Bringing home the (dog) baby

This week our family welcomes its first puppy.

For years I’ve rolled my eyes at the suggestion that raising a dog is similar to raising a child. Often, this comparison comes from people who don’t have children, making scoffing a requirement.

But, having spent the past several weeks planning to bring a puppy into the home, I’ve come to realize that maybe — just maybe — I’ve been too quick to dismiss the similarities. There are a few.

Consider upfront costs, for example.

Dog babies, much like human babies, require a ton of stuff, and as a result, are really, really expensive. My dining room table is buried under bags of dog food, dishes, treats, toys, bedding, crates (one for home, and one for travel), and an endless supply of puppy potty training essentials.

And nobody — not a single person — threw me a puppy shower, so I’m on the hook for all of it.

Then there are the late nights spent coming to terms with the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m bound to screw it up and raise an asshole dog that sniffs crotches, jumps on children, pees everywhere, barks at everything and eats cats and postal workers.

As motherhood approached, I spent many nights tossing and turning, and staring at the ceiling fretting about the same things — minus the crotch-sniffing and cat-eating, of course.

And let’s not forget the unsolicited and often conflicting advice.

“You must follow Cesar Millan’s method, it’s amazing.”

“DO NOT follow Cesar Millan’s method. It’s terrible.”

“Don’t use pee pads.”

“Do use pee pads.”

“You must clicker train. Immediately.”

“Do NOT give him a human name. He is NOT a human.”

When this advice is launched at me, I can’t help but think back to the unsolicited and often passive aggressive advice I fielded during my advent into motherhood, some nine years ago.

“DO NOT give him a soother. You’ll never break him of it.”

“Disposable diapers are great for people who hate the Earth. Do you hate the Earth?”

“No screen time. EVER. Until he’s at least eight.”

“Keep him rear facing until he reaches puberty.”

“Bottle feeding is an option. If you’re terrible.”

“DON’T swaddle him.”

“DO swaddle him.”

“DON’T let him cry it out. EVER!”

“Jeez, just let him cry it out already!”

When I was growing up everyone had dogs, and all any dog needed was a collar, a leash, a bed, a bowl and a belly rub or two. Instead of pee pads and poop bags we had newspapers and shovels. Dogs licked plates, ate scraps, chewed ham bones, and gobbled whatever kibble was on special that week.

Somehow, even without all of the gadgets and canine behavior modification methods, dogs were amazing. They protected us, loved us, and we returned the favour.

Dog ownership has become riddled with pitfalls. The stakes are higher, the expectations greater.

But I’m convinced that, as with raising children, sometimes the simple things matter more than the gadgets and the gimmicks; simple things like consistency, routine, encouragement and praise.

There. Now it’s your turn to roll your eyes.

Random acts of compassion

The wind has a bite to it, and sharp teeth, too. I slam my car door before another gust hits, crank up the heat, and nose out of the parking lot with a million things on my mind, and too few hours in the day.

The light turns red and I curse. I’m already late, and this light is so damn long — it’s the longest light in the city. The light’s not triggered by traffic, but I roll my car forward anyway, seething with impatience.

Out the passenger window I watch as a woman wearing a long blue scarf leaves the bank, stops, turns, and walks back the way she came, pausing in front of a bundle of blankets on the sidewalk.

The bundle moves, and a woman’s face peeks out, nearly camouflaged against the mud-coloured siding of the bank.

The woman in the blue scarf crouches down, leans in and begins talking. I can’t hear her. I so badly wish I could hear her. She’s smiling and nodding her head. The woman she speaks with looks up.

The woman in the blue scarf reaches up and unwinds it, grabbing hold of it tightly in the wind. She leans forward and wraps the blue scarf carefully over the shoulders of the woman on the sidewalk. The scarf, still warm, probably smells of perfume.

The woman in the blankets puts her head down, wraps her hands around her knees, and starts to cry. I can tell she’s crying by the rise and fall of her back, by the way her shoulders shake. That’s the way my children look when they cry. That’s the way I look.

The woman who gave the scarf, leans forward, takes her hands, and holds on tight. The light turns green, and I drive away, staring at the pair on the sidewalk in my rearview mirror until I turn a corner.


Cool, with a taste of spring, it’s light jacket weather. I’m jogging my usual route, and I’ll be home in half an hour – just in time for dinner.

I see them at a fork in the path and they make an odd trio. The older man stands several feet away, hands in his pockets, running shoes scuffing the ground as though anxious to get moving. Off to his left stands an elderly grandmother-type with a leashed Chihuahua perched on her shoulder like a bug-eyed, panting parrot.

She stands and smiles down at a boy — a teenager, by the size of him. His back rests against a light post; his face is hidden inside his jacket, which is zipped so high only his mop of black hair pokes through. He’s slumped forward, arms crossed over his knees. She stands at his side, chatting, and looks up to smile at me, waving me on as I slow down. The boy needs help. He needs someone to notice him, to speak to him, to care about him. The woman with the Chihuahua smiles at me as if to say, “it’s OK. I’ve got this. You go.”

Weakness is walking away from people who need help. It’s hard to stop, and harder still to know what to say, or do, being more afraid of saying and doing the wrong thing, than of doing nothing at all. I’m ashamed to admit having walked away.

Perhaps someday I’ll have a blue scarf to give, and be brave enough to be so compassionate.


A message from the universe

There are a number of etiquette rules one must follow while using a public restroom, and those rules are compounded when that public restroom is in your place of work, and shared with your colleagues.

Rule No. 1: Double flush. If/when you absolutely must go No. 2 while at work, get rid of the evidence as best you can. Public sanitation systems have never been so sophisticated — take advantage of them!

Rule No. 2: Wash your hands. It’s the right thing to do.

Rule No. 3: Refrain from taping inspirational messages and motivational thoughts to the toilet seat.

 I arrived in the ladies the other day to find that The Universe had gone out of its way to type out a note, print it, and tape it crookedly to the underside of the toilet lid. The note read:20180306_205454_resized

Give thanks that your life is exactly as it is.
Decide that 2018 will be the happiest year of your life yet.
Follow your heart and instincts down new paths.
– The Universe

“Hey, thanks, Universe, but I’m going to have an accident, so before I follow my heart, I’m going to follow my bladder,” I thought to myself.

Job done, hands washed, I went back to my office and considered this message. It got under my skin.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve stumbled upon something unpleasant in the bathroom but it was the first time The Universe had attempted to connect with me in this space. There’s usually always some messaging in public bathrooms. Sometimes, the messages are simple, “WASH YOUR HANDS,” and, “OUT OF ORDER.” Sometimes, the messages are more complicated. Last month I learned how to identify someone in the midst of an overdose, and where to inject Naloxone for best results, all while going pee.

But in this place of bathroom business, I’m not open to messages from The Universe; I am here because I have a job to do. Sometimes, that job is unpleasant. Always, that job is brief. In this space, often scented with the efforts of previous occupants, I try not to linger. I barely breathe; there’s no time to give thanks, follow my heart or consider new paths.

Put more bluntly, if The Universe were a person, it would be standing on my doorstep, handing me a Watchtower pamphlet while my dinner boiled over on the stove.

Your timing, Universe, was extremely poor.

There are other places in which I’d be more receptive to The Universe’s machinations. The doctor’s office for instance, as I’m captive here. When I’m not staring at my phone, I’m usually just eyeing up posters of anatomy, which are educational, but if The Universe opted to post its message beside the male reproductive system, I’d probably spare it a glance.

The Universe may also wish to reconsider method of delivery. Paper and tape might have been OK years ago when there weren’t so many other messages competing for our attention, but these days, it would be wise to investigate podcasts, maybe run some promotions through social media, or even try to crack its audience through a clever billboard, or a nicely situated bus stop bench.

All of these options would be more permanent and less irritating than the paper and tape, which is easily chucked into to the trash, or wadded up to use in place of paper towel. Or worse.






Call me, maybe?

It usually starts with heavy breathing, but if you wait long enough, you’ll be rewarded by a few tremulous and stuttered words.

By eight years of age, children should be able to facilitate their own playdates. To do so, however, requires endless amounts of coaxing, encouragement and lessons on that old-fashioned machine called the telephone.

Our family is still in possession of what telecommunication companies call a land line. Regular callers on this line include: My mother-in-law, the Canada Revenue Agency telling me that I owe back taxes, people from India who want to help me disable a very bad computer virus, and Diane from Big Brothers Big Sisters, letting me know there will be a truck in my neighbourhood next week.

And now there is a new batch of callers to the land line — heavy-breathing eight year old boys.

Teaching children how to talk on the phone isn’t as simple as you might expect. Kids learn by example, and they don’t see many examples of people talking on the phone anymore. I communicate with one of my best friends multiple times each day, and yet I haven’t heard her voice in over a year.

That makes my heart hurt a little.

My children will never know the frustration of sharing a single, harvest gold, rotary dial telephone with a cord that doesn’t quite make it down the hall to the bedroom.

They won’t understand the agony of having their older brother answer the phone, hold the receiver two inches from his mouth, and shout, “DANNA, THERE’S A BOY ON THE PHONE FOR YOU, I THINK HE LIKES YOU! IS HE YOUR BOOOOOOYYYYYYFRIEND?”

They’ll never experience having their older sister answer the phone shortly after 8 p.m. only to say: “Sorry, Danna can’t come to the phone right now. It’s almost her bedtime. Oh, and will you please tell all of your other friends to not call so late? You will? That’s great. She needs her beauty sleep. Grade nine is so tough.”

It’s for these and other character-building reasons that we’ve opted to hold on to our landline and finally teach our children how it works.

Any good lesson starts with a plan, so together, my child and I come up with a suitable script. We decide to write down our address so that after he’s asked his friend to come over, he can explain where “over” actually is.

That settled, he begins the mission and dials, which takes several tries. Careful, though, because when the number is officially dialed, the child will immediately begin speaking.

“Wait until someone picks up, bud.”

But people never pick up these days and he’s caught off guard by voicemail. He panics,  hangs up, and lobs the phone onto the couch as if it bit him.

“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME WHAT TO SAY,” he shouts, accusingly.

“Just say your name, who you’re calling to speak with, and your phone number,” you explain, all while mentally kicking yourself for not simply texting his friend’s mom like you’ve done every other time.

And so he dials again. And waits. And when the beep sounds he reads his script perfectly, except instead of his phone number, he recites his address. He realizes what he’s done at the last second, hangs up, and throws himself and the phone onto the couch in melodramatic agony.

“UGH! This is so HARD!”

This kid perseveres, though, and you’ve got to give him credit. He gets back up, grabs the phone, dials like a boss, waits, states his name, phone number and reason for calling. And it’s perfect. He did it. He raises his hand, drops the mic (phone), you grab it on a bounce and give him a high five.

In a few minutes, you reap your reward. The phone rings. And there it is, the beautiful sound of heavy breathing.

Just wait for it, and be patient. This is beautiful. They’re figuring it out.

“… Hi… this is Billy, can I speak to …”