How My Animal House Taught Me to Let Go

Parents magazine editor-in-chief, Liz Vaccariello spills the secret to embracing the happy mess pets bring to a family. 
Grace Huang

I grew up in a cat family. I loved Rufus, Dexter, and Festus. Sadly, the cats made me break out in horrific hives, so I rarely nuzzled them and kept my bedroom door shut. If you had told sixth-grade me—a girl with allergies and a mild neat-freak tendency—that one day I would have dozens of pets, I’d have never believed you. Here’s what I would say to her today. 

Hey, little Liz: One day you’ll help massage the constipated belly of your daughter’s lizard, clip the toenails of your other daughter’s ferret, and find that a flock of newly hatched ducklings follows you around the yard because they have “imprinted” on you.

One day you’ll help your husband hand-feed mealworms to a blind chameleon named Bubbles. He’ll scold you for eating all of the kale (“That was for the tortoises!”) and he’ll explain that he is scrambling a late-night egg as “protein for the girls”—the girls being your pet sugar gliders, Darby and Bandit, who are nocturnal.

As for those allergies? You’ll try to use them as leverage against any more animals, but that will just backfire as a parade of frogs, hamsters, geckos, bunnies, and ferrets fill your home. So then, Liz, you will get a dog. It will even be your idea. You’ll adopt a mixed-breed puppy with a crooked tail from a shelter in Arkansas and name him Milo. And every few days you’ll be gobsmacked by the hold this pup has on your heart. You’ll wonder, “Is it normal to request pictures of the dog when you’re away from your family on business?” and then ask for them anyway.

See, Liz, one day you’ll grow up to run a magazine called Parents, and your favorite new column will be “Animal House,” a celebration of the special role pets have in a child’s home. (See our cover star, Chloé, and her dog, right.) Although you don’t know it yet, becoming a mother makes your heart grow so big that you won’t mind vacuuming every day, and you’ll cry right next to Olivia when her bearded dragon, Chubbs, dies. Your life will become a zoo, but that’s the way you will like it.

Just give in. Accept the extra mess, Liz, ignore the noise, and delegate the cage-cleaning. Oh, and get some Zyrtec. It’s a miracle.

I invite you to e-mail me at liz@parents.com. You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

Parents Magazine

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