She said her mother told her she could get a dog for her birthday if her grades improved. Even fifth-graders have to plan for college, after all, and that meant realizing that the competition for the best universities starts early.
She taped pictures of golden retrievers above the desk in her room and got to work. She saved her allowance and bought a collar—red, and plenty big.
But the yapping that woke her on her birthday told her something was wrong. Her mother had brought home a Chihuahua puppy, not the promised golden retriever.
She started crying when she told me about this, and it took much longer than I expected to move on.
Only later did I realize that the dog was more than a dog. It was a symbol, the first thread woven into a tapestry that covered decades. It represented all the times her mother cruelly substituted her own desires for those of her daughter.
Later, it meant paying for college, but only if her daughter majored in business, as she had done. It meant insisting on the yellow and white bouquets at the wedding, instead of the pink flowers that better complemented her color scheme.
If I had done a better job of listening, I would have understood this from the beginning. I remember her story every time I meet a prospective client, hoping that I have learned my lesson.