Life, death, and the dog I never knew I wanted
I was not going to have another child. No way. Two was my limit. Every time a friend gave birth to a third child, I said a silent prayer of gratitude that the precious little bundle would be bundled off to someone else's house. I had long realized that as far as child-rearing went, I was not cut out for zone defense. I was strictly man to man. Two adults, two children. One per. I don’t like chaos. I prefer it when there are just enough people around to assure me I am not the only one who survived the apocalypse.
In the last couple of years, my kids have become increasingly independent, and there has been a very pleasant decrease in chaos. My son started high school, and my daughter has been traveling to and from middle school on her own. Each summer, they leave for sleep-away camp. I miss them, but the feeling passes quickly.
I ask you, why would I want to start all that over again, just as I was on the cusp of having a little time to myself?
My plan for the coming school year was this: After getting the kids off in the morning and seeing the back of my husband, I would complete the 500 brilliant projects I'd begun over the course of the past oh, shmnsmushn years. I am not much of a multi-tasker. It's genetic. If you were to call my mother on any given day to make a date, she might say to you, "Thursday doesn't work. I have to pick up your father's prescription." This is where I'm heading, folks.
Anyway, back to my plans: I would write a young adult octalogy, daily essays attacking climate change deniers, and scripts and songs and jingles, and also start making that HILARIOUS web series I'd dreamed up one night in my dreams. I'd collaborate on something with people who got together after 3 p.m. It was going to be a Banner Year in which I would consume time like it was a bag of Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (shamelessly, by the handful) and I would make thousands, if not tens, of dollars. Oh, and I would also work out until I was at least four years younger.
Obviously, there was no room in that plan for a dog.
Wait, what? What??? Who said anything about a dog? Wasn't I talking about another child? I wasn't? That's a relief! I'm too old and tired for another child. Can you imagine? Ha! Me neither.
That's so funny that I'd confused getting a dog with having a child. Well, I didn't want a dog, either.
My kids did, though. They said things like, "You'll never get us a dog." And I said things like, "You're right." I held them off easily, mercilessly. How was I going to get anything done with a dog? Don't you have to train them and walk them and play with them? I had just finished training and walking and playing with my kids.
But then, people started dying.
I know, big jump. Stay with me.
It was a bad year, the pre-Banner Year. People we knew, people who were our age, either died or were told they were definitely going to soon.
One death stood out in its meanness and swiftness. He was a friend of a close friend. I'm going to call him Mac.
You know how sometimes you know your friends' friends for so many years that they become like cousins you are really happy to see at holidays and birthday parties? It was like that with Mac. The last time we saw him was at his 50th birthday party. Soon after, he was diagnosed with a terrible cancer and told to get his affairs in order. He died two months later.
The funeral was brutally sad. Mac was remembered with such love and admiration that for months after I continued to rifle through the catalog of my relationships, wondering if anything I had ever done would inspire such an outpouring. He had been accomplished in his work and had used his intellectual gifts for the benefit of others. (Hmmm, me? Not so much.) He had been generous with his family and his friendships, making happy and often useful connections among them. His life was not without hardships, but he was, by nature, a joyful person. I admired this in him, as joy is something I have to work at. He was fun and funny and indefatigable when it came to parties and openings and travel. He often took his mother with him.
My husband and I looked at each other on the way home from the funeral and asked the same clichéd question. What were we waiting for? What we meant was that if there were things we wanted to do in our lives that we had not yet done, we might want to get cracking.
Hold on to your hats: Of all things, we suddenly didn't want to be people who didn't get their kids a dog.
Both of us had dogs growing up. I had two. One was an incorrigible cocker spaniel named Jasper who roamed the far reaches of our county ("Hi, I'm calling from Wilton and I think I have your dog here?). After Jasper's untimely but unsurprising demise, we got another cocker spaniel, Catcher, who was the great love of my youth.
David said, "We should get a dog."
I said, "Okay."
There were, of course, other things David and I decided to try to do and be, in the wake of Mac's death and the others that followed. Getting a dog was somehow weirdly representative of all of them.
There was brief talk of a cat, but try as I might, I could think of no death, however tragic, that would induce me to get one.
So we got the dog, which was not unlike having a baby in the house, except instead of being a baby he was an infant wild animal.
I won't go into the particular chaos of the training and the walking, because writing about it only reminds me that it is real. Okay, one thing: There is something called crate training that teaches the dog only to pee and poop outside. I did it wrong.
If that sounds bad, even worse was the chaos in my mind. That sweet, funny, adorable puppy gulped my Banner Year right down his gaping puppy maw and chewed it up and pooped it out at my own invitation: "Do your biz, Otis. Do your biz. Come on, Otis, do your biz. Otis. Biz. Biz, Otis. Biz." That's right, Otis, please poop out my Banner Year sometime before the Twelfth of Never, during the coldest winter since that time awhile back when the mammoths became extinct.
And I was super pissed off, partly because, just as with the births of our children, my husband's life changed little. He got to spend the day working with grown-ups and had a dog! Tra la la! And the kids? The kids just kept going to school and playing soccer and rehearsing for Kiss Me Kate. What a bunch of jerks.
At least once every two weeks I had a full-blown meltdown about it. Doing this wasted the few shards of Pulitzer Prize-winning writing time I had left. I'm not proud of it. I am a grown woman living in comfort in a free society.
And, of course, I loved the dog. Loved him. I mean, it's not his fault we rescued him from his breeder for $1,200.
So, I was standing in the shower, one of the few places where I can escape the dog, and of out of the blue, I had a thought: Mac would have been happy. A dog would have brought him joy. Mac would not have wasted his time being pissed off. He would not have blown six months thinking about all the stuff he didn't get done. Mac would probably have considered the year he got a dog to be a Banner Year.
Be happy, I said to myself. At least you don't have to get him into a Manhattan nursery school.
So, I got out of the shower, got dressed, grabbed a handful of chocolate chips, because they bring me joy, and walked the dog.