I’m sure most parents would agree: you never forget the first couple days with your first baby. I’m no exception, and I remember that day like it was yesterday. My husband and I had spent so much time preparing to bring our baby home. We made sure the house was safe, made sure we had organic food and high end toys. We poured over lists of names to find the perfect one. When the big day arrived, we were thrilled and nervous. She looked up into our eyes, and we knew our family was complete. That first drive home was terrifying. Those first few nights were sleepless. We were so worried that we couldn’t get her to eat and she seemed lethargic…but then she chowed down on some Boar’s Head turkey and perked right up.
Our first baby was Zoe, a Maltese poodle mix. And, disclaimer, if you’re not someone who’s owned pets, you’ll probably think I’m crazy. In June of 2014, my husband, Kyle, and I had been married for a year and a half. We’d lived together for about two years. Shortly before that we adopted a couple cats together. We bought a house together in 2013. We were ready for the next step: a dog. The stars aligned and we found some puppies up for adoption at a wonderful rescue in my home state of New Jersey. When we went to meet the pups, one was still scared around people, one couldn’t stop humping everything in sight, and then there was Zoe. She looked at us, rolled onto her back, exposing a spotted belly, as if to say “Here I am! Take me! Make me part of your family!” And we did.
For the next few years, our worlds revolved around this 10 pound ball of fur. As with any first born, we wanted only the best for her. We fed her the best food, got her tons of toys for her first Christmas, and read books about behavior and training. We worked to find the best vet, best groomer, and best dog walker. Like many parents, we planned to have firm boundaries about her sleeping in her own space, but after about a month, she slept in bed with us. We Googled descriptions of her bowel movements late at night to determine whether or not we needed to go to the emergency veterinarian. We took her everywhere, including road trips to the beach and flights to Florida and California. When we went to Italy and left her with my mom for two weeks, we made my mom install Skype so we could see her while we were away. We bought her an Italian soccer jersey as a souvenir. (In both of these sentences, “her” refers to our dog, not my mom).
Three years after adopting Zoe, we couldn’t deny that it still felt like something, or rather, someone, was missing from our family. I got pregnant. I’ve heard a variety of perspectives on whether or not pets can sense a pregnancy. I don’t know if Zoe could tell what was up, but she definitely knew something was up. As my pregnancy progressed, she rarely left my side, often resting her head on my belly. I had fantasies about this little baby and Zoe being instant besties. She would be like Nana, the dog in Peter Pan. Maybe she could even babysit while I got extra sleep. Maybe she could pull the baby around in a sled in the winter. Ooo maybe I could hitch her to the stroller and they could walk each other!
On January 4th, 2017, Kyle and I were getting our stuff together to head to the hospital, because I was being induced. My family was coming into town and would watch Zoe at our house. As we were walking out the front door, a wave of fear and dread washed over me. I told my mom how terrified I was. “I know you are, sweetie. It is scary. Especially the first time. You have no idea what to expect.” “No, mom, I’m not talking about labor and delivery. I’m scared I won’t love this baby as much as I love Zoe.”
Yes, I said that. I honestly couldn’t fathom loving and caring for something as much as I did our sweet pup. I remembered my cousin telling me once that when I have a kid, our dog will just be something else that needs something from me. I could not even wrap my mind around feeling such a way about Zoe. The poor pup didn’t even have a say in the matter, and now there was no going back. It was baby time.
Fast forward a couple days, and we’re in the hospital with our sweet son, Owen. I send my parents home with one of his blankets for Zoe. When they gave it to her, she sniffed it, curled up on top of it, and fell asleep. When we arrived home, she was very excited to see us, but had no major reaction to the newborn we had with us. It was as if she was saying, “Yeah, so what? He’s been around for nine months.” Zoe LOVED Owen. If he was doing tummy time, so was she. She’d lay by him when he was lounging on his back. If our cats even looked at him, she’d chase them away. She was on guard when anyone other than me or Kyle held our newest family member. She was by my side for every late night nursing session, right there with me watching The Golden Girls at 3 in the morning. She was even welcoming when Owen joined us in bed to catch some extra Zs.
If Zoe could talk, she would probably tell you that one of the best decisions we’ve made regarding Owen was the introduction of solid foods. They were introduced to our growing infant, who often introduced them to the floor, where they were introduced to Zoe. She was quick, and, I admit, we were lazy. Why fight off the dog to clean the floor, when everyone can just be happy not doing any of those things? She got all sorts of goodies and would turn her nose up at kibble. As Owen grew and grew, Zoe packed on the pounds as well. She was fat and happy. But then something terrible happened. Owen started to walk.
What was once a cuddly, cooing, drooling eight pound cherub, was now a clumsy, unpredictable, overexcited twenty-five pound nightmare. And the worst part was, the nightmare LOVED Zoe. He was obsessed with her, stalked her, even. Playing with her, touching her, and chasing her was all he wanted. One of his first phrases was “pull tail”, as in “don’t pull tail”, but he obviously disregarded the “don’t”. Zoe got jealous. When I would sit down to nurse Owen, she would paw at me incessantly. When he would fall asleep in my arms, she would walk into the room with her metal food dish in her mouth and drop it on the hardwood floor right next to us with a loud CLANG! There was one day when I forgot to take her out for her walk before Owen’s nap. She walked into his nursery where he was just drifting off on my lap, stared me in the face, and peed all over the carpet. For the first time ever, I didn’t see my sweet baby girl when I looked at Zoe. I saw something else that needed something from me. I saw a “just a dog”, and it broke my heart.
But raising a child and parenthood is all about phases, right? Everything is constantly, slowly morphing into the new normal. Crying gives way to talking which gives way to tantrums. A held baby turns into a crawling infant. The crawling infant turns into a toddling, walking, running child. Money spent on diapers shifts to energy spent scrambling to the nearest toilet. Jars of baby food are replaced with our family needing to buy two pizzas on Friday nights. I had seen this countless times already since we brought Owen home, so I tried my best to have faith that this would just be a phase for me and Zoe. Another phase for our family. And it was!
Now, we have a two year old. He knows that when Zoe growls at him, she’s saying “Please, stop!”, and he does…usually. He tells me that she needs food and “dawa”, when I’m wondering out loud why she’s barking at me. He proudly holds her leash when we walk her (don’t worry, mom, I’m always right next to them!) He tells her “Down!” when she begs for food at the table. When we go on a trip, he asks “Zoe, too?” He has just as many nicknames for her as we do. They’re getting better at playing together. They know, and often respect, to whom each toy belongs. When I call Zoe in from the backyard, she’ll typically look at me and then continue to run around the yard. When Owen calls her, she comes running. One day, when Owen was having an awful, violent tantrum and I just could. not. deal, I set him gently on his bedroom floor to let it all out and left the room to compose myself. I called to Zoe. She looked between me and Owen a few times, and you know what? That dog would not leave his side when he was in distress. With Owen’s increasing maturity, has come Zoe’s increasing patience. Just the other day, I could have sworn she rolled her eyes as her back served as new fluffy terrain for a Hot Wheels car.
And my relationship with Zoe has entered a new phase as well. Having a child is pretty magical, but it’s also incredibly complex. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for the sweet simplicity of my relationship with our dog. For instance, she doesn’t snap back with “no!” when I ask her to do an-ny-thing! She doesn’t demand attention and entertainment like a toddler does, only my presence and some good belly rubs. I can purchase essentially everything she needs through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program. She likes to sit still on the couch. She doesn’t try to climb on and jump off of furniture. She loves to sleep and respects that I, too, love to sleep. Is she the center of my universe like she was four years ago? No, but my family is. And she is most certainly a part of my family.
#dogmom #firstbaby #dogfamily #fit4mom