Pet Projects

I jammed earplugs into my brain, and pulled pillows over my head. I found a sound app on my iPhone and cranked up the fake waves. I closed every door between “it” and me, hoping for any buffering at all. But it was relentless.

Eventually I would creep into the guest room, to the epicenter of the cacophony. There, my teenage son Luke (who has since moved downstairs to take care of such matters) would be snoring, oblivious to the racket, right next to the kennel housing his yapping puppy who clearly had to pee. I had a moment of weakness and took pity on my tired son. I stood in the yard, slapping mosquitos at 4am, wondering when on earth I had ever been this tired. Oh yeah, now I remember, it was over 13 years ago when my twin daughters were born. The closest thing to newborn baby exhaustion is a puppy.

Which is why when my son said he wanted a puppy for his 16th birthday, I was quite surprised. I expected a request related to a car, something more akin to freedom than responsibility. I asked a lot of questions and made my role very clear. You know puppies don’t sleep through the night? And you realize you’ll need to crate train him because he can’t pee in the house otherwise the other dogs will pee on top of his pee? And you will need to feed him and walk him and train him? And scoop his poop, even when he is fully grown and 160 pounds? A dog that big cannot jump on people or be wild and scare them, so training is imperative. You understand you can’t just take off with friends all weekend long and forget about him? And you can’t assume I will be home to take care of him on weekends with your dad, okay? I have work and grad school and a cute boyfriend and three kids to take care of so I cannot, no I will not, do this. It’s all you. So many claims and caveats, I fully expected him to change his tune. Yet he did not.

So we drove out to Kerrville to see our friend, a breeder, and we came home with almost 20 pounds of 10-week old puppy named Reagan. He was truly the cutest thing on the planet — puppy breath, squiggly wiggly body, Buddha belly and huge white feet. The newness and excitement began to wear off shortly after Luke introduced Reagan to everyone he knew. Reality set in — harsh reality. Reagan did not sleep, so neither did Luke. Reagan peed where he pleased, including in his kennel and no dogs are supposed to pee where they sleep. Crate training was foiled. We went to Costco to buy paper towels in bulk. Luke’s friends went to swim parties and Blues on the Green, and spent the night at other friends’ houses. Luke stayed home to tend to his baby. He became weary and worn, a shell of his former freewheeling teenage self.

After nearly 10 days, he cracked.

“Mom,” he croaked, after another long, sleepless night. “I thought I could do this, but I can’t. I just can’t. It’s so hard. I think it’s best to take Reagan back to the breeder.”

Can I please just tell you how much I wanted to keep that puppy and raise him as my own? He may be a difficult puppy, but he is going to be an amazing dog. I can tell these things. Much the way I can tell my son is going to be an amazing man. Especially if I can somehow manage to teach the lessons I need to teach.

The breeder is our friend, and a dear one. She also has about a two-year waiting list for these gorgeous dogs, so I knew we would be fine. I ached and called her, wondering if it was possible to have puppy post partum depression.

The drive back to Kerrville was long and sad. Reagan slept peacefully in the backseat, like a little angel, which didn’t help matters. I confessed to Luke how much I wanted to keep his baby and train him myself and make him my dog, but I asked him what the lesson would be for him if I did that. He thought for a minute, quietly looking out the window. “I guess that I can screw up and screw off and you will always clean up my messes.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sigh.

One of the hardest parts about parenting is when the right thing feels so damn wrong.

“Here’s the deal, Luke. We can take this puppy back to the breeder because it’s too much for you. But if you have a baby when you are too young and too immature, guess what babe, you are the breeder. No take backs. And a baby can’t go in a crate when you are tired of it or want to go out. When you leave the house you have to either bring it with you or pay someone else to stay with it. And it poops in a diaper, not on the grass. And it needs to eat every couple hours, not twice a day.”

“Oh God Mom, I don’t think I can ever have a baby. Or at least I probably need to be like 40.”

Good boy.

So forget the health class experiments where they send the egg home or the swaddled plastic baby doll that fake cries at intervals. No, a teenager needs a puppy. (At least for 10 days.)


Illustration by Joy Gallagher

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