Monday, March 31, 2008

Uh oh, dogs again

I know I said I wouldn't mention the dog who came and went again, so I won't, but my husband and I just adopted two puppies. They won't actually move in until Sunday, but we're excited and scared. Just like parents of humans, I suppose. At this stage in life, I can live without a human baby, but I've just gotta have a dog to love and take care of. I'm a dog mom. How many of you feel the same way? Show of hands? That's what I thought.

We bought a boy and a girl, one black, one tan. They're a terrier-Lab mix and should be smaller than that other dog, and at 7 weeks they're already better trained than she was. I'll post pictures as soon as I can. Oh God, I'm a doting mommy already, and we haven't even named them yet.

Let's see, we need puppy food, a car carrier, toys, treats, collars and leashes, trips to the vet, training classes, oh my. What have we done? We're pregnant with puppies.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

How old is too old?

Once upon a time, I was married and got divorced without having children. I married again later and didn't have children, but that's not the point of this story. At the time I became a divorcee, or what my mother used to call a grass widow, I was 28 years old. That seems young now, but I was truly concerned about whether I still had a chance to have children. I even checked a book out of the library about childbirth over age 30. That was 1980. In those days, most women still gave birth before their 30th birthday. Things have changed a lot.

This came to mind this week because of a New York Times piece offering statistics about women and pregnancy. Most of it referred to the fact that majority of pregnant women work up to their ninth month and come back to work soon after the birth, but the stat that caught my attention said that the percentage of first births to women age 30 and older had increased from 4 percent in 1970 to 24 percent in 2000. They don't go into the reasons, but we all know that women are waiting longer. Many want to get established in their careers before they jump onto the mommy train. Back in 1970, being a mother was the career for most women. They went to college to earn their MRS degree and shortly after the nuptials, they were having babies.

Experts say women's ability to conceive starts decreasing in their mid-30s, but many women these days figure they can wait until 40 or even a little later to have children. For some it's no problem. A few get surprised by early menopause. Oops, game over. Others count on in vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers and other medical maneuvers to shore up their aging ovaries.

So, is 40 the new 30? Is there some wisdom to having children when you're younger so you have more energy to take care of them? Is it worth the risk of waiting until you're older and more settled in your life, even though it might be more difficult to conceive? How old is too old to have children? What do you think?

Bringing things back to the subject of being childless by marriage, if you're dating, engaged or married to a man who says he doesn't want children, do you have time to change his mind or should you move on because the clock is ticking?

Here's one more statistic to ponder from a collection of facts and figures posted online last month: of the nearly 1 billion women in the world aged 40 or older, 8 percent are estimated to be childless. That compares to almost 25 percent in the U.S. Hmm.

I'd love to hear your comments.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Bye bye, doggie

Alas, Halle the dog has gone back to the SafeHaven shelter. I guess I could say I failed as a dog parent, or perhaps she was a juvenile delinquent and I didn't have the strength to straighten her out. I feel terrible.

I wonder if I care so much because I don't have human children, only dogs. Without a dog, I feel lost. This dog was such a crazy, happy, loving creature, but I could not sit down or go to bed without having to constantly fight her off. When she wasn't chewing up my things, she was jumping on me and chewing on me. It was like trying to sleep with an alligator in the room.

I tried all the techniques recommended by the experts. Put her in the crate, send her outside, regulate her food, knock her down every time she jumps, ignore her when she misbehaves, and limit the cuddling time so that she knows who's "the momma dog." That's what the trainer who came to our house said I had to be, "the momma dog."

Well, this momma dog can't do the tough love thing.

My husband wants to get another dog right away. But like most dads, he wasn't the one dealing with the bad behavior, trying to get this crazed animal to settle down at night, worrying about her food, her health, her need to go outside.

I need a break, time to stop grieving for my old friend Sadie, time to accept that Halle could not replace her. You don't buy a new best friend for a hundred bucks and assume you'll have the same kind of relationship. Let's just think of this as a two-week visit by an unruly guest. We had some good times, but she had to go home. We were crying, but Halle actually seemed quite content back in her old cage.

By now, you're asking, "How does this relate to childlessness?" I think many of us who don't have children put all our parenting energies into our pets. But I can also compare this to trying to adopt a troubled teen without having raised a child from birth, without having had any input in his early years, without having the experience to know what to do when he turns on you.

A friend bought me an Easter lily because I was sad about losing my dog. Nobody has ever bought me a lily before. Lilies are what adult children buy for their aging mothers on Easter because they feel as if they have to buy them something. It makes me uncomfortable to see it sitting on the table.

This should be the last you'll hear of Halle Berry the dog from me. I'll get back to people issues next time, I promise.

But how about you? Have you put your mothering eggs in the dog or cat Easter basket, only to be disappointed? I'd love to hear your stories.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Calling Supernanny

If you're following this blog, you know we adopted a new dog, Halle, last week. Well, she's beautiful, gigantic and out of control. Yesterday, I was about to take her back to the shelter, but first I called a local dog trainer for emergency help.
Within minutes, she had the dog sitting peacefully at our feet.

I could almost hear the British tones of TV's Supernanny Jo Frost as she told me that I have to be the Mama Dog. Who's in charge here, she asked. The dog. You can't let her run your life. You have to let her know you're the parent.

She showed my husband and me how to put Halle in the crate and then walk away, ignoring her no matter how much she barked or whined. Is this not the same as the Supernanny putting the kids on Timeout? Of course it is.

I don't know if it's going to work out in the long run with Halle. We hadn't planned on adopting a dog that needed so much training. Those parents on Supernanny have to reorganize their whole lives to work out their problems with their children. They can't give the kids back, so they have to do something. That part is different with dogs; we can take her back.

The Supernanny seems to work miracles. However, I strongly believe that at least half of all those families we see on TV waving happily as Jo drives away in her PT Cruiser revert to chaos within a week. Just as the dog and I were battling till midnight last night, despite everything the Super Dog Trainer had taught us. This morning we're not speaking to each other.

I don't think there's that much difference between being a dog mom and the mother of a human child--except that the human child eventually grows up and moves away. Also, the human child rarely eats your remote control.
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Dogs you can give back

I'm sure there are times when mothers would like to give their children back. When they're on the floor of the supermarket throwing a tantrum for example. Well, you can't really return children. Once they're born, they're yours, which may be why some people decide not to have them at all.
There have been moments this week when we wanted to give our new dog, Halle Berry Lick, back. I mean, we have seriously discussed it. The shy pooch we met at Safe Haven Humane Society bears only physical resemblance to the creature who jumps up and plants her paws around my neck while I'm trying to eat breakfast and won't let anyone sit on the couch for more than 30 seconds without trying put all 56 pounds of herself in their lap. We have already signed her up for school and gotten some emergency advice from the dog trainer. We have also spent a fortune on a crate, food, leash, shots, license, treats, chewbones, toys and dog-training books. Halle destroyed three balls, a coaster and a ceramic pot in two days, has tried to eat at least four of my husband's shoes, and keeps trying to eat the fuzzy slippers right off my feet.
I haven't had a full night's sleep since she arrived.
And yet, there are moments when she is so sweet and such good company. She makes us laugh often, and she forces us to take breaks from work and worries.
The trainer and the vet both assure me that she can be trained and become a wonderful companion, but right now it's constant hand-to-paw combat. I do see progress, but it's in tiny increments, and somehow she seems so much bigger in our house than she seemed at the kennel.
This dog isn't dumb. She has mastered "sit" and showed me yesterday that she already knows how to shake hands. Sometimes she'll come when we call.
So what does this have to do with childlessness? Well, when I didn't have a dog, I felt like a mother with no kids. I'm a dog mom. It's part of my identity. Everywhere I looked, I saw people with dogs, and I felt so left out. When H.B. joined us, I showed her picture to everyone, called the family to announce her arrival, got her a name tag and a license, in other words did everything to stake my claim and show her off, just like someone would do with a baby.
Give her back? We've gone too far. Part of me really misses the quiet peace of our house before Halle came, the long nights of uninterrupted sleep, the ability to leave my stuff out without it getting chewed up. It's the same with a toddler who gets into everything. If it's too quiet, they're into something.
In fact, Halle just stopped barking, so I have to go.
But the truth is, you can give a dog away if you get tired of parenting it. Can't do that with a child even if you'd like to claim no knowledge of the red-faced screaming toddler on the floor between the soup and the pasta. Then again, kids rarely eat your library books or chew up your favorite shoes.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Announcing Halle Berry Lick

Anyone who doesn't think childless women don't use dogs as baby substitutes is lying. All they had to do is watch me over the last eight hours as Fred and I adopted our newest arrival, Halle Berry Lick. If you were reading this before, you might remember we lost our beloved Sadie last November to cancer. I swear I never cried so hard over anything. We raised that dog from puppy to old lady and then sat with her as she died. Heartbreaking.
Suddenly I couldn't identify myself as a dogmom and I was lost. Everywhere I looked I saw someone with a dog. I have gotten relatively used to not having kids, but life without a dog feels empty. With my birthday coming up Sunday, I decided it was time for another dog. Forget work, we're getting a dog, I announced.
We checked the local humane society again and saw the same sad dogs, then headed east to bigger cities with bigger pounds. We found dog heaven in Albany, just east of Corvallis, Oregon, more than a 100-mile round trip from home.
Making the choice was hard. I fell first for a puppy named Archer, but he was crazy and all teeth,and his fur activated my allergies. Then Fred went nuts for a teenage Rottweiler named Potter. He was pretty cute, but his idea of hello was a body slam to the knees, and he had a lot more growing to do. Sorry. Then there was Jerrod, about two years old, white with black speckles, but he'd never been house-trained and in fact didn't know how to function in a house. Plus, having been beaten by his previous owner, he was afraid of men. Nope.
We made the circuit so many times, tried on so many dogs, including the Rottweiler mix whom I had to run away from. Ah, no. Also no to the incessant barkers and the teeth-flashers.
But among the quiet dogs was one they called Halley. She met all the qualifications. One year old, lab mix, loving, house-trained. Similar to Sadie but different enough that I wouldn't see my old dog every time I looked at her. We took her out for a walk in the yard. She was scared at first,and I was a nervous wreck. Gradually as we warmed to each other, I burst into tears. She let me hold her and cry on her silky black fur. Yep, that was our dog.
They sent us home with booklets and CDs labeled "New Parents' Guide", along with a collar, a leash, some food, two balls, a fleece blanket, and a nifty bag to carry it all in. Human babies should be treated so well. Let me put in a plug for the Safe Haven Humane Society in Albany, OR. Good people, good dogs, clean and well-run, always in need of donations.
We knew Halley was a good one when the whole staff gathered to hug her goodbye. This was a dog people loved.
She rode the whole 56 miles home dozing in the back seat on her blanket. When we finally reached South Beach, she set out to explore every inch of the house and yard, more excited by the second. She helped me make dinner and sat by the table to mooch, just like good Sadie did, except the new pooch is taller. She can reach stuff on the table and the counter.
We changed her name a bit, making her Halle Berry Lick, because she's a foxy black girl like the movie star and we chased her around the house trying to take a picture for our announcement. I got more shots of her rear end moving out of the frame. Boy, you can't see a black dog in the dark, can you?
Halle, the dog, was a stray, and she is starved for affection. She came to the right place. She keeps bumping my hand off the computer as I try to type. I just type with one hand and pet her with the other.
Tonight I'll get Sadie's bed down and put it next my bed and hope this new dog will sleep through the night. I doubt it.
But let's face it. I'm talking baby talk again, I'm obsessed by this black creature wandering through my house and I want to send out announcements to the world. Tomorrow we'll raid the local pet store for new dog treats.
Sue and Fred Lick are pleased to announce the arrival of Halle Berry Lick, 53.7 pounds, tall enough to reach the counter. We're dog parents again.

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