Baby vs. Puppy: Round II

Yesterday I started deconstructing the all-too-common “reassurance” that caring for a puppy is just like taking care of a baby!

Natalie - 1 week olds 088
If that face doesn’t say “man, this is pretty easy,” I’m not sure what does.  (Note baby facepalm).

In case it wasn’t obvious, my goal was to prove this assertion largely FALSE.  Those first two months of taking care of my first daughter were some of the most challenging of my life, made worse by the fact that she was born in Arizona in the mid-summer, rendering us essentially housebound.  That and the added bonus of postpartum depression kind of spoiled whatever magical experience I was supposed to have.  If this new puppy’s early days are going to mimic baby’s early days, I really need to restock the wine rack ASAP.

Please note that my baby observations are based on my experience with two relatively easy infants that are now almost 11 and 7 respectively.  The fogs of time may have dulled some of the more painful edges a bit.  The puppy observations are based on my now four-day stint as a puppy owner.

Sleep Quality:  Now sleeplessness is a topic on which I could expound for hours.  I was fortunate enough to complete my intern year as a pediatric resident in the “pre-80 hour workweek era.”  Like an old-timer waxing sentimental on hikes to school uphill both ways, my classmates and I can go on at length about how it used to be.  There were “days” that started at 5:00 a.m. and ended at 7:00 p.m.–the next day.  This could potentially happen every 4th day.  And WE LIKED IT, you young whippersnapper.  Post call days were an exercise in thwarting nature.  Every cell in your body screamed out for a nap.  I was generally freezing regardless of the temperature, because at about 24 hours no-sleep, I seemed to stop regulating my temperature.  I was generally mildly nauseated at all times, a condition made worse by the need for a steady drip of coffee.  I don’t remember hardly anything about the house we were living in during that intern year, I was generally only there to sleep.  I recall that it had excellent blackout shades in the bedroom.  All this is to say:  I know a thing or two about exhaustion.

BABY:  It’s the same, but you’re post-call every day.  I really don’t want to say anything more.  I don’t want to scare anyone too much.

Natalie - 1 week olds 018
The fabled sleeping baby in the wild.  Note heavy reliance on swaddle blanket.  Not pictured:  12 books on infant sleep that I studied with the devotion of a medieval monk.

Baby Sleep Quality Score:  0

PUPPY:  The first night that puppy was home, I slept poorly.  The breeder had reassured me that he and his littermates were only getting up once per night to “go potty,”  and he’d let me know.  (Aside–having never used the phrase “go potty” with either of my children, I now find myself saying it repeatedly in the backyard to the puppy).

sleeping-puppy.jpg
Spontaneous puppy sleep:  no assistance required!

I didn’t believe this, and therefore slept very lightly, if at all, and set an alarm for 1:00 to take him out in case he didn’t wake up himself.  That next day I was feeling pretty post-call. True, I’d gotten some sleep, but I’m no spring chicken any more.  Could everyone have been right?  Would I go through the next 2-3 months in a stupor?  The next few nights have proven very different.  I’ve allowed myself to sleep more soundly.  A puppy’s cry is just as effective as dragging me out of REM sleep as a human infant’s.  No need for hypervigilance and alarms.  For any concerned/hopeful readers, Jimmy does not awaken for a puppy’s cry either. So, I’ve been getting up once a night to take the puppy out, and allowing a little bit of crate-crying as he goes back to sleep.  Not once have I needed to spend hours rhythmically bouncing the puppy on one of those giant exercise balls, while QVC drones on about collectible presidential coins in the background for him to fall asleep.  So, is my sleep fabulous?  No, but I’m pretty sure that it never will be again regardless.

Puppy Sleep Quality Score: 7

Feelings of Accomplishment:  To me so far, it’s pretty obvious that  caring for a puppy, while comparable in many ways to infant care, pales in comparison.  The monopoly on my actual time, my sleep time, and my mental time just isn’t there like it was with my girls.  Maybe the balance is different for other people.  Maybe some new mothers aren’t as high stress as I was.  Maybe some puppies are a lot more difficult that this one has proven to be.  But some facts are immutable:

  • Babies are well and truly helpless for a long time
  • There’s so much societal pressure on how one “should” be doing motherhood
  • Babies don’t even so much as give you a smile until two months of age

All of this being said, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever feel the sense of pride and accomplishment around raising this puppy as I did around raising my girls.  I’m glad I had the babies, I’m glad I’m done with infancy, and I’m glad that puppy-rearing isn’t REALLY just like raising an infant at all.

Jimmy puppy
The two men of the house.

And Jimmy’s pretty glad too.

Puppy v. Baby: A Valid Comparison?

So, we got a puppy.  I always swore that I could never have an inside dog.  I grew up with barn dogs, and the concept of inside dogs just didn’t click.  However, I finally gave in.  I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so unprepared for something in my life.  A lot of of people have been comparing the whole puppy thing to having a baby.  This comparison is not doing a lot to increase my confidence.  Holy cow, it could’t be that awful, could it?  Well, here’s what I think about that comparison so far (3 days in…):

General Preparedness Needed:  I hate change.  I have a habit of greeting new adventures with nervous diarrhea calmed only by excessively reading about and planning for every eventuality imaginable (see reasons for taking so long to launch this blog.)  During most transitions in my life, I had a vague notion of what lay ahead.  High school into college:  there would be classes.  College into med school:  more classes, also cadavers.  Med school into residency:  patients and white coats, somewhat longer.  What about with the introduction of a new living organism into the household?

BABY:  When I had our first daughter, Natalie, I had been a pediatric resident for three years.  I was pretty clear about what went down during childbirth and the immediate postnatal period.  But once we took the baby home, I had NO IDEA what we’d actually do all day other than stare at this baby.

Natalie - 1 week olds 027
“She’s not jaundiced, she’s just Asian,” Jimmy said.

 

Having Natalie was like travelling to Mexico with four years of high school Spanish.  I had a working vocabulary and knew how to conjugate some verbs, but in in reality I was functionally illiterate.  All of the studying and life experience with other people’s babies merely gave me some familiarity with the vocabulary.  I knew about words like  “nipple shields” and “every 2-3 hour feeding around the clock,” and “jaundice.” Despite this theoretical knowledge, the reality of “no sleep whatsoever because you’re worrying during the intervening 2-3 hours,” “nipples like ground beef,” and “dude, you baby is so orange how could you not have noticed and her bilirubin is 23” hit me like a ton of bricks.

 

Baby preparedness score on a scale of 1-10:  2

Associated panic:  10

PUPPY:  To carry through the metaphor of high school Spanish, my knowledge of puppy behavior was limited to “hola” and “cerveza.”  I’d seen pictures of puppies, and I’d heard other people talk about them.  However, believing that I’d never be charged with caring for one myself, I remained blissfully ignorant.  The girls chose a puppy on a Friday that would be ready to come home the following Monday.

Puppy
“Hey, what could go wrong?” -Obbi

I had time to read a bit, but it only served to confuse me more.  I had no idea that puppies lost their baby teeth, that there is a verb form of “crate” or that an initial vet visit requires a fecal sample.  Despite this, I’ve found the past two days strangely liberating.  I’ve been woefully unprepared, but because I don’t know what to worry about, I haven’t.  And I’m choosing to ignore the advice of all but a select few.  Furthermore, my shocking unpreparedness did not translate into greater anxiety.  I think this is mostly due to the fact that my uterus isn’t attempting to disappear back into the general milieu of my abdomen as it was after the baby.  But it could also be due to the whole “ignorance is bliss” factor.  Or that maybe it’s a wee bit easier to fake it ’til you make it with the canine neonate.

Puppy preparedness score:  0.5

Associated panic: 1

Ease of Daily Maintenance:  I’m kind of a tasky individual.  I derive no greater pleasure than crossing things off my daily to-do list and have taken to the whole Bullet Journal thing like a house on fire.  How did the addition of the newcomers affect my daily productivity?

BABY:  Before I had the baby, I honestly thought that during my maternity leave, I’d catch up on a lot of neglected household tasks, like filing and sorting through the junk that my mother had finally cleared out of my childhood bedroom.  At the end of said maternity leave I’d added unfilled baby-books to the stack of unaddressed paperwork, and I still have a couple of cardboard boxes labelled Angie’s junk languishing in the basement.  Man, those babies can’t do ANYTHING for themselves!  People say, “all they do is poop, eat and sleep!”  But they don’t do a darn bit of it on their own!  Even the pooping can require assistance (bicycle those legs, ladies!)!  It was hard to accept, but during that especially difficult first two months, I started making to do lists as follows:

  • Keep baby alive
  • Walk from couch to bathroom 3 times
  • Consider showering
  • Bonus task:  unload dishwasher

Baby ease of use score:  0.5 (points awarded for independent respiration and digestion of food)

PUPPY:  Guys, puppies can walk.  They defecate ON THEIR OWN.  They have teeth and only eat TWO TO THREE TIMES PER DAY.  I’m finding the most burdensome task is watching the little guy like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t pee somewhere in the house or get into other puppy mischief.  That and picking up his toys that my now-older baby and her sister leave lying around the house.  Today I both showered AND I’m writing a blog post.  Because we hope to have an agreeable, pleasant pet in some years’ time, I am spending time socializing him (chatting with the neighbors) and starting to train him (sitting outside with him in this glorious spring weather).  All in all…

Puppy ease of use score:  9

 

Tomorrow I hope to address the two final areas of comparison:

  • Interference with sleep
  • Feelings of accomplishment
puppy ii
Evelyn is much more helpful now than when she was an infant #delayedgratification

 

For those of you who’ve done both, what do you think of the comparison?  And why to people like to try and scare me so much?

Voice from the backseat: an explanation

For me at least, the most important, most memorable conversations seem to happen in the car.  There are no distractions, and there is no escape.  And it is usually impossible to sustain any meaningful / awkward eye contact for any length of time.  Since adding kids into the equation, the sheer volume of material that drifts up from the backseat is irresistible.  Some topics that we’ve covered include:

  • Who has more body parts, boys or girls?
  • Why can’t I have a phone?
  • Besides narwhal, what is your favorite marine mammal?
  • Would you rather bungee jump off a bridge or skydive?
  • Why can’t I have a phone?
  • Why did that girl in my class say that Hillary Clinton wants to kill all the unborn babies?
  • I don’t like to think about you having gray hair, because that means you’re getting old and are going to die.
  • Why can’t I have a phone?

The first conversation I remember having in the car happened when I was in the backseat of the blue boat of a Chevy that I remember as my family’s first car, although photographic evidence would suggest that dad’s orange Vega was actually the first. When we kids were little, mom would schlep us to the YMCA two or three days a week for what we affectionately called “gym and swim.”  We took infant and toddler swimming classes and then did various calisthenics and ran around while mom had a reprieve from the solitary confinement of life at home with a string of small children in the days before the internet and cable TV.  Once after gym and swim I must have been passing a lot of gas in the Chevy, because mom glanced at me in the rearview mirror and asked if I had to go B.M. and I had absolutely no idea what that meant, and how could I possible be involved in anything so official sounding?  We were driving toward the old post office in Janesville, just down the street from the Y, and maybe that pseudo-Greek building dominating the view out the windshield added to the feeling that this was Truly Something Big.  Anyway, that’s my first memory in the car, with its white vinyl upholstery and wide bench seats and the smell of chlorine in my hair.

What is your best car story?  Earliest car memory?

Rhubarb: Harbinger of spring

I’m sure that I ate rhubarb before that, but the first time that I remember eating it was with my Grandpa Bier.  I was trailing him as he puttered out in the yard, surveying the first blooms of spring and pointing out where things were coming up.  We stopped by the row of rhubarb plants and he cut me off a juicy, ruby red chunk to taste.  I did–and it was awful!  He laughed as I puckered my lips and spit out that rhubarb.  He cut some more, discarding the large, flat leaves that he warned me were poisonous (how could a plant be simultaneously poisonous and edible?), and we headed inside to deliver the bounty to Grandma.

rhubarb plant
Young rhubarb in the garden.  The pink stalks are edible, but stay away from the leaves!

Rhubarb (and asparagus–its cousin in the odd world of perennial vegetables) holds a dear place in my heart.  As soon as the first hint of spring arrives, it races to assert its presence in the barren garden.  It is consistently and reliably the first edible of the season, and as such deserves to be celebrated!  In addition, when sweetened up a bit from its native form, it’s plain old delicious.

rhubarb prepared
Prepared rhubarb.  Chop rhubarb as you would celery.

Most people enjoy rhubarb in baked preparations.  Rhubarb crisp and rhubarb pie (with or without strawberries) are always popular, especially when served warm with vanilla ice cream.  I recently made this recipe to great acclaim.  I only used about half of the tapioca called for, because I like my fruit pie a little bit runny.  I also substituted a crumb topping for added flavor and crunch.   Another go-to sweet preparation is as a sauce, kind of like applesauce.  You can simply cook it down by simmering with a bit of sugar and water over an hour or so.  Adjust the sugar to make sure you don’t drown out the flavor of the rhubarb with over-sweetness.  Many recipes that I’ve tried err on the side of being overly sweet, so make sure to add less sugar than the recipe calls for and adjust up as necessary.  Remember, too, the the cooking process itself will cut a bit of the tang on its own.

tapioca

 

Rhubarb actually holds a lot of moisture, so don’t forget to add a thickener to your baked preparations.  The pie recipe above uses tapiocs, which is usually on a highly (seldom-accessed) shelf in the baking section.  Minute tapioca doesn’t muddy the sauce of the baked good quite as much as flour, so I prefer it, especially in fruit pies.   If you use minute tapioca to thicken your pie or crisp, try breaking down the large beads in a coffee grinder or spice grinder first.  If you don’t have one, let the filling sit mixed up for about 15 minutes or so to allow the beads to soften.  Then add them to the pie shell.

Rhubarb makes a nice savory sauce or glaze with lighter meats such as pork or chicken.  You can even flavor homemade or store bought barbeque sauces with a rhubarb sauce or compote to get some of that delicious spring flavor.

I’ve tried some rhubarb jelly recipes, however I find that the flavor of the rhubarb gets lost under all of the sweetness necessary in the preserving process.  I prefer to freeze rhubarb sauce to enjoy its flavor throughout the year.  But really, the best way to enjoy it is fresh from the earth as a celebration of warmer days to come!