I love my dog with all my heart. Sort ofPlay
“Mom! The new puppy’s eating me!” was not what I wanted to hear at 6:47 a.m. on a typically frenzied morning in my family’s home.
The speaker in question was my almost-4-year-old son, and no, reader, he was not in danger of being eaten. The puppy in question was a 5-month-old scruffball we named Harry shortly after this particular altercation.
“Honey, the new puppy’s not trying to eat you — it’s just how puppies play. He probably thinks you’re a puppy!” I assured my son as I wiped away his tears. “Shoo!” I snapped at the puppy, as I threw him a toy more appropriate for gnawing on than, say, a small child. My tea grew cold as I continued to rub my kid’s back, and I thought, not for the first time, that having a new puppy on top of mothering three children and generally moving through life as an adult was less than blissful at times. Why, I thought bitterly, did I voluntarily agree to this?
Harry is my second dog. My first dog, Paddington, died nearly a year ago. My husband Brett and I got him when we were wee infants of 26. We were the type of young that makes getting a puppy with someone you’ve only dated for three months seem like a good idea, when it’s objectively not!
But, getting a puppy as an aimless 26-year-old temp trying to be an actress in New York City was a good idea. For me, anyway.
Getting a puppy as an aimless 26-year-old temp trying to be an actress in New York City was a good idea. For me, anyway.
As soon as I first laid eyes on his nuggety little body as he waddled out of his crate in Newark, New Jersey, where Brett and I picked him up, I felt nothing but pure, uncomplicated love for Paddington. It was Julie Andrews singing to the hills that were alive. It was Tom Cruise to Renée Zellweger in “Jerry McGuire.” It was Tom Cruise again, jumping on Oprah’s couch. It was everything love at first sight was supposed to be: instant, certain and above all, easy. I was Paddy’s and he was mine.
Paddy accompanied me everywhere. On the subway in a little carrier thing; to outdoor beer gardens, where’d he sleep on my lap under picnic tables; to Astoria Park, where I’d flaunt leash laws when confident we were unobserved. Sure, potty-training a puppy in a third-floor walk-up was laborious, and stepping on dog poop in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom was decidedly unpleasant, but I took it all in stride.
After so many years (six years is an eternity when you’re young) of trying to figure out myself, and my life, it was a relief to pour all my energy into someone else. It was a relief to stop fretting about who I’d be and focus on the minutiae of “sit,” “down,” and “paw.” Poring through library books about puppy development and training grounded me, made me feel like my existence mattered (despite still being clueless about what I wanted to be when I grew up) — if only because my existence was responsible for another being’s health and happiness.
At 26, I longed for solidity and purpose, and Paddington’s arrival delivered those things neatly up.
Becoming a first-time dog-owner at 26 was the first and only time I’ve ever weathered a major life transition smoothly, and the first and only time I’ve felt such instantaneous and simple love for a small creature in my care. When I had my first baby, four years later, I felt lots of feelings, but none of those feelings felt like the ones I had so craved (and had been taught to crave) upon the onset of motherhood. As a new mom, I was supposed to feel otherworldly bliss. I was supposed to feel “natural.” I was supposed to feel all grown up. Settled. But love for my newborn baby felt frighteningly visceral and profoundly unsettling. Who was this impossibly tiny person? Who was I?
And while my postpartum depression was physiological, I think my disorientation and disillusionment had more to do with cultural expectations — of motherhood’s magical abilities to complete a person — than any genetic predeterminants of mental illness.
At 26, I longed for solidity and purpose, and Paddington’s arrival delivered those things neatly up. Now, my life is bound up by solidity and purpose, so much so that it can feel suffocating at times. I think of Libby from the novel (and television adaptation) “Fleishman Is In Trouble”: “I made lunch. I made dinner. I made breakfast. I made lunch. I made dinner. I made breakfast. I made lunch. I made dinner.”
Now, I sign up for camps. I remind kids to brush their teeth. I admonish kids to stop fighting. I encourage kids to say please. I go to the grocery store. I plan the birthday party. I get the email about spirit week wardrobe suggestions. And amidst all the doing, I attempt to be married and to have a job and to keep up with friends and to call my parents and above all, to engage in self-care!
Getting a new puppy as a 41-year-old mother of three is not simply newly possessing an adorable furball; it’s voluntarily agreeing to more doing, more caretaking, more feeding, more disciplining, more cleaning. Harry’s not to blame for needing to be fed, potty-trained or exercised, but, at least in these early days, I can’t help resenting him for his needs anyway.
As for love? It certainly wasn’t at first sight, and after a few weeks, Harry still sometimes feels like an interloper rather than a tightly interwoven member of our family. But we’re getting there.
When he’s romping up a hill towards me, his left ear flops crookedly skywards, and I’m starting to recognize the ear flop as uniquely “Harry” — and there’s no denying that his paws are delicious blocky. And when he falls asleep on his back like a jolly sailor who stayed too late at the party; I mean, to quote Ina Garten, how bad can that be?