, because she wasn't really crying just saying hello and that was when I heard the beeps coming from the virtual baby. Grrr.

To make matters worse, our house is old and the floors squeak. I was afraid that I would encourage my real baby into full-on hollering if I got up in search of the virtual baby. So I sat in bed with my ear poised toward the door for about 40 minutes last night wondering who was going to be more persistent. In the end, we all fell asleep without stirring from our perches.

So I told my kid she already has a pet that I take care of -- her mother-loving Tamagotchi. And that is what she will have until she lives in her own dwelling and is capable of taking care of her own pet.

She doesn't like that answer, but it suits me just fine.


2007-02-03 at 8:24 a.m.

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