From "never again" to "Oh, all right"

My *actual* baby; the first two were just dry runs

A piece I published in the past that elicited a lot of hate mail is a reported essay I wrote for Fast Company about how I struggled to care for/about my dog the way I used to after I had my first kid. I knew that piece wouldn’t be popular with everyone but I’ve gotten, well, not not-quite death-threats but more like death-wishes from people about it.

But I have no regrets about that piece—I’ve also heard from relieved mothers who said they were too ashamed to say it out loud but they felt the same way. It’s just one way to slice the exhaustion of first-time motherhood and one argument that while owning a pet kind of gets you ready for parenthood, it doesn’t really. Also, I happen to live with someone who is very sanctimonious about animals, and I say that as someone who grew up wanting to be a vet when she was a kid. My husband getting mad at me for saying angry things about the dog (and the 2 cats we also had at the time) when we had a very young baby probably also drove me to write that piece to of spite, I can admit it.

Anyway, in the end that dog was well-loved and taken care of and he died a very gentle death after a long life. My husband’s parents adopted his cats. And then we didn’t have pets for a long time.

Living without pets was an immense relief. We only had the kids to deal with, and not anything else’s poop or food or mess or medicine. The house was so much cleaner. We didn’t have to set up anyone’s care if we went out of town. At the same time, parenting became gradually more manageable. My older could put himself to bed and make his own breakfast. My youngest kid was out of preschool, sleeping reliably through the night. I was on top of the world! So we got a puppy.

Some big picture things had changed by fall 2019 when we decided to become a pet home again. We had moved from an urban townhouse where we had to walk the dog every day to a home with a larger fenced in yard. My husband and I now both worked from home. I had finally figured out I was allergic to dogs that shed so I wouldn’t be mad at least about dog hair anymore.

But most importantly I still had shenanigans to spare. Even if the kids had gotten over a certain hump, I still remembered what it was like before it was that way. I might as well throw some new nonsense in the mix before I completely forget what it’s like to used to someone peeing where they shouldn’t. The puppy came home about four weeks before the pandemic started. Strangely, I felt more of a grown-up carrying around MY puppy than I probably ever did carrying around MY children. Anyone can get a child but only a real adult can acquire her own puppy.

Life would still be easier without the dog in about six different ways, all of which we brought upon ourselves. Raising a puppy with little kids who don’t ever leave the house ever is enraging. The dog thinks it’s funny to be bad on purpose. He has been singled out for stubborn behavior at daycare and training classes. He once refused to come inside during a tornado warning. If I were postpartum he probably would have made me scream and/or cry by now.

In what is probably a predictable twist the dog seems to love me best. I have rediscovered the therapeutic power of petting an animal and he loves being petted and talked to and held like a baby. Dogs are not like kids … but he’s also like one third of a baby, which is great because there is about one third of a cup of me left that wants to baby something.

His first birthday was yesterday. I thought it was a bit much to get the dog a birthday presents when the dog already received presents from Santa. I made fun of my husband for caring about it too much, yet I was still mad when I missed everyone singing to him and giving him a new birthday toy.

If you closed your heart to pets after you had kids and wondered whether it was possible for it to open up again, it is, at least in my case. I wasn’t sure it would be. Was I seriously going to say yes to of a new thing to yell at my kids and spouse about? Yeah, but it turned out it was okay because I’d already been yelling so why not just keep going.


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One witchy thing