Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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Ugh... My Kids Want a Dog (Why I don't want a pet) Part I



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Norah, my four-year-old daughter, was pretending to be a puppy again. She was on all fours, wandering about the house, barking, panting, and licking the legs of family members. Sometimes she pretends to be a kitty. Sometimes a bird, although that is less often. But mostly, she pretends to be a dog. Sometimes she is Ringo the puppy, which is a boy. And sometimes she is Fluffy the puppy, which is a girl. And every once in a while she wraps herself up in a large quilt and tells me that she is inside an egg, “Touch the egg, Daddy. You need to help the puppy hatch.” 
Sofa O' Luxury Dog Egg

I don’t have the heart to tell her that puppies don’t come from eggs. I also don’t want it to lead to a sex talk. She is too young for that, and I’m just not ready.
Once I touch her, she slowly rises beneath the blanket, and then stretches her little arms, reaching up to the ceiling, as though she is new to this world, and once the blanket falls from her head, she yawns and then let’s out the cutest little yip. Then she smiles at me, her brown hair tangled, and says, “It’s Ringo’s birthday.”
She always speaks in the second person when pretending to be a dog, “Ringo wants you to pet him.” Or “Fluffy is hungry for a doggy bone,” Or, “Isn’t Ringo the cutest puppy in Puppy Land?”
I have no doubt that she wants a dog. I can see desire in her eyes as she cradles her stuffed brown puppy, carrying it around the house. I can see it in her soft face when she holds that same stuffed puppy up to my nose and says, “Kiss the puppy. Don’t you love her?”
And yes, I always kiss the puppy. And I always pat Norah’s head as she crawls around my legs beneath the dinner table. And I do find it funny when she lays on her back, and I pet her round little tummy, and she giggles and tells me how much Ringo enjoys it when Daddy pets his tummy, “Ruff. Ruff.”
Every time we run into a dog on a family walk, Norah wants to pet it. She goes on and on about how cute the doggie his. How wonderful it is. How she so wants to give it a big squeeze, and when we do pet a strange dog, she giggles and giggles, and talks to it in the sweetest little voice, “You are a very cute doggy,” she says.
Tristan, our six-year-old boy, also want's a dog. Only he doesn’t pretend to be a dog as a means to show his desire for an animal. Nor does he cradle around a stuffed dog. Instead he bitches about wanting one, “I just want a dog, Dad. I’ll only be happy if you get me a dog.” Or he brings up friends who have dogs and argues that their father is much cooler than me because he let’s them have a family dog.
What really drives me nuts about all of this is that Tristan is terrified of dogs. If we see one at a park, (large or small) he nearly shits himself with terror, screams, and then, more or less, climbs up my leg to get away from it. I always wind up putting him on my shoulders so he can be safe, while Norah runs at the strange and potentially dangerous animal, her arms spread wide as though her and the dog are long separated lovers, frolicking towards each other in a beautiful meadow. 
Meadow Run

Mel and I have developed an unwritten protocol for when we see a dog. It is my job to hoist Tristan to the safety of my shoulders, while it is Mel’s job to chase after Norah so the strange rabid dog doesn’t mangle her. However, this system gets complicated when I am alone with both kids and come across a dog. I wind up chasing after Norah, Tristan in tow, screaming in terror, his arms wrapped around my leg.
None of this makes me want a dog.
Just a few months ago Tristan said, “Taylor’s Dad let him have a dog,” his hands were on his hips, face slack, like I was the problem. Like I was the only thing holding him back from true happiness.
And sadly, it’s true. I am the only one in the family who doesn’t want a dog. Mel is a pet lover, and has asked me numerous times to if we can get a dog. She always uses the same argument, “It will teach the kids responsibility.” And I always use the same rebuttal, “I didn’t even want to have kids, what makes you think I want a dog.”
I have numerous grievances with dogs. For example: Did you know that dogs lick their butts, and then lick your face? I don’t care who you are, that is really gross. And I know, supposedly a dog’s tongue is cleaner than a human tongue. But I don’t care. Facts are facts. People often tell me that they see their dog as another member of the family. Well, if one of my family members squatted down in the living room, licked their crotch, and then licked my face (or any part of me for that matter), I’d kick them out. Or at least have a frank conversation with them, and if the problem didn’t get resolved, I’d help them seek psychiatric care. I might just punch them in the face. It all depends on how big they are, and on how much I like them. 

Also, I don’t like anything that can’t use a toilet. This was one of my major problems with having kids. I don’t like cleaning up other people’s shit. And I don’t think that is unreasonable. And I am not using shit as a metaphor here. I’m talking about the real thing. Getting down on my hands and knees to scrub dog poop out of carpet is not something I’m interested in doing.
At least with a child, I knew there was hope. I knew that eventually Tristan and Norah would figure it out, and one day, use the toilet. But I don’t have that assurance with a pet.

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.