On the day our much-adored but very sick Labrador died, we pulled my teenage daughter out of school. Our dog, Ginger, had suffered a chronic kidney failure and had been on antibiotics for six weeks. We had taken our pet to the vet every morning and afternoon for three hours of intravenous fluids, which included a cocktail of drugs.
Ginger had stopped eating for weeks. Towards the end, she stopped drinking. One afternoon, the vet informed us that the E coli infection that had invaded her kidneys had affected her brain. There was no recovery. She would die tomorrow if we stopped the fluids.
The next morning, our vet came to our home to administer an injection that would put our pet out of her misery. My husband and I debated over whether the kids needed to be present. We both agreed that it would be too much for our 10-year-old to watch her pet being put to sleep. It was our teenager that we were unclear about. Would it help her gain closure to be present? Or would it hurt her?
Parenting presents many dilemmas - each with no clear answer. You make decisions on behalf of your child and hope for the best. Your child is unhappy at boarding school. The teachers are mean, he says. He is getting bullied. The curriculum is uninspiring. He wants to come back home. You agonise over your child's pain.
Here is another situation with no clear answer. Do you pull him out of school or do you leave him there in the hope that it will toughen him up? It's a fork in the road and each choice will have consequences for your child.
Most parents solve such dilemmas by talking it over with other parents and friends, while recognising that the circumstances of their lives are different and that their child - like all children - is unique. One size definitely doesn't fit all. But still, the first thing I do when I encounter parenting dilemmas is to phone friends who are going through similar experiences. Talking to them helps me process the situation. Even if I don't follow their suggestions, knowing that they are in the same boat helps.
Sometimes external events can also help. We call this luck. My friend sent her son to boarding school. He hated it for years but later, much later, after he graduated as head boy and valedictorian, he thanked his parents for not pulling him out of school in spite of his weekly complaints.
What the boy didn't know was how close his parents had come to driving up to the hills where the boarding school was and discharging him from the school he hated. They had to postpone their trip because a landslide had blocked the roads. Two weeks later, when the weather cleared and became sunny, so did the boy's disposition. He stayed at the school that moulded him for life.
Recently, some friends have been asking me whether to get a pet. They know how much we enjoyed having our dog and how sad we were when she died. They also know that we will probably get another pet once we get over our grief. They call us to find out if having a dog in the house will be "good for the kids".
Frankly, I tell them, having a pet often seemed like more work than it was worth. But there were also tender moments when I caught my kids lying on the floor, curled into a ball with our burly Labrador retriever. When they came home in a bad mood, or when they cried, Ginger would put her head on their lap and make them feel better. Every morning, she would come into the bedroom and our oxytocin levels would go up, simply because of her wagging tail and oh-so-beautiful eyes. Those benefits are hard to measure, I tell my friends.
But pets also involve chores - walking the dog, cleaning up their messes. The benefits of having one, much like parenting dilemmas, are not always obvious.
We pulled our teenager out of school so that she could be present during Ginger's last moments. We still aren't sure if we did the right thing. Did it give her closure or scar her for life? She says she is fine, but when we talk about getting another dog, she is the one who hesitates and asks us to "wait a while".
Our younger daughter who wasn't around when our pet died is ready to get another dog. So we sigh and wonder again and again: did we do the right thing?
We don't know. I don't think we'll ever know.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Monsoon Diary: a memoir with recipes