Hello, my name is Finn. I would like to lick your feet, eat some sticks and poop on your floor.
I have a new baby in the house. As such, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn, adhering to feeding and pooping schedules and wearing a lot of sweatpants. I’ve also been struggling with that sense of isolation that only someone who’s been trapped in their house with a helpless creature – day after endless day – could ever understand. On the bright side, no one is trying to latch onto my nipples and make them bleed.
In the almost three weeks since I brought an 8-week-old puppy home, I’ve re-learned a very valuable lesson: keeping babies alive is a pain in the ass.
This goes for the two-legged variety as well. I’ve been reminded how hard it was when the kids were little – feeding them, cleaning them, putting them to bed, singing, dancing, drawing, talking, swinging, wiping, oh all that wiping – tables, hands, faces, butts. I’d forgotten, in all my romanticizing of the early years with my children, just how relentless it all was. There was always another chicken nugget to cook, diaper to change, dance lesson to load everyone in the car to drive to. There is something to be said for having children old enough to heat up their own pizza bagels and then disappear for the night to watch Netflix.
Having this puppy — a situation akin to having an 18-month-old careening drunkenly around my kitchen without diapers – also ushers militant scheduling and containment back into my life. Things that have been missing for a while. Let it be known that I am really good at the latter; when my children were young I was all about confinement and embraced playpens in my house and on the beach and when they needed a little more room, I’d set up a big play yard in the TV room. Now we have a baby gate at each of the three doorways into my kitchen and a play yard filled with toys and his blankie for when I can’t keep my eye on our pup because, apparently, that’s the perfect milisecond to squat and pee on the floor. He should be that speedy when we’re standing outside in the rain.
My new baby – I mean puppy – also requires me to be pretty faithful to a schedule and just ask the ladies I work with at Athleta, I am not always amazing at that. Sometimes I forget to show up for a shift and once I was folding leggings for an hour before someone realized I wasn’t even on the schedule for that day. Caring for infants was similarly haphazard. I mean, I never forgot to feed them or anything terrible, but I’d have a hard time remembering the last time I nursed someone or when they last slept. Maybe it’s just my powers of observation aren’t that sharp. Like, I often wished babies came with LCD screens on their foreheads that would display helpful messages like “HUNGRY” or “HAS 10 POUNDS OF URINE IN DIAPER” to help me figure out why they were crying.
Another thing I’ve been reminded of is that I’m really good at is letting someone cry it out. In fact – as long as I know all their needs have been met – I don’t even hear the weeping after a while. When I stick him in his playpen, the puppy will give it his all for about five minutes – he’ll throw in a little howling for good measure – then he’ll downgrade the session to some whimpering before lying down and resigning himself to his fate. I’ve had people fall on the floor and weep at Target when I refused to buy a Bionicle, so I can easily wait out three minutes of crying coming from a playpen in my kitchen. My children on the other hand can barely take 30 seconds of the charade. They try to shush him or tell him it’s “okay.” Sometimes they even pick him up and cuddle him. Suckers.
I knew what I was getting into with the pup. Or at least, I thought I knew. Like, I figured I’d be responsible for the bulk of his upkeep, but not all of it. I figured, since the children were so incredibly hot for me to get a dog, they’d do their share of standing outside with him at 6 a.m. watching him chew a stick rather than tinkle. But therein lies the rub: the kids were excited for ME to get a dog. Not really US. And so lately, I’ve also been harboring a teensy bit of rage, another feeling I haven’t really felt in a while. It’s like a big ball of resentment festering in my chest and waiting to pounce at the slightest invitation. I mean, it could have something to do with this whole menopause thing, too, as all my estrogen is running out faster than red wine at book club.
It’s similar to how trapped I often felt when the kids were small and I was home with them full time. Their dad could come and go as he wanted but the children were always my problem. I think it’s that way for most women, really, whether or not they work and even in the best of marriages. Meal planning. Earaches. Permission slips. Dentist appointments. These things all tend to fall under a mother’s purview while the dads remain blissfully unaware of all the moving parts that make the family machine run.
It’s probably why I resisted getting a new dog after our very fine dog died five years ago. It was nice having one less thing depend on me. I mean, even though my actual children are older now – some of them even commute and pay income taxes – they still need me. They call me when they’re feeling blue or when good news comes their way. And I’m still teaching them things, like “What are taxes?” and “How the U.S. Postal System Works” (SIDEBAR: a few years ago my son texted me FROM COLLEGE in Virginia to ask if he needed to use a stamp to mail something to Ohio).
I still badger them to get make dentist appointments or to get weird foot things looked at by someone other than me. And with a 14yo, I’m trying to figure out how to set parameters around that magic computer he keeps in his pocket plus I still have another round of high school to get through. Pray for me.
I worry about their jobs; whether they’ll fall in love and have healthy relationships; that they’ll find happiness no matter whom they’re with or what they do. Honestly, when I was so hot to have four kids all those years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Maybe none of us do.
This I do know: I wouldn’t change any of it. Because it is all hard, hard work, raising puppies and babies, but the payoff is what keeps pulling us back in. It’s how we find ourselves back at a breeder or in the delivery room. Waking up at all hours. Loving someone even when they’ve done something less-than-lovable. It’s the little hands on your cheeks pulling you in for a kiss; the pup asleep at your feet; the teenager who holds your hand when it’s your turn to get a shot.
So what is the alternative? Being alone? That might work for some but I guess not for me. I’ve learned that I need to be a part of a tribe, and there’s always room for one more. Provided he doesn’t poop on my floor.
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