First Date

Author’s note:  I kept trying to write this story, and there’s too many little detours that need to be mentioned.  So, I’m just going to write it as I’d tell it.  During the asides you have to imagine me holding up one hand, frozen, as if sustaining the main thread of the story, while the other hand provides colorful gestures.  Trust me it works and people love it.  I think.

 

I took the girls out to dinner the other night.  It was early, so the restaurant hadn’t really filled up yet.  We were seated in the back room, empty save for only one other family with kids;  we were in “kid wasteland.”  The other family consisted of what were clearly a new mother, her mom, and her babies.  They were tiny and new, curled up sleeping against the women’s as they quickly, anxiously finished a one-handed dinner.  Clearly this was a first “time out with the baby” experience, which they confirmed.  I was  immediately taken back;  except for the fact that there were two babies instead of one, it might as well have been me and my mom with a relatively new Natalie.

Aside 1:  The girls wondered how I knew that they were twins.  I pointed out that unless the grandmother had simultaneously had a baby (she heard that and guffawed) or that the family’s baby had already made a best friend of the same age, the best bet were that these babies OF THE SAME AGE UNDER THE CARE OF THE SAME PEOPLE were, in fact, twins.  I hear that parents of twins get asked stupid questions all the time.  “Are they twins?” is merely a variant of my 7 and 11-year-olds’ question.  Another favorite has to be when parents of a boy/girl twin pairing are asked if they’re identical.

 

. . . I would imagine that Natalie was quite a bit older than these little ones, maybe closer to a month, when we had or first date.  It took me quite some time to rally to the idea of actually facing the terrors of dining out with an infant.  That’s a realistic concern. However, heaping helping of postpartum depression added to my hermetic state.  Luckily, my mother is a professional “propper up of people,” and she spurred me on to a lunch at the nearest sit-down place:  On The Border.

Aside 2:  Natalie was born in Arizona in June.  This was fortunate for me, as my mother was still teaching school and could stay indefinitely over the summer break.  Lucky for me she did, as I really am not sure how else we would have survived.  Two of my most vivid memories of the time were staring out this one particular window, and setting a daily goal of emptying the dishwasher.  Postpartum depression is no joke, and my mom’s a winner.

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Mom and baby Natalie.  Note the St. Norbert College shirt;  I think she probably missed a lot of Pat’s stuff that summer.  Sorry about that one, Pat.

 

. . . On the Border is a chain Mexican restaurant, with the attendant loud decor and music.  It was the perfect place in which the cries of a baby would be lost in the shuffle.  I don’t remember what I ate, just the overwhelming desire to get to the part where they bring us the check!  My diaper bag bulged with enough supplies to sustain us for up to a month;  we never needed them.  She slept in her little carrier the entire time.  Thank you, On the Border!

Aside 3:  There are no On the Border restaurants in the immediate Milwaukee area, however there’s a strip joint a little ways off that bears the same name.  You really couldn’t mistake the two.  The different approaches to signage alone make this impossible (busty lady vs. cactus and lime).  Despite this, one of Jimmy’s coworkers once took her sister to the wrong On the Border for lunch.  Interestingly, they weren’t put off by the sign, the fact that all the cars were parked around back, the lack of windows, or the darkness of the entryway.  It wasn’t until they were asked to pay their cover that things finally clicked.  An honest mistake, I guess…

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This is a family blog.  No comparison sign will be posted!

 

. . . The memory so fresh and real, I asked if the girls and I could come over and look at the babies.  They were sweet and gorgeous, and their mother really looked fabulous.  Before I even realized that the words were there, I was asking if they’d had to spend time in the NICU?  Luckily the mother provided me with an out, replying that “yes, they’re pretty small aren’t they.”

Aside 4:  Despite truly being small, they really just had that slightly NICU-ish look about them.   I have a problem digressing medical, as I have all of this information in my head rattling around that’s not being used any more.

 

. . . The mom and grandma didn’t seem taken aback, though, and my girls hovered over them making all the appropriate cooing noises.

Aside 5:  My medical colleagues can attest to the fact that any babies that spend more than a brief time in the NICU tend to take on a characteristic look.  Part of it is the charmingly nicknamed toaster head, which develops when these little ones spend long periods of time lying very, very still on cribs instead of floating in a nice buoyant belly.  But the other part is my observation that they always seem just a little more tense, even in sleep, as if awaiting the next interruption as they go about the tricky task of sustaining life.

 

. . . It was no more than a minute or two, but the exchange was important to me.  For the new mom, it will either be lost in the blessed forgetting fog of first few months, or it will be one of the sharp memories that comes back unbidden.  The moments of early motherhood are mostly snapshots for me, but I got to relive a vivid one:  the first date.

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Another great date night with Evie. Their manners may still be in process, but they’re generally quiet!

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Anatomy: Part I

Lately when the moms get together, the conversation often veers to puberty and all of the super-fun conversations it entails.  My generation of moms came of age in an era when Our Bodies, Ourselves was easily available. Our girls have been armed with an array of pleasantly illustrated, affirmational books published by the behemoth that is American Girl. The conversations are still awkward and hilarious.

Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for the pre-teen drama with numerous well-timed, carefully paced conversations throughout childhood.  There was the summer when Natalie was six.  This was the year she’d learned to ride her bike.  She stopped dramatically one summer evening, made a big show of wiping her brow, and announced that she’d been riding all day, and “boy were her balls tired.”  

“Well, I imagine you’re sore, but girls’ potty parts aren’t called ‘balls,” mentally chastising myself for ever adopting the “potty parts” convention to begin with. “That’s the slang term for boys’ potty parts.  I guess that boys always like to talk about their balls, don’t they.  Did you hear it one the playground?

“Yeah, but I didn’t know…”

“Well, no big deal, but that’s why it’s always a good idea to test out new words that we learn on the playground with an adult first, OK?”

“OK,” zipping away for another lap around the cul de sac.

I felt pretty good about things, boy I’d handled that minefield with cool nonchalance, imparting valued wisdom to my daughter.  That mental gold star fell off a few hours later when she came home announcing that Gabe had to pee while they were playing in the woods, and he just went on a tree, and she’d seen his “ball.”  So close, my dear, so close.

 

“I Don’t Know How It Happened So Fast”

time

I always get a bit melancholy this time of year.  It’s ridiculous, because the changing Midwest landscape seems so exuberant and joyful, but there it is.  When I was a kid, sure I was happy that the school year was over and the summer stretched lazily out in front of me.  But the end of the year festivities always fell flat.  I think that part of this depressive tendency has something to do with the cumulative effects of six months of Wisconsin’s meager winter sunlight.  I suppose that biology played a role, but over time I realize that most of it is pure nostalgia. My response to this past weekend confirms that I just don’t handle the passage of time well at all.  All of spring’s celebrated milestones and kids moving on;  the reminders of the ephemeral nature of time are too much for my naturally angsty soul!  Here’s some of the most recent evidence (caveat:  I cry over well-written commercials, so take it with a grain of salt):

Things I cried about this weekend:

  1. Senior “memory posters” at the dance recital.  Every year, the graduating seniors get to put together a collage of dance memories and a few words.  I routinely stand in front of these posters dissolving into a weepy pile of mush.  The old shots of the round, awkward preschool versions in puffy tutus compared with the “now” shots of these lithe young women.  And I know that every girl’s parent says the same thing:  “I don’t know how it happened so fast.”
  2. Tiny confection-like dancers at the dance recital.  If the senior displays weren’t enough, I then am confronted by the puffy little preschool ballerinas being led clumsily onto the stage.  Their tutus as wide as they are tall, they routinely steal the show.  However, while the rest of the audience “Aaaaahs” over the cuteness and laughs at the one ham in the crowd, I’m left with tears silently streaming down my face.  In 15 years, the little bon bons’ parents won’t know how it happened . . .
  3. Graduation blessing at church.  I might have been able to handle this one, so staid and formal in nature, were it not for everyone whispering how they could “remember when they were just a little baby.”  Stop remembering that so easily!  It was years and years ago, that much time must have dulled your memories!  It couldn’t have just slipped by unnoticed like that!  Luckily, my choir robes are long-sleeved and highly absorbent of human tears.
  4. Facebook feed crammed with pictures of graduates.  These always do me in more than prom pictures.  The look has changed so little over time–gowns, mortar boards, awkward poses next to Sunday-best parents.  It’s easy to dredge of memories of all of those other graduation photos filed away.  I cans till remember the cheap feeling of my own high school graduation gown, how my high heels sunk into the football field over which a stage had been set up.  If I can remember THAT so clearly, it must have only been a few years ago, right?  Who are all these young whippersnappers messing with my sense of reality?  Cue waterworks.
  5. My girls’ birthday pictures.  So, I don’t know how to use technology.  I needed a tutorial over the weekend to figure out how to find pictures and export them to this blog.  It was ugly, and Jimmy has suggested that teaching my grandfather how to use the computer was easier than helping me.  Apparently I kept saying things like, “stop clicking so fast!” and “how’d you get there?”  It was not a pretty scene, but he was saved from utter spousal destruction by the discovery of girls’ birthday dress photo collection.  This is a little tradition we started of taking their picture in the same dress every year.  Please join me in rapturous weeping over the first and most recent editions of each:
  6. Free donut for National Donut Day.  I’m not even kidding.  Nobody be kind to me for the next couple of weeks, I seriously need to recalibrate.

And here’s the thing:  I know that all of these tearjerking examples have to do with kids getting older.  I’m not sad about that fact, not exactly.  I’m interested by them as they change.  I was never a huge fan of infancy to begin with.  I’m just petrified of the fact that it all goes so quickly.  I get sad every spring when the tulips drop their petals, every fall when the last leaf falls;  somehow I didn’t pay close enough attention.

How can we possibly pay close enough attention?

Hooray, hooray it’s the last day of May!

There are a lot of things I will miss about May:

  • First night sleeping with the windows open
  • First impromptu deck party with the neighbors
  • Daffodils, crocuses, and the tulips that weren’t eaten by deer and rabbits
  • Fresh rhubarb & asparagus
  • Return of Vitamin D to my system

This year, however, I am acutely aware of the ever-lengthening list of things I won’t miss about May.  In comparing harried notes with the other parents in my circle, it seems that I am not alone.  May is truly the most ridiculous month.  It surpasses even those months that require gift-buying, feast preparation, or costume-acqusition.  It is with a huge sigh of relief that I’ll turn over the calendar tonight.

Here’s some of the things I won’t miss about May:

  • The calendar.  There was literally NOT A SINGLE DAY WITH NOTHING WRITTEN ON IT.  The closest I came was this past Sunday which only had one thing:  “coffee hour at church.”  I phoned this one in and picked up a couple dozen donuts on the way in.  I was foiled by the fact that I had actually entered “coffee hour” in error and I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO IT.  May is so ridiculous that it actually seduces me into filling any void with imaginary tasks and appointments.  Every activity, every club, every class has an end-of-the-year celebration/performance/recital/picnic/cotillion.  They are all important in their own right, and if asked there’s no way I could choose any one to dispense with.  But taken en masse...it’s a form of water torture represented by single-folded programs dripped slowly into an accumulating mass in the bottom of my purse.
  • The cake.  Every one of these celebrations is accompanied by a sheet cake.   The kids haven’t eaten anything other than frosting with an occasional brownie thrown in the mix for the past 31 days.
  • The tease of summer nights.  It is next to impossible to convince the kids that they need to treat this halcyon evenings as school nights and GET INSIDE and SHOWER EVERY NIGHT.  It is next to impossible to manage the summer piles (grubby socks, miscellaneous neighborhood flip flops, outdoor toys, sidewalk chalk and strewn water bottles)  while simultaneously having to maintain focus on the school year piles (filthy backpacks, barely-held-together folders, lunch bags, instruments).
  • The wardrobe challenges.  The change of seasons is one of the things that I like about living in the midwest.  Sure it’s an added burden to have to turn over the closets and dresser drawers twice a year to accommodate the seasons.   Summer into fall is a treat, and I gladly pull out the boots and sweaters, luxuriating in the cable-knittedness of it all.  The shift from winter dressing into spring?  Not so much. The first time I slip on a pair of shorts in the spring is an exercise in mortification, my legs so white that they could be used to signal passing planes.  Everything is just so–EXPOSED.  Ugh.
  • The oh-so ironic fact that Mother’s Day is celebrated in May.  I move that we swap out to June, when we can truly breath a sigh of relief and enjoy our breakfast in bed without having to calculate how long it will take to right the residual mess in the kitchen before moving onto the next item on May’s agenda.  Who’s with me?  Let’s leave May to the Father’s and take over June.

 

 

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Better Understanding Through Musical Theater

When Natalie started dancing at age three,  I nurtured high hopes that she’d be the center-stage star that I never was.  She’s always been an interesting-looking, attractive child, so she had that going for her.  She loved putting on productions at home and has, by age 10, compiled hours of raw video footage of these various theatricals.  Heck, Jimmy even constructed a stage in the basement for her.  So when she showed an interest in dance, I was hooked.  

 

Early on she stood out as stronger in her class. She was quick to catch on to things, and I figured that whatever she might lack in natural ability we could easily make up for with focus and maternal time investment.   When she was asked, I encouraged her to join dance company, the competitive dance group,  and she did so, enjoying being challenged in classes and being part of a group that had to meet high expectations.  However, by the fifth grade it was clear to me that prima ballerina she would never be.  Don’t get me wrong–she’s made great progress and I love to watch her dance.  However, the very natural confidence that thrust her onto the stage to begin with seemed to thwart any efforts on my part to push her to get better in her free time at home.  All the girls who were advancing were doing so because of time spent stretching in front of the TV and taking extra gymnastics classes.  She had no interest and jealously guarded her playtime which was, interestingly, mostly spent putting on more productions.  At this stage she was at the dance studio 4-5 nights per week, happily.  I’d attempt to probe for any feelings of disappointment of generally being in the back row, not participating in any extra ensembles or solos, but none ever surfaced.  How, I wondered, could you be so dedicated to something and not desire to be The Best? I had a niggling notion that this question had more to do with my own neuroses.  So, I let my concerns ride and watched with increasing anxiety as she became more and more firmly ensconced as an ensemble player.  

 

Unsurprisingly, my concerns were laid to rest in the car.  One day we were driving somewhere and she asked,  “If you could play any part in “Wicked,” which would you choose?”    “Well, of course I’d want to be Elphaba!” I said,  “who would you want to be?”  I expected her to pick the comic lead, Glinda.  “Nessa,” she said.  “Nessa?” I asked,  “the secondary character in the wheelchair?  Well, why?” I practically sputtered.  “Well,” she said, “Nessa’s still an important part, she has a few lines and a few times when she’s most important, but the whole thing doesn’t depend on her, but she’s still a part of the show, which is really the funnest thing.”

Nessa

Asian Nessa, #goals.

Facepalm.  It took a musical theater metaphor for me to finally understand my daughter.  People were so busy likening her to me that I missed this vital way in which we are different.  So alike in our stream-of-consciousness flow of language, sarcastic wit, and appearance.  So different in our motivation.  She was doing dance because she liked IT, she liked being part of a group.  She was doing it to please herself.  She wasn’t doing it to get ahead or be The Best!  My god the child is in a mentally healthy place.  It’s taken years of therapy for me to even approach a similar mindset!

Better understanding through musical theater, and conversations from the back seat.

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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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“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?