May 24, 2018
By Ekta R. Garg
I’ve chronicled here on Growth Chart the deep love Nine has for animals. In the last couple of weeks, we got some shining examples of just how deep that love runs. It’s definitely become a bonding experience for the rest of the family (we’ve shared many eye rolls, no doubt.)
Last week I spotted Nine on her bed reading one of the books in the Animal Inn series by Virginia Vail. For anyone who doesn’t know (or who has a kid animal lover and wants fiction about animals,) the Animal Inn books chronicle the adventures of eighth grader Val as she helps her veterinarian dad in his clinic. The books came out in the mid-1980s and are fairly predictable—they’re aimed at middle grade readers—but Nine loves them. She’s read all 12 books in the series several times.
“I wish Animal Inn was real,” she confessed to me one night in a melancholic mood.
“I know how you feel,” I said. “Sometimes when I read books I love and finish them, I wish they were real too. Like the Narnia books. Every time I’m done with them, I think, ‘Oh, I wish I could go to Narnia.’”
“Yeah, but I didn’t finish the Narnia books,” Nine pointed out. She had this look on her face that said, “What does your example have to do with me?”
“Well, right, but the feeling is still the same,” I said.
“I got bored with one of them.”
“Okay, but we were talking about wishing books were real.”
She sighed. “Yeah, and I wish Animal Inn was.”
She didn’t find any comfort in the fact that all book lovers share this emotion. Instead, she just leaned back into her pillow, no doubt, to nurse her depression that Val and her friends weren’t, in fact, real people.
Another night last week, as we finished dinner, Nine said, “I don’t know why, but I just thought of the time when we were living in the old house and Daddy came home from the hospital and he was sad because one of his patients died.”
I looked at my husband, and he nodded. “Yup, that was a really young woman. She was 23 or 24 and had just had a baby.”
As I washed my hands, Nine came to put her dishes in the kitchen sink.
“Just think about it,” I said, “the doctors train for so long to save lives, and then when someone dies—”
“It’s even more sad when an animal dies,” Nine interrupted with ardor.
I literally had no response to that. I’ve never been a pet person but I have many friends who love their pets dearly, and I have no doubt that when they’ve lost pets it’s a sad event. People often talk about their pets becoming family members, and it’s clear in their faces how much they love them.
It’s a little different when a physician loses a patient.
Clearly, however, Nine didn’t see it that way. It didn’t help that she saw two dead fish over the course of a couple of days as she walked around the man-made lake behind our house with her older sister and dad. I’m sure she had the dead fish on her mind when she made her assertion.
Then, over the weekend, we went to a graduation party for the daughter of some friends of ours. This incredibly accomplished young woman, in addition to so many other achievements, started a pediatric cancer awareness club at her school and kept it going strong through all her years there. The graduate knew a child who had died of cancer, and the school club was her contribution to keeping the memory of her friend strong.
As we drove home from the party, we talked about our friends’ daughter and all she’s done during high school. Eleven and Nine didn’t quite understand the part about the club—it was one of those things people mentioned in brief during their speeches—so we talked a little about that as well as cancer in general.
“It would be great if the kids could come up with a cause like that that they support so strongly,” my husband said.
“I want to raise awareness about lymphosarcoma in dogs and feline leukemia,” Nine piped up from the back.
Her dad glanced at me.
“Leukemia,” Eleven replied, “in cats.”
“Where did you hear about those things?”
“In Animal Inn,” Nine explained. “There’s this dog that comes into Val’s dad’s clinic…”
And like that, we were back to the books and wishing they were real.
She’s only nine years old, of course, and still has quite a bit of time to decide what she wants to do with her life. More than once, Nine has expressed interest in working for the National Geographic foundation. If given a choice of anything to watch on TV, she’ll pull up animal documentaries and exclaims at the amazing photography.
There’s also a caveat with animals.
“She’s going to have ten dogs and ten cats when she grows up,” my husband said to me with a groan on Sunday morning.
“No, she won’t,” I said, “because [Nine] doesn’t like it when her hands get dirty. She likes to pet animals, but she wouldn’t put up with all the other stuff that pet owners have to take care of.”
From the time she was young, in fact, Nine had had a mild aversion to dirty hands. She used to cry as a toddler if they got messy. Even now, her napkin at dinnertime is all crumpled by the end. When we eat Indian food, we eat with our hands and she wipes hers no matter how miniscule the drip of gravy or vegetables.
I’m really curious to see how her interests continue to develop as she grows older. For now, though, Nine knows two things for sure: Animal Inn isn’t a real story world, and it beats Narnia by a long shot any day of the week.