David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tale?

How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale.

Patti Page’s concern for protecting her absent boyfriend by buying him a doggie may have been the primary issue in 1952. But first and foremost is economics. Can Patti afford said doggie? Is the purchase a worthwhile expenditure? Or not? There is no middle ground. Patti can’t buy half a doggie. She has to come up with the dollars. It’s simple arithmetic—dog for cash. A more complex exchange involves Schrodinger’s cat, an entirely different animal if you will.

A similar calculus applies to a recent college graduate from the northeast. He is student teaching in a small town in Florida. He’s passionate about his new job; he’s good at it; his sixth graders love him. He prepares meticulously for his lessons, believes in the ability of each of his students, stays after school to help with the kids who are reading behind grade level, forms a club for the gifted kids, organizes a trivia game that the kids love.

Then he dyes his hair purple.

Which is fine with me and as we all know hair color doesn’t interfere with his compassion, work ethic, or his ability to reach out to the hearts and minds of the 12-year-olds and in a perfect world purple hair would have nothing to do with anything, but he is in a rural community somewhere north of Gainesville and what did he think was going to happen, that no one would say anything, that purple hair would go unremarked?

Parents complain to the other teachers then to the principal then to the school board. There are vague allegations. Why does the young teacher spend time volunteering at sports practice rather than going home immediately after school? Why is his hair purple? Why is he teaching in the country down south when he could be in a big city up north?

All the innocuous answers—he loves teaching, his girlfriend lives nearby, his asthma flares up in the cold—are overlooked. Now there is a situation, one that, as of this writing, remains unresolved. Will the young man be chased out of the classroom where he makes such a significant contribution? It remains to be seen. For now, all I want to point out is that his choice of hair color has led to a bother that will take his time and attention away from what he would rather be doing—making lesson plans, grading homework, and making a contribution in the classroom.

I have no opinion about purple hair. “Such ordinary things dwell not in my desires” as King Henry points out. I’m just shining a light on the obvious: decisions have associated costs. You dye your hair purple in small-town Florida, somebody is going to have something to say. This young man might get fired.

The father or four kids in Central Utah drives an hour each way to his low-paying job. He gets home late each workday, exhausted, after his wife has put the kids to bed. Even with mom’s salary from working from home part-time they barely make enough to pay their mortgage on their small home and buy groceries. Mom and dad feel like they don’t have any choices, that they are trapped.

But dad is tired of missing back-to-school night, recitals, and sporting events. So he switches jobs, finds one closer to home, a job that pays even less. “Without the commute,” he says, “at least I can see my kids grow up. We’ll make our payments somehow.”

Again, I have no opinion on whether this family will come to regret their choices. They certainly are not making contributions to their retirement account and were one of the parents to become ill or infirm, I don’t know how they would get by. I’m just pointing out that there are choices, that every decision has an associated cost.

Many parents pay for aftercare so that they can work. Eight-year-olds leave the house at seven in the morning and don’t get picked up until six at night. I find the claim “we have to” not to ring true. If an object moves toward your eye, you indeed have to blink. Blinking is biologically hard wired. But there is nothing innate about leaving your kids after school. It’s a choice. And maybe the right one for your family. It’s not for me to say.

But here’s something to think about for this week. If you feel like your connection with your kids is imperfect, maybe the relationship could be improved if you spent some unstructured, no-agenda time with them. Then again, maybe not. Maybe there are other factors affecting how you get along with your beloved children. I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t presume to suggest that you quit your job or stop returning emails from home or live in a smaller house. For real. I don’t know you or your situation or how much you have in your retirement account or your child’s college fund.

But acknowledging that you are indeed making choices might be the first step in determining just how much that doggie costs–and whether it is a purchase you can afford to make.

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2 thoughts on “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

  1. Ray Shedden

    Amen! And the common mistake of “delaying a decision” or “not making a decision” is a decision made. One that inadvertently could be made permanently with a car accident or incurable a cancer diagnosis in the next days or weeks, as our family has experienced. The important point you continue to make in many different ways is that decisions/actions that bring the family together and strengthen it with better verbal and nonverbal communication and relationship are critical and highest priority. In the end we will never ever say “we spent too much time and were too involved with our children and family”.

  2. John Calia

    We seem to be living in a world where people expect to be bailed out when they have bad outcomes as a result of decisions they’ve made. This a welcome and timely message.

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