My son has never been a demanding child, so I never quite understood when other parents talked about giving into their kid’s whims. “Juliet really wanted a puppy, so we got one,” a parent said to me not long ago. While I nodded my head and smiled, on the inside I was thinking: “What the heck is wrong with you? You’re picking up poop in the middle of the night because you couldn’t say ‘no’ to your kid?” For the life of me, I could not understand why any adult would let a 5-year-old call the shots.
And while I still think certain people might let their kids push them around a little too much, now that I have a strong-willed daughter myself, I can see where they’re coming from. By the way, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned since becoming a parent: Don’t judge others because one day you might be doing the same thing.
In this case, however, it’s not a dog that my insistent 4-year-old daughter wants: It’s a baby.
“Are you pregnant?” Lily’s teacher asked me at preschool drop-off recently. I surreptitiously looked at my belly—I had been eating a lot of Girl Scout cookies lately—but I didn’t think I looked pregnant. “Um, no,” I told her.
“Oh,” she said. “Because Lily told us you were!”
It turns out Lily has two close friends from school that are about to have baby brothers and sisters and has decided that she, too, wants to be a big sibling.
In fact, she has become pretty insistent about it.
It started out rather sweetly. “Can you have a baby?” she asked me recently as I tucked her in to bed. “Well, I could,” I tell her. “But Daddy and I are pretty happy with just you and Avi. Don’t you think our family is nice the way it is?” She frowned at me—obviously not agreeing—but let the matter go.
The next night, she became more demanding. “I want a baby like Wesley and Addie!” she whined. “Why, oh why, can’t I have a baby, too?” I smiled—part of me still thinks it’s cute to have an insistent child, since my son doesn’t even dare ask me for a cookie, much less another family member (not to mention he’s smart enough to realize this would majorly disrupt his lifestyle)—but again told her ‘no.’ “Besides I wouldn’t be able to play with you as much,” I explained. “Babies are a lot of work, and I’d always be feeding it and changing its diaper.”
“I’ll change it and feed it,” she offered.
Seeing as that it was past bedtime, I firmly told her: “Go to bed and we can talk more about babies in the morning.” Then I went downstairs, poured a glass of wine, and imagined how this behavior would translate into the teenage years.
The next day on the way to school, she had a full on tantrum in the back seat of the car. “It’s not fair!” she wailed, tears streaming down her face. “Everyone gets a baby but me!”
In the end, I found myself not-so-calmly describing to her how being pregnant is exhausting, hurts my back, and makes me throw up. That last detail seemed to catch her off guard, and she fell quiet in the back seat, while I pondered if I’d over-shared.
I began to realize, however, that if my husband and I were remotely interested in having a third child, my daughter would have the ability—through the force of her sheer will—to push us over the edge. Lily does not give up, and she does not forget.
Which is how I found myself offering to get her and my son a puppy instead. “It’s like a baby,” I told them. “Only it’s softer and more fun, and you can help take care of it.”
“How about a puppy, and also two cats?” my daughter asked me.
“No, just a dog.” I told her. “And not until you’re in Kindergarten,” I added.
“Am I going to be in Kindergarten tomorrow?” she wanted to know.
“No,” I said.
“Then how about a baby now, and the dog when I’m Kindergarten?” she asked.
“Holy smokes,” I told her. “You just don’t give up!”
Which is how I found myself picturing a sleep-deprived version of myself, one year from now, changing diapers in the middle of the night and lamenting: “Lily said she really wanted a baby.”
Leah Black is a mother-of-two and the former executive editor of New York Family.