Puppy Love

Giving birth to my daughters came with its share of surprises, including some of the questions asked of me by strangers. The first time someone said, “Where did you get her?” it took me a full minute to realize that the lady cooing over my child assumed that she was adopted.

Both of my daughters carry the beauty of my husband’s Korean heritage. If he’s not around, people wonder where they came from. They guess it’s not from me.

Although I know the question is posed without malice, after a few months of sleep deprivation, I was tempted to answer each “Where did you get them?” with either (a) “Walmart” or, (b) “I ripped them out of my uterus and I have the scars to prove it.” Usually, I held my tongue.

My second-favorite new-mom question was, “Is she a good baby?” That one stumped me almost as much as the first. There’s really only one possible answer, right? You can’t say “Actually, no.”  (In my groggy state, I wanted to reply, “She’s mostly good –except for when she’s smoking stogies in the basement.” Or, “Be careful. She bites.” My husband was not amused.)

Of course, I know the expectations behind the question of “goodness” in a baby. “Good” babies sleep through the night, don’t cry, and have the right number of wet diapers. They eat when they are fed, and are content when they are not.

If you have a child — if you’ve ever met a child — you can see how ridiculous this sounds. By that logic, there are no good babies. We might as well start saving for therapy now.

So why does the question persist? What are we looking for when we ask if a baby is “good”? Because, honestly, the nurses told me in the hospital that the return policy is fairly rigid, even when they do wake up ten times a night.

In the last few weeks, I’ve realized that a “good” baby is a lot like a “good” puppy. (That may be because we just got a puppy and he eats up most of my day, including the time I should be writing. Or sleeping. But, obsessive components aside, bear with me for the comparison.) A “good” puppy is housetrained, follows commands, and doesn’t eat your shoes. The problem is that all puppies have week bladders, excessive spunk, and an instinct to chew everything. They can’t be good. They can only be puppies.

Babies and puppies — and novels under revision — are too wiggly for precast molds and static definitions. Just when you think you’ve got the nightime schedule down, there’s a growth spurt or a tooth pushes through. Everyone is up all night. If you teach Fido not to chew up your Manolos, he goes for the Guccis instead (In our house, it’s Payless and Old Navy, but you get the drift). Just as you iron out your plot, a main character jumps a bridge or steals a heart or drowns in a February lake.

The ultimate failure of “good” is why we, as a species, resort to Puppy Love, that head-over-heels blindness to faults, an amorous inattention to pimples, an ability to overlook the hidden backside of Cute. Puppy Love keeps us from drowning in the failure of unreasoable expectations. It exposes our definitions in the places where they fall apart.

We love babies and puppies and newborn novels because they have such potential.  Anything can happen. Two a.m. is a time of undreamt revelations, small curling fingers, contented puppy “huffs”, the sudden conflation of language into a story’s heart. “Good” cannot capture such marvelous unwinding. It’s too small, too fragile, too cramped with the banal.

My kids sleep through the night now, with the exception of occasional nightmares. The puppy doesn’t. Neither do the stories. None of them listen to me particularly well, and though there’s no cigar smoking in the basement, there are lots of broken, spilled, and gnawed up days.

If someone looks at my daughters now — or my dog, or my book — and asks, “Is she good?”, I know exactly what to answer:

“No, not at all. She’s so much better than that.”

Though, if I get another “Where’d you get them?” I’m going with “Ripped out of my body.” It has such writerly flair.

What do you love with blindness and gratitude for all its wondrous mess? Who or what is the object of your truest Puppy Love? Please share!

20 thoughts on “Puppy Love

  1. Oh my goodness, I stumbled on one of my pet peeves. I hate the “Is she/he good?” question almost as much as I hated it when my (older) relatives said “good boy” or “good girl” to my kids (like they *were* puppies performing). As you say, babies, puppies, even grown up people just ARE. We shouldn’t need to do or be anything. I agree with your answer about your daughters with the good question — who even asks that? YIKES. (as for the adoption question, I used to get that question with my son — a towhead — because my husband and I both have brown hair! I was amused the first time but not happy the second and subsequent, so I can imagine how you feel. UNREAL.)

    • I love this comment, Julia — thank you. I love what you write about how “We shouldn’t need to do or be anything.” I’m going to repeat that as a mantra now that my husband is back teaching, and I’m here homeschooling, puppy training, and writing (??!?) on my own again. Ah, just be. Just be.

  2. Another wonderfully insightful post. What I am wondering is why our most scintillating comments are always the ones which reside only inside our own heads? You had me rolling on the floor with your internal responses to the well-meaning busy-bodies questioning the paternity of your children.

    Ah, but thank goodness for puppy love. In all its unimagined potential. Beautiful writing.

    • Well, I usually don’t think of my scintillating comments until a few hours after I need them. 🙂
      Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad I made you laugh!

  3. What do I love with blindness and gratitude? My very chilled Manhatten after my 3 cherubs are in bed….
    When Liv was born she had a very vivid angel kiss right above the bridge of her nose. I always loved when people would bring it to my attention, as if I really didnt know it existed. More than one person let me know that was a sign of eye cancer. To which I would respond “and that comment was a sure sign of your complete stupidity….”

    • Oh, Paula, I love your humor! I wish I’d thought of that response. Or had YOU with me at the time.
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I love the way you can twist and turn your experiences and spin them into such positive light! Your writing keeps me smiling and looking for the silver lining in all that I hear and see!

    • Thanks Trish. He is a handful, especially this morning! My inspiration today would have to be called “The frustrating dog walk.”

  5. Haha, the “Is she good?” reminds me of one of my other faves, “How’s married life?”

    I can’t tell you how much my husband and I were asked this in the year after our wedding. What did people expect I would say? The truth was that married life wasn’t much different from what we’d had before (especially since we’d lived together). And that wasn’t a bad thing–it was great and one of the many reasons we got married. But people kept expecting me to have had some sort of revelation.

    I am definitely much harder on my novels than I am on my puppy. At least my novel doesn’t look at me with sad eyes when I decide it’s time for some serious discipline. Who knows what atrocities it’d get away with if it did! 😉

    • Natalia,
      Oh, the crazy questions! I wonder what snarky responses we could devise for “How’s married life?” I think I’d go with something like, “The sex is great, but the morning breath has been rough”, or “You know, you’ll really have to check with my other husband.” Both would, I think, be conversation stoppers. Sort of like the time my 3-year-old was in the library and a friend said, “You look just like your daddy” and she said “Which one?” Man, I had a reputation in storytime after that.
      As for the novel, if it started looking at me with sad puppy eyes, I think I throw up my hands and go out for ice cream. That’s what I do when the pup drives me crazy. Or the kids. There’s always ice cream.

  6. Oh, my truest puppy love…must be my puppy. While I am often blinded with love and amazement when The Babe-O tells me something is “splendid” with all the gravity and earnest nature of someone older than her three years, it is Bailey that I remember as though I am wearing blinders. My rational mind remembers her chewing through my television and lamp cords and digging a hole 12″ wide straight through one side of my mattress, but my heart only remembers her as a trusted companion who would come when called and would hike these hills with me from morning ’til night if asked. All of the annoying puppy habits are now recalled as opportunities for my own personal growth (I never would have learned to rewire appliances without that dog) and all of her craziness vaporizes and drifts away. I do find this process unfolding with The Babe-O, too, but it is somehow different with the dog because my expectations were lower, or at least simpler. After all, I never expected Bailey to complete every page in the PuzzleBuzz magazine!

    • Chelle,

      Thanks for such a lovely comment. Bailey was a one-in-a-million dog — the first (and, for awhile, the only) dog I felt 100% comfortable with around my little girls. She was a rock star. I didn’t know she taught you how to rewire appliances. Handy skill! I may need you to teach me. Whatever did you do with the mattress?

      I love that our hearts remember the best! I think, like you say, that our expectations are much lower with dogs than with kids. Though wouldn’t it have been amazing if Bailey did finish a Puzzle Buzz! Babe-O, with her lovely genius, is teaching you to rewire a host of other things.

      My best parenting moments come when I am really in the moment, just living it. Then it feels as if the blinders fall away and I see my girls, in all their complicated splendor. I don’t think it’s possible to live in that space — unless you are a Buddhist monk, and then you don’t really have kids. Parenting is a wild ride. My heart always remembers the best in you.

      • Ah, yes…the parental rewiring. I think The Babe-O is teaching me to rewire my brain in a number of ways, not the least of which is that slowing down is completely permissible, if not favorable. She is realigning my circuits to accept an indirect route and sometimes one that ends in the failure to accomplish a goal, with the knowledge that maybe the goal wasn’t really the point in the first place. She is also reminding me of my love of language as she progresses through her own acquisition of words, engaging in brief, but intense love affairs with new favorites. “Splendid” is her beau du jour and lands in every other sentence or so. She is reminding me of the old Lance Conrad adage, echoed in this entry: Take the best, forget the rest. She’s not a “good baby” all the time, but that’s part of the beauty of her learning and growing to become a responsible person, sensitive to the needs of others. Sometimes she has to mess it up first in order to learn the right way to behave. I always recall her best and “the rest” fades quickly.

        As for the bed, I flipped the mattress and used the other side- another opportunity for a fresh start…and new sheets.

        • The Babe-O is a fabulous electrician! And word wonder. I’m certain my kids and pup are trying to teach me patience, but I am a slow learner there. Poor kids, poor pup! Thanks for keeping this conversation rolling, so I can keep learning new mama tricks.

  7. Fabulous post, close to my heart – even the where did you get her question, which of course, in our situation is valid, but still up for one snarky remark or another. I was told by our dentist that Jerry looks just like me and Yarrow looks just like Frank. Well, there ya go. But good? Of course not. Thank goodness. “So much more.” Thank you for that. Daisy too. I stopped the FedEx guy in the driveway to thank him for such a positive interaction with the dog, since we get so many people so disturbed by her attention and need for love. She’s a puppy people!!!! I think he thought I was a bit off, but that’s okay too. And funny. Thanks for all the giggles. I love how irreverent you are and love the image of your other half shaking his head at those comments. Keep writing this stuff. And I’ll keep lovin’ it!!

    • Thanks so much Heidi! Don’t those questions just beg for some snark!! I love your dentist right now.
      And you are so right — “thank goodness” we can break the harness of “good”.
      People always think I’m a bit off. It used to bother me more until I realized that, in fact, I am a bit off. Thank goodness! We can be “off” and “more” together!

  8. Lisa! I really loved this post. As you might remember from my blog I have three little ones and another on the way. What a good point about that question–“Is she a good baby?” Well, no—none of them are by the standard definition. I love how you relate it to the stories/manuscripts too.

    So glad we found each other on Twitter. Seems strange I didn’t “know” you already.

    • Nina,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your lovely comment. So glad to have met you! I’m looking forward to swapping more mama/writer/reader tales.

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