And They Called It Puppy Love

Move over, soccer moms.  There’s a new stereotype in town:  middle-aged mothers of middle-grade kids in love with middling (okay,small) dogs.

And I am soon to be one of them.

How to explain the yearning?

What parent hasn’t listened to years of entreaties from kids begging for a dog?  In our case, the begging came mostly from Daughter #2.  When we describe the difference in our daughters’ personalities, we sum it up this way:  Daughter #1 is like a literary cat, who loves solitude and curling up with a good book.  Daughter #2 is like a dog, craving activity,  people and balls.

It was difficult to harden our hearts to Daughter #2’s dog dreams because we knew how good a dog would be for her and, by extension, for the rest of us.  And when your child is naturally inclined towards something, it’s hard to resist.  I say this as the mother who rushed out to buy a discounted piano the night before we hosted a party for 100 people in our cramped 1912 house because our neighborhood piano store was going out of business and because Daughter #2 showed musical promise.

I sobbed as we re-arranged the furniture, so moved at having had the power to grant her wish.  Have I mentioned that now, four years later, Daughter #2 would like to quit piano lessons?

We managed to push aside the dog requests by making sure Daughter #2 had plenty of access to other dogs: her friend R’s dog, dogs in our neighborhood and in her dogless friend B’s neighborhood.  We were never so rash as B’s father RC to make promises such as, “if you clean up 40 dog poops, we’ll consider getting a dog.” Daughter #2 and B have steel wills and have probably picked up 400 poops between them.  RC is on the spot.

Around two years ago, I found myself wavering.  If Daughter #2 wanted a dog so much, I reasoned, why not give her one?  We’re already experiencing family life at full throttle, so what’s one more thing?

This had been my rationale for breaking my anti-rodent injunction when Daughter #1 graduated from elementary school.  A rat, or any rodent with a long nasty tail, was out, but I could live with a hamster.  And live with a hamster I do.  A very sweet hamster named Zen, whom I found on Craig’s list and whom we drove from Seattle to Whidbey Island to get, after several email exchanges and photo sharing with the owner of her birth parents.

It was a bit over the top, but at least I didn’t cry.

Around six months ago, after a particularly heartfelt request from D #2 for a dog for her elementary school graduation, Jeff confessed to me that he was softening (for the record, his opposition to a dog had been our limited yard space. If we moved to a bigger house in the country, he was all for a dog).  A few months after that, I injured my neck and began taking long walks every day, passing a host of neighbors and their dogs strolling companionably together.

“If you get a dog, no matter how much your kids promise to help, the dog will end up being your responsibility,” everyone warned me.

I had a lot of time to think during those walks.  I imagined what it would be like to be responsible for a dog and began listing the qualities my ideal dog would have:  no shedding, easy-going and good with cats,

Courtesy of the May 7, 2012 New Yorker

small with small poops.  A far cry from the Lab or Golden Retriever Daughter #2 had dreamed of.

Luckily, her friend G had just gotten a Shih Tzu puppy.  I tested the waters,  Given the choice between a small dog or no dog, which would D #2 choose?

We considered all sorts of breeds before I settled on Havanese, a breed that is growing in popularity.

Venus Williams and Harold

I hunted down reputable breeders looking for puppies and we suffered one disappointment when a possible puppy was sold the day before we were scheduled to visit her.

Meanwhile, I trolled petfinders and rescue sites and Jeff, wary of a small, designer dog, suggested we visit shelters.  We found several sad dogs and a few big, beautiful dogs, but none that was right for us.

In the end, I found a lovely breeder named S and things worked out similarly to the way they did when we got Zen, though we didn’t have to drive as far. S invited us to visit her expectant dog and sire, and shared emails and photos when the puppies were born.  Shortly thereafter, just after dropping Jeff off at the airport for a business trip to Taiwan, the girls and I went to S’s house to choose our puppy.

This weekend, Jeff will meet him for the first time. He says he’s slowly getting used to the idea of a little dog, though draws the line at walking the dog if he (the dog) is wearing any article of clothing.

Even if we dress him like Shaft?

The girls have nixed all the great Cuban names we came up with and are hoping that once he meets him, Jeff will agree that the compromise name the three of us came up with is a perfect fit.

While we were en route to meet our puppy, we listened to a rebroadcast of This American Life’s episode In Dog We Trust. In Act 1, The Youth In Asia (which you can also find in his book Me Talk Pretty Someday), David Sedaris reminisces about his family pets.  The death of one of them, he says, felt like the end of an era.

For me, this puppy feels like both the end and the beginning of an era.  I have wondered, with the women I know who love these little dogs, whether they are replacements for our children, who are beginning to stick a few toes out of the nest.

My recent experience with a chronic ailment was a sobering reminder that I won’t always be able to push my body the way I want to.

Courtesy of the New Yorker, May 7, 2012

The dog walkers in my neighborhood all seem to be in pretty good shape, though.

Though I have a few years left as a soccer mom, I can tell I will be entering a new subculture.  My puppy and I already have some summer play dates lined up and I’ve gotten tips on where to find the best groomers in town.

When I think back to those sweet early days, when my kids were babies and toddlers, I didn’t always fully appreciate being in the moment.

I plan to enjoy every (or almost every) moment of our remaining time as a family of four with two cats, one hamster, eight fish (last time I checked) and one dog.

Divorce: Balancing Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I

I’ve just returned from Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve gone to visit my dear friend L., whose son is in college there and who is recovering from the breakup of her 25-year marriage and preparing for her impending divorce.

I was last in Boulder 29 years ago, on a cross-country camping trip with my then-boyfriend.  We stopped in town to visit a friend and probably to take a shower.  I don’t remember much about the place except the smell of patchouli and the crunchy granola vibe.  The aroma and vibe are still there, especially on the Hill, the neighborhood around the University, but Boulder is decidedly more upscale. L. and I ate in several high-end restaurants, where there was nary an alfalfa sprout in sight. The most noticeable change is the preponderance of medical marijuana dispensaries, eyebrow -raising, given the youth and overall health of the population in a city that usually ranks among the top five healthiest in the U.S.


I've heard they even deliver




This has been a year for going back in time.  In the spring, I returned to Paris, where L. and I and her husband first met as students 31 years ago and in August, I returned to Washington, DC (first time back in 13 years), where I lived and worked prior to moving to Seattle to get married. Each of these retrospective trips has been cause for introspection – a bittersweet mélange of memories, roads not taken and the joy of rediscovering people and places that once were central to my life.

L and I have history together.  In my mind, she and her husband were the stable ones, marrying young while I remained single and uncertain until my mid-30s, achieving wealth while I still struggled to pay the bills, and successfully launching three kids and anticipating being youthful empty nesters, while I would remain tethered to soccer schedules and PTA meetings, long past menopause.

For all the times I sought refuge on L’s couch, it’s time for me to provide her emotional support.  We talk about fresh starts over gin-and-tonics. We take a cold, high-altitude hike. We do hot yoga.

On Mt. Sanitas, somewhere around 7,000 feet, we are caught unprepared by a sleet shower that sends us running down the trail, L’s frostbitten hands clasped to her broken heart.  At hot yoga, while attempting to shift from one balancing pose to another, I slip in my own sweat and fall on my ass.  These inescapable metaphors for the newfound instability in L’s life are so obvious, they’re not even worth remarking on.   In the locker room at the yoga studio, another middle-aged divorcee and mother of a college-aged son regales us with her tales of reinvention, which involve neuro-feedback, hormone injections and pole dancing.  “I practiced some of my moves for my boyfriend.  He told me I need to take more classes,” she says wryly.

I introduce L to another friend, also named L, who lives in the area and is a few years ahead in the post-marital breakup recovery process.  L and L have so much in common. They both worked hard to have different lives than their mothers. They were supportive spouses. They read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and became doting mothers.  They were not expecting divorce.

We take their three sons out to breakfast. The boys, who give little thought to the future, eat beignets and biscuits and mounds of rich eggs.  Their mothers, who have learned you can’t be too careful, eat eggs scrambled with tofu and shredded carrots.  And I, somewhere in the middle, eat vegetarian Eggs Benedict.

Some things are timeless:  friends will always be there to pick you up when you stumble, college boys will always live in oblivious squalor.

There will always be a Marley to perform and an audience to appreciate the “don’t worry, be happy” mantra of reggae.

On my last afternoon in Boulder, L and I are taking a walk and we see a message written on a yellow, sticky note that someone felt compelled to place on an area map.

Be grateful for the wonders of your life

Permanent in its impermanence, this is a message we can’t ignore.