Sunday, March 9, 2008
I think my family got our dog at a really good time in our lives. I know there are many exceptions to what I’m about to say, so I don’t want anyone to get mad at me, but have you noticed the plight facing dogs owned by young couples with no kids? Life is rosy for them, but they are living on borrowed time. The first few years, they sleep in bed with their owners, play unlimited games of fetch, and grace the yearly Christmas card photo. A personalized doggy ornament hangs on the tree, and vacations are scheduled around the question, “do they take dogs?” These dogs are the prime objects of affection of their owners as the owners set up house and learn how to operate as a family. In some instances, they are the first “grand-dog” as well, and receive gifts, dog sitting, and love from extended family.
Things seem to go along swimmingly until baby makes three, or I guess four. Soon the sweet, hairy 4-legged member of the family plummets a few notches in everyone’s esteem. Doggy habits once considered endearing, are now vile, and potentially harmful to “the baby.”
New parents are strapped for sleep, energy, and cash. They are doing all they can to sustain the life of the new baby, and they are often stretched too thin to extend much grace to their furry friends. I remember those crazy days of early parenthood, feeling so clueless about parenting and life, and how one minor glitch felt as if the whole day was ruined. Once considered the baby of the house, a dog may find himself viewed as nothing more than a hairy, flatulent beast trying to upset whatever delicate balance of a routine the new parents have managed to establish.
By waiting until our kids were older to get a dog, we managed to avoid this all-too-frequent dance of displacement. I remember wondering when I was pregnant with my second child, who in comparison to my first was so “unknown,” whether I’d have enough love to give her. I loved my son so much, it was hard to imagine being able to love another. Of course, God enlarges our hearts enabling us to love all our children immensely. The same is not necessarily true for pets.
By waiting until our kids were desperate for a dog, we got to look good by making their little dreams come true. Having them froth at the mouth for a dog for a few years helped soften the edges on the little ways their lives were disrupted when she arrived on the scene. Also, with the kids gone at school all day, my nest was feeling a little empty. Shadow helped give more structure to my increasingly rudderless days.
As the kids have gotten older, their issues have become more complicated. Feeling left out, being bullied, and asking big questions about God made Shadow’s more straightforward issues of eating, pooping, sleeping, and peeing on the rug seem almost refreshing. My husband bonded with Shadow first and most strongly. With a new company to help get off the ground, an eight year old who says he’s the worst baseball player on the team, and a six year old taken to dancing and dressing like a “rock star,” life had become a little confusing for him.
With Shadow the dog, there are no surprises. You open the door, she jumps on you. You put on your sneakers, she heads for her leash. You leave it on the counter, she eats it. She’s open, accessible, no mystery at all. She’ll never reject the opportunity to throw the ball with dad just because a particularly compelling episode of Sponge Bob is on.
To all those dogs displaced by babies, I say this too shall pass. The babies will get older and sturdier. They will climb on your back and fall in love with you. Their toddler friends will stop screaming in fear, causing you to spend play-dates locked in the laundry room. And one day, not long from now, when your family is moving furniture, or going through holiday stuff, they will find that old personalized ornament with your name on it, perhaps a little chipped and dusty, and hang it back on the tree.
Shadow, if we ever decide to have another baby, I apologize in advance.
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