“Do you still have kids at home?”
What? At 49, do I really not look young enough to still have young children under my roof? Even with my own unnaturally natural-looking blond hair?
She was on line in front of me at Petco – An unnaturally-natural blond, belying the fact that she too might be straddling middle age. Right down its possibly girdled-middle.
Anyhow. As a newly-minted dog owner, I strike up conversations with any dog owners, as I used to with any moms at BabiesRus, our newborns still secured in their infant seats, in our carts full of adorable onsies, chewy baby toys, and plush pastel teddy bears.
No babies to be had at Petco, but perched in her cart was a perfectly well-mannered little shih tzu, adorned in what seemed a designer sweater replete with possibly real cashmere trim.
I thought he was a puppy.
“Oh, no, he’s thirteen. But he’s still my baby. Goes everywhere with me.”
I was feeling a tinge of guilt now, for having left Toby home in his crate. But, at five months, at the mere sight of another dog, he would not be nearly as well-mannered; would leap at the poor elderly dog’s head, rake him with his paws.
There was little room for him in my cart anyway, with all the new doggy stuff I was depleting our bank account on: another cushy dog bed, door-gate, as well as the irresistible, stinky dog bones and discounted Halloween squeaky Superman and orange-masked raccoon doggy toys.
While waiting on line, I’d been debating buying more squeaky toys, those discounted 2-for-$3 ones hanging strategically where you have nothing to do but throw more cutesy pet stuff into your cart.
I was considering a squeaky striped frog when this shih tzu owner, equally well-dressed in a cashmere coat, smacked me with the Do-you-still-have-kids-at-home remark. (Yes, it was a question. But struck me as a remark.)
She was already making her way toward the next available cashier. All I could do was yell out defensively, “Yes, a seven and nine year old!”
She glanced back over at me, as she unloaded expensive organic dog food cans, eco-friendly (i.e. pricey as well as colorless) dog toys and one of those Fresh N’ Floss dog toys that actually flosses dogs’ teeth and freshens their breath (mint? spearmint?), and remarked, “Oh, well, mine are all grown and on their own. It just makes it easier.”
I never got a chance to find out what she meant. What’s easier? Having the kids still home so you can train them to train the new pup, and take him out for his walks in freezing cold, rainy weather?
Or the easier of once your kids no longer are home, grown and on their own, to fill that gaping hole with an adorable little Shih tzu in a fancy coat?
It didn’t matter. I put back the frog, coming to my senses; it was cheap because it was made of thin cloth and Toby would rip through it in two minutes. And I admit, I’m all for saving our planet and for the eco-friendly non-toxic, but not at $17-plus for colorless dog toys, even if it might mean Toby’s breath would smell better than mine. If I must have doggy toys littering our entire house, they must not be bland but bright and colorful as Toby’s favorite pink dog:
As I moved up to the next Petco cashieress (a young 20-I’m-just-starting-out-something with an anchor tattoo below her ear) I was thrust back to a reality I hadn’t realized was quite so real until that remark (one now as indelible as my son’s toddler permanent marker scribble on our cedar kitchen wall): At 49, despite the more common, more complimentary, remarks of the oh-you-don’t-look-your-age, I do just possibly, look my age.
Or close to it. At least to this fellow middle-aged woman. To her, I looked what I should have been: a mother getting ready to shuttle her kids off to college, or to pack for their twenty-something Europe back-packing I-need-to-find-myself-before-I-go-to-college cafe-hopping-internet-connected adventure.
So the first thing I did when I got home was look in the mirror.
Actually it’s the first thing I did when I got in my car, look in the rearview mirror – possibly one of the worst mirrors to examine yourself in. Especially at that time of day, late afternoon, when your face is all in shadows; those shadows that deepen the most shallow of laugh lines into crevasses. So that you look a good ten years older. In the gray light, gaunt as well as old. I could have been on my death bed.
I should have waited until I got home and looked in my badly-lit bathroom mirror. By badly-lit, I mean flattering. The light is not so bright as to illuminate large pores and crows feet (not even that miniscule wrinkle that on its first discovery had traumatized me this past summer).
By the time I did get home, I’d forgotten all about mirrors. I was far more interested in freeing our new pup from his crate and tossing him Superman. Which, with little thanks, he added to his toy collection in the middle of the living room floor (rug-less after his first rug poop):
When he was done there, he went to his new bed and peed in it. No matter. I’d been through the potty training before, just with my boys, not a dog.
My husband, coincidentally, emailed me out of nowhere – between emails about his needing cutips, and could I drop off a package at UPS – that my 50th milestone birthday was “only 3 months away.”
And whether I wanted to do something “spectacular.”
“If you don’t have any ideas yourself, just ask,” he wrote.
Spectacular. Just the word makes me tired and want to slip into my comfy purple now puppy-chewed slippers.
As if I haven’t had enough of the spectacular at the other end of the spectrum in the past year, with my 94-year-old mother winding up in emergency in the middle of a northeaster and my tank on red with Sandy’s gas shortage.
I no longer even own any clothes to honor any kind of spectacular, nevermind a milestone. Could I even anymore squeeze into some spectacular slim, black, lacy something-or-other?
I emailed my husband back. That I already had the spectacular, right here on my lap, this kinky-haired apricot fuzz poodle ball:
Who had made his way into our home with the even more spectacular of my husband having given us his blessing in our becoming dog owners, rather than just gerbil ones.
What better spectacular could I ask for?
Ok. I might suggest a cozy dinner at a new restaurant we have never frequented, to rekindle that youthful 30-something fire of our first date. He might actually hold my hand across the table, rather than our scarfing down arugula salads while grinding our teeth over issues about our children. That would be spectacular.
Still. Just out of curiosity, I may have to ask about his own ideas he hinted at for the “spectacular.”
Really, just curious. I’m happy in my purple slippers:
Though I may need to research new spectacular anti-wrinkle creams. As my boys say with great glee at their mathematical genius, “Just switch around Gramma’s 94 and you get Momma’s 49!” I wish they weren’t quite so adept at digits.