Dear Bob the Dog —
Everybody said we would want to get rid of you as soon as the baby got here. They said a dog would drive us crazy. We never believed them, but they were right.
That will never happen to us, we thought. We promised you, with your head in our laps, that you would always be our first baby. Great dog owners and upstanding citizens in a veritable brigade of canine obsessed twenty-somethings, we nervously auditioned for parenthood. We took you to the dog park, forgave you when you ate the West Elm sofa, fed you the food with the wild salmon in it, forgave you went you ate the Urban Outfitters sofa, made you a Christmas stocking, and forgave you when you ate the ottoman. Those people who lock their dog in the laundry room when the baby comes? That would NOT be us.
Until we started locking you in the laundry room after the baby came.
Until everything, absolutely EVERYTHING, changed.
Our first child was born a few days after Thanksgiving. I laboured at home for several hours, hunched over the side of the bed, squatting and swaying with my eyes closed. You licked the back of my knees and I batted your snout away. Neither of us realized at the time that this dismissal would soon become the customary response from a woman whose tolerance for touch would be stretched far beyond its limit. We left for the hospital, and we never really came back. Not as the family you knew anyway.
The jubilant, cartoon-perfect howl that used to fill our hearts with joy became the undoer of naps. It grated our tired ears and made our heads ache. The baby cried Then you cried. Then I cried. I cried a lot that first year, didn’t I? The dog hair, which we had once welcomed warmly into our bed (and our sinuses) suddenly seemed as though it were swallowing us. We picked it out of the baby’s mouth. We watched helplessly as it curled into dusty tumbleweeds in the corners of the house. When I was especially exhausted and emotionally barren, that ever-goading snout of yours would disturb my body’s first breath of solitude at the end of the day, asking me for what I didn’t have left.
We gave you a look occasionally and hoped you knew how guilty we felt. But a lot of the time? A hefty shrug of our shoulders was the only acknowledgment you got. That and an unmeasured fistful of the Beneful you had been demoted to eating. You were a nuisance, a scamp, a hazard—another box that on our growing list of things to do that refused to be checked.
We let time sweep us away without contest as we tried to negotiate our new life. The tiny person we brought home became a babbling, scooting, drooling bigger tiny person. His demand on us was higher than we ever could have imagined. Despite the fact that you had clearly been relegated to second violin in the pitchy chorus we had assembled, you never stopped licking the backs of my knees and resting your head in our laps. “Go AWAY!” we pleaded, for months.
Then one day? As you rolled onto your back batting your tail on the floor expectantly, as you had done so many times before to no avail, that slighter bigger tiny person wiggled and grunted his way over to you. He outstretched his tiny palm, and with the greatest of efforts, raked his fingers across your belly. You were both thrilled. In that moment, I knew that not everything had changed. We had. But you? You remained the same—stuck to our sides with a ruthless loyalty we lowly humans might never understand.
You forgave us when we stopped brushing you, forgave us when we kicked you out of the sunny spot on the floor, forgave us when we forgot to buy dog food and you had to eat gluten free bread for dinner. (We did too, by the way. And we didn’t like it either.) You even forgave us when we had to rehome your furry brother who could never forgive us for having a human baby. Your love proved to be patient, devoted, and without judgment. You even found love for that baby. The one that changed everything.
Dog, I write to you all of these years later with much gratitude and reverence. You lay at my feet, perfectly happy in your stead. Like me, you are a little rounder from the kid food and a little grayer from two thousand 5am wakings. But you haven’t let it keep you from pouring every inch of your furry self into this family. Thank you for being the one thing that stayed the same. Thank you for being my alarm system when Dad gets home late, for playing horsey/batman/aquarium with all three (THREE!) of our children. From the bottom of my tired mama heart, thank you for eating the sweet potato fries off of the floor, and thank you so very much for that cold nose at the end of the day. Even when I have nothing left, it reminds me that I am loved.
Shannon the (imperfect) Mother