I was sitting on the bleachers at my kids’ swimming lessons, checking e-mail.
This past week was our first with our new puppy. And Saturday, swimming lessons was the first time Toby was left home alone with Daddy – the one person in the family he’d barely gotten to know, beyond sniffing his heels as Daddy headed out to work at 6:30 am.
Urgent-Daddy-e-mail question: “He’s howling on the stairs, what do I do?”
My husband was not allowed pets as a child, and thus was the only one of us very clearly not pining for one. Years back, he did actually buy me, one Christmas, an elaborate fish tank, when we were trying to get pregnant and he was anxious to help me fill the nurturing void I was craving (Despite his sweet aquatic thoughtfulness, having a 20 gal tank to keep up was not exactly the nurturing experience I was missing.)
While Daddy has not craved any kind of soft fuzzy pet for himself, he has always had the softest, fussiest spot for his little boys, and last year gave into their plea for gerbils. Caged animals (in the old fish tank) sat ok with him, and he was a saint about their incessant chewing that miraculously could echo through the entire house.
Our boys doted on the gerbils initially, until they realized doting on tiny energetic rodents could go just so far, and they would then only dote on demand when I began enforcing gerbil playtime.
Meanwhile, the dog issue has reared its doggy head again and again over the years; every pet Sunday at church when we were the only ones with gerbils. Not even a hamster! After most play dates that included dogs running around friends’ houses. Etc. etc.
And when either son would ask Daddy why can’t we have a dog, he’d remind them of the best excuse, allergies! But there are hypoallergenic dogs I’d be the one to interject. Poodles! (Allergic myself, I too only grew up with fish and gerbils, though stray cats sniffed us out and shimmied their ways into our lives.)
“And who’s going to scoop the poop?” Daddy liked to ask.
Somehow these conversations would wind up circumvented, until one night at bedtime, Ryan asked Daddy, “If dogs are so bad, then why does everyone have one but us?”
Daddy seemed a bit stymied. I think he changed the subject.
And from there, little Toby, a hypoallergenic pure-bred mini poodle managed to sneak his way into our world (rather I snuck him in one day and emailed Daddy a cute photo. There was silence. No e-mail reply all day. But when Daddy came home that night, he did manage a “Hello, Dog,” before escaping upstairs for his evening shower).
We may have a Daddy who is not an animal lover, but he is a lover of his family, and Toby cannot be ignored much more easily than one of his sons whining on the stairs.
Whining is perhaps a little easier to endure than howling.
Fact is, since I too never had a dog before, we essentially are a puppy-ignorant pack. So I didn’t really know what to tell him to do. I knew Toby was perplexed that he was left with this human whose heels he had only gotten to know, so I e-mailed back, “Just pet him.”
Sounds simple. Not to a non-experienced non-doggie-lover man left alone with a howling puppy.
But my husband can be innovative, and instead, he turned on I-Tunes. Some soothing yoga music which he himself never would have consider listening to. (Not exactly Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones).
He was already on his computer, trying to get some work done, and the yogi music actually calmed the howling!
The next email was a pic of Toby chewing on Daddy’s work binder, with a question: “Why is he doing this? What does it mean?”
This I could more readily answer. Puppies need to chew just like babies!
I’m most glad I was a mother before a pup owner, as my mommy instinct kicked in the first time Toby grabbed up a Lego; I shoved my fingers into that mouthful of little sharp teeth without a second thought, as I did when he mouthed a refrigerator magnet. Now that my boys are 7 and 8, I’ve long since neglected such diligence of spying every tiny hazardous object on our floors. Marbles! Erasers! Dead geranium leaves!
The diligence is back and in full force. Difference is, the boys are on diligence-guard too, and it has been a great way to finally train my seven year old to actually throw out his cheese stick wrappers and popsicle sticks rather allowing them to accumulate on the floor.
As to shoes and socks, when I can be as tired as I was with my toddlers, I ‘m happy to let Toby tear into some old pairs, as I used to let the boys take down all the books from my shelves and shred entire tissue boxes. (Actually Toby did manage to get down a book himself and shred the cover, before he found it much more challenging to rip the binding off the hall rug).
The biggest advice I get is that Toby needs to know I’m the alpha dog; well, yeah, I’ve got that one down, as I’m used to barking for the last eight years since having children.
And as to doting on a puppy, as opposed to fish or gerbils, my boys cannot get enough of ball throwing, and towel-tug of wars. Except when they are a little afraid of those sharp little teeth and walk away. So puppy training is a learning curve.
And as to Daddy getting used to this new addition, I’m tempted to remind him of how he’d always wanted a third child – so instead of a bassinet by our bed, there’s a crate! And rather than diapers, there’s sometimes just a few poop accidents on the hall rug.
So perhaps if Daddy can get past the poop-on-the-rug moments and the heel sniffing, he can see that we now do have three, one “boy” just a bit fuzzier than the others. And with a bit sharper baby teeth.
Newfound puppy love.