By Beth Vrabel
Things were just starting to settle down in our house.
With few exceptions, everyone slept through the night. We generally ate the same meals — no pureeing for babies, overcooking vegetables for toddlers or skipping the pepper and garlic for preschoolers. We could fit everyone’s luggage in the trunk of the car when we left for the weekend.
Life with an almost-6-year-old and a 2-year-old was relatively easy, especially when contrasted with the grueling demands of a newborn. Before long, Benny will be out of diapers and we’ll be smooth sailing.
Except that we changed all of that. Or, I should say, Jasper changed all of that.
I sort of blame “Hotel for Dogs.” And all of those stinking Littlest Pet Shop toys. But mostly it’s my sister Michele’s cute little Molly dog, a Cavachon who climbs all over the kids without a drop of drool or tickle of shedding fur.
Soon, Emma had puppy fever. All she talked about was puppies. How cute they are, how responsible (“consponsible,” as she put it) having one would make her, how if she could just have a puppy she would never, never, never want anything else ever, ever, ever.
We got her a stuffed poodle.
But you can’t keep a determined girl distracted long. She got Benny on her side. He crawled on his hands and knees and panted as he trailed Emma around the house. He tried to carry books for me to read at bedtime in his mouth. He sat under the table and whimpered softly while we ate (I refused to put his plate on the floor.). “You’re a boy, Benny,” I would tell him.
“My baby boy.”
“No,” he would answer, his voice coming out in bark. “I’m doggie.”
Maybe that’s when I weakened. But suddenly whenever that commercial came on — the one with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background and a half-dozen quivering, just-give-them-a-home dogs staring from behind cage doors — I found myself reaching for the tissues.
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Truthfully, though, I tiptoed over to Emma’s side of the let’s-get-a-dog campaign when I saw a friend with her newborn. The baby perfectly molded against her chest as she cradled him. She told me how she woke up three or four times a night with him, and then was up with the older children by 6 a.m., and all the while the baby watched his mother with singular focus, no one else in the room even registering. I remember the dreary, barely trudging-through early days with my babies, and yet I felt a pang in my chest.
We are unable to have another baby. But a puppy?
Soon I was on Petfinder.com almost daily. I read on other Web sites that many dog breeds are now hypoallergenic, a major concern because of Benny’s asthma. I saw puppies can be housetrained in two weeks. Two weeks! Six months after we bought Benny his first pair of big boy undies, he now reminds me to pack diapers when we head out.
Emma caught me browsing and the campaign thickened. “What’s going on?” Jon asked when he called home from work recently.
“Oh, you mean the sobbing?” I answered. “That’s just Emma, wailing about how lonely and sad she is without a dog. And also Benny, sobbing because Emma’s crying.”
Eventually, we had a family meeting. Jon, the only remaining reluctant member, laid out the ground rules. Yes, we could get a dog. If said dog was small, inexpensive, hypoallergenic, a puppy, be used to and comfortable with kids, be a rescue dog, and, of course, be perfect. I asked if it also needed to have one green eye and one brown.
“It’s going to be a long process,” we told Emma. We had a lot of research to do, and needed to be very selective. From spending long stretches at family members’ homes, we knew Benny didn’t have an asthmatic or allergic reaction to Cavachon and Bichon Frise breeds, so we were looking for those in particular. Finding a particular breed at the SPCA was proving to be tough.
But the next day, I found Jasper. The 13-week-old Cavachon met every one of the criteria (except both eyes are chocolate brown). The cincher was when Benny snuggled close and said, “I lub ’Asper.”
And now, everything is chaotic again. I’m up with him three times a night, at least. While I’m making our meal, usually health-conscious and meat-free, I’m also boiling hamburger and rice for Jasper’s sensitive belly. Whenever we leave, I have to run back inside for an extra blanket and a few plastic baggies.
I’m exhausted, I’m poorer, I’m bereft of a routine, and I’m hopelessly in love with the newest member of our household.
Partly because when I pick him up, he rolls onto his back and closes his eyes, perfectly molding against my lap.
It’s not the clarifying sweetness of a newborn baby, but it’s pretty darn close.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her children, Emma, 5, and Benny, 2. Read more Smart Mama columns here