People roll their eyes at comparisons of dogs to children, and I support this exasperation -- in theory. At the same time, in my heart of hearts, I know that our dog has profoundly influenced my experience as a mother: by providing solace during my infertility, giving me parent "practice" throughout my IVF pregnancy, and, finally, modeling a pack mentality that helps me enjoy my (human) twin sons.
From a standpoint of logic or practicality, I wouldn't recommend having a puppy in a family with small children, and people everywhere figure out how to parent without a pet's presence. For many others, the extra work, space, and money required rule it out. For me, though, it takes a dog to raise my village.
Here are 16 ways my sweet puffball bichon, whom my 2-and-a-half-year-old boys have dubbed "Fufu," has made me a better parent.
1. When I met Fufu as a tiny puppy, I'd been struggling with infertility for three years. Our first week home, while I was in the kitchen panicking about his poop schedule, I scooped him into my arms and something inside me clicked. It felt as if a switch had been flipped. All at once, I knew I could be a mother, a feeling that had been stripped away by my inability to conceive. I sometimes think of Fufu as the stork who brought our children. Of course, the doctors and the IVF also get some credit.
2. Because it was a puppy and not a human baby that first awakened my mothering sense, I've come to more deeply appreciate that love in its many forms -- whether for animals, God, self, nature, partner, friends, or children -- is all sacred. Family can mean many things.
3. Through months of brutal morning sickness while pregnant with twins, Fufu would sit next to me as I crouched by the toilet, his tail wagging as if to ask, Are you done yet? I'd always thought a dog would cuddle and soothe, a furry lightening rod of comfort and empathy. Fufu, however, acted as if everything was fine and we should move on as rapidly as possible. It turned out he was right.
4. As two babies expanded in my 5'3" frame, I grew too front-heavy to lumber without breathless discomfort. I'd take Fufu out to walk with utmost reluctance, but that routine kept me tethered to core things like sunlight, conversation, and exercise. A few times I'd stop on my neighbor's stoop, dizzy and exhausted, and she'd come out to check on me. We've now become friends. In fact, the whole neighborhood knows us. A friend from puppy school doubled down, and we remain close. The dog shattered my isolation.
5. On bed rest at six months gestation, I was full of guilt about how little I could do for Fufu. My husband Ken stepped up and did most dog-related duties, despite his insanely busy work schedule and having to tend to me too. Friends, neighbors, and even the teenage daughter of my massage therapist came by to walk him. It became an early lesson about family: how we are held by others, part of the whole.
6. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I took Fufu for IV fluids at the vet, after he'd been mysteriously vomiting. Leaving him there to head home, I found myself sobbing in the parking lot. A stranger came over and consoled me, mistakenly, for the loss of my animal companion. I took a deep sniff and got some perspective. I still need perspective and a deep breath whenever my sons go to the doctor.
7. In the first year, Fufu introduced Ken and me to fragmented sleep and constant discussions of poop. The arrival of infant twins became a seamless segue to even more fractured sleep and late-night Googling of poop types on our iPhones. Especially in the beginning, we'd pore over our excrement insights like stock data on the trading floor, with minute-by-minute analysis. Puppies and kids alike remind you that the life of the body and its immediate demands can take center stage.
8. Fufu introduced a new degree of routine to my life: walk time, playtime, downtime, mealtime. It turns out routine is also the best way (for me) to handle the challenge of twins. It so happens that I like it, too, the planning and order. With baby twins and a dog, it can feel like a SEAL Team Six operation for us to get out of the house, and it was Fufu who originally introduced the need for checklists, packed supplies and precision drills.
9. Fufu is not writing a memoir about his puppyhood experience with the tentative title, Mommy Was Always Trying to Lie Down. He's remarkably non-judgmental. It's me who does the self-flagellation.
10. Treats, bribes, rewards, alpha posture, affection: these work for both canines and small humans. They work in getting myself to do things, too.
11. Just putting my hand on Fufu's puffy head makes me feel calmer. There are so many ways to communicate without speaking, which is crucial with kids. Now that our bichon is older, it turns out he is a lightening rod of empathy and comfort. I aspire to be this myself.
12. Fufu does not need to escape into any kind of screen or send one more anxious business email. He's not trying to have it all. He'll take just the belly rub and a bully stick, thank you. The more I practice dog-mind, the happier I become.
13. Fufu finds my efforts at meditation hilarious, and will not tolerate an empty lotus-positioned lap or relaxed open hands. Usually I give in to his belly rub demands. There's more than one way to be in the moment.
14. When my husband and I come home with the boys, Fufu sprints to each of us in turn, full speed, paws clacking on the wood floors. He draws a line of connection between us, like weaving a web. Fufu always thinks about the pack, and his wholehearted displays of pack-love put me in that frame of mind.
15. Fufu captures the kids' toys and the boys splash in his water bowl. My sons have figured out a game of howling like wolves, getting Fufu to join them. They also like to run as a threesome in circles around the dining room table. I could not have come up with this entertainment myself, and without our dog, I would miss the beauty of all their overlapping natures. The interspecies walls vanish. They're all brothers, and we call them that.
16. Also part of his pack-love leadership: Fufu always wants to be in the room with us, even if only to wedge himself between the boys' cribs to sleep. He believes in togetherness for its own sake, in all circumstances. I see this as a core lesson of family. He doesn't think we should have more kids, fewer kids, or that things should be easier. He doesn't worry about statistics, spreadsheets, or parenting trends. Here we all are! Family is about going for it, celebrating and appreciating whatever you happen to have. Be dogged in your love.