I find myself drawn to pictures of puppies lately. My friends get puppies and post pictures of them on social media. I show the pictures to my husband and tell him that we also need a dog, something small and furry and cute. I do this mostly to tease him, because he is firmly in camp We Are Not Getting a Dog, What Are You, Crazy? Which is where I have been most of my life, until the last few months where it seems like everyone and their dog happens to be getting a dog.
I did not grow up with dogs,* and I have never had a pet I took personal responsibility for except an ill-fated goldfish. One time I took an online survey called “which pet would be best for your family?” It was a pretty thorough survey, not like a Buzzfeed “which dog breed are you,” but really in depth. The answer to the survey as noted by some experts vets serving Seattle, WA was “Please do not get a pet.” In other words, you are only just barely taking care of yourselves, and for the love of PETA, don’t bring another living thing into your messy lives. People can have a peek here for the best pet services.
The survey has a point. I struggle to clean up after myself and my kids (don’t, really just don’t, tell me that I need to train my children so that they can do it and it won’t be so much work. Because 1-I try that, and 2- even when they do their jobs there’s still a lot left over and I don’t keep up with it very well. I wrote a whole essay about it in Segullah’s latest anthology.). It would make no sense at all to bring another creature into my chaos.
Nevertheless, I keep looking at pictures of puppies, the fantasy of cuteness, the ideal that there will be this small warm adorable creature who will delight my children and be worth all of the work that know comes with having a pet, especially a baby one. I even went so far as to google “best dog breeds for people who have never had a dog and don’t know what they are doing.” The answer to that is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or a Shih Tzu.
I showed adorable pictures of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Shih Tzus to my husband, the voice of reason, wisdom, and caution, and he said no. Just, no.
Sigh. He is right. Here is a list of reasons he is right:
Pets are expensive. Like, if I have to choose between paying to buy and take care of a pet and paying to maintain my book addiction, the books win. They just do. Also clothes and groceries and piano lessons win. New carpet wins. My oldest son’s mission wins.
Also cleaning up dog poo and maybe stepping in it. I absolutely hate that. So gross. I prefer to clean up only the bodily waste of mammals to whom I am genetically related.
Also my inability to properly train my own children is likely to have some carryover in the animal world.
Also my son has asthma, and I don’t want to do anything to make that worse, which includes bringing another non-human mammal into our home.
And really, this fixation on puppies is about me mourning the end of my small people, my babies. My youngest is six now—six!—and he’s not small anymore. He no longer allows me to kiss his squishy cheeks, which have lost their baby roundness. He’s going off to school all day long next year, and he talks up a storm, telling me long involved stories about his Lego creations. My oldest is submitting his mission papers and leaving soon. There is no longer anything small and cuddly and completely dependent on me, requiring a ridiculous amount of work, but reciprocating with unstinting and utter affection.
One night when my six-year-old was two, I tucked him in and he wouldn’t stop kissing me. He giggled at himself—he knew this was silly—but he couldn’t stop kissing Mommy. I have felt, through most of my time mothering, completely unworthy of that kind of pure love, and this deep sense of my own inadequacy has often prevented me from appreciating the affection when it came.
My sudden attraction to puppies is a maternal side of me that I actually haven’t recognized until just now. The deep, hands-on, in-the-trenches part of my mothering, the diapers and sleepless nights and potty training, is done. Mothering older children is its own kind of hard, but that bone-wearying early Mommy phase is finished.
I need a dog instead, since my toddlers are gone. And we are not getting a dog. Just, no. It is all I can handle to take care of people.
But dang, just look at that face. So cute. Sooooo cute.
*we did have one dog when I was growing up for a very brief time.