I remember vividly the night before my daughter was born. I was having a scheduled C-section the next morning, so my husband and I knew that it was our last night as a childless couple. As we lay in bed, anxious and excited and nervous, my enormous belly making it hard for me to breathe, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the little girl we’d be meeting in a few hours.
At some point during the conversation, Chloe, our three year-old Wheaten Terrier, jumped up onto the bed and laid down at my feet. She looked up at me with her big, brown eyes and I almost started to cry.
“I know that I will,” I said to my husband, “but I honestly can’t even imagine how I’m going to love this baby more than I love this dog. I just love her so much,” I told him. “I really don’t see how there’s room in my heart for any more love than this.”
Yes, before we had children, my husband and I were those kinds of people. The dog went with my husband to his office every day, I had pictures of her on my desk at work, we took her with us on vacation, we enrolled her in agility classes, we favored restaurants with outside seating so that we could bring her with us to dinner.
Chloe was our baby, the love of our lives. When I said I couldn’t imagine loving a real baby more than I loved her, I really, really meant it. But of course, I was wrong. Two weeks after my daughter was born, I was locking the dog outside because she barked every time I’d put the baby down for a nap, and within days, she went from being my baby to being just a dog. Ah, the silly, naïve things that expectant parents say!
My sweet Chloe has since passed on, and we have a new dog, Wookie (a.k.a. the Wookster), now three, the same age Chloe was when my daughter was born. The Wookster was born into an already fully-formed family, so he never got to be the baby that Chloe was. And really, looking back, poor Chloe never stood a chance against my actual babies, with their sweetness and helplessness and perfectness. Plus, they smelled a lot better.
But the Wookster’s in a different position. Now that my kids are older, they’re fairly less enchanting than they were as infants, or even toddlers. And while there’s no doubt that I love my children more than I love my dog, I’ll be honest: the gap isn’t quite as wide as it used to be. ‘Cause, ya’ know, my kids can be really freaking obnoxious, and my dog is pretty awesome.
My dog, for one thing, loves my cooking. He never tells me that he doesn’t like chicken, or that fish is disgusting, or that the turkey meatballs “taste funny.” Wookie likes everything I make. He practically begs for my food. Also, Wookie never tells me he’s bored. He always manages to find something to do when he’s home all day. I’m not suggesting that my son should sit around and lick his penis for twenty minutes, but I’m sure he could find something to keep himself occupied.
Oh, and what about this: Wookie is always happy to see me. When I come home, he whimpers and cries and gives me kisses. My kids can barely manage to pull themselves away from Jessie long enough to muster up a simple hello. And, my kids always want new stuff. They want this, they want that; nothing they already have is ever good enough. But when I find an old dog toy that’s been sitting under the couch for two years and I show it to Wookie, he acts like it’s Christmas morning. Does he complain that it’s already been chewed? Does he whine that it’s covered with dust? No and no.
Wookie doesn’t get embarrassed if I kiss him and hug him and talk to him in a baby voice in front of other dogs. And when I tell him it’s time to go somewhere, he’s always ready to go. I never have to wait for Wookie to fix his hair, or to finish this one last thing. Most of the time, he’s waiting by the garage door before I even get downstairs. And the best thing about the Wookster? He’s always – always – good for a cuddle at bedtime.
So maybe I was on to something that night so many years ago, on the eve of first time parenthood. Maybe I just didn’t quite know how to articulate it back then. I certainly don’t love my dog more than I love my kids. But, he’s definitely a hell of a lot easier to deal with.