My dog is my starter baby. By Jessica Valenti for Babble.com.Jessica Valenti
Monty cried the first few nights he was home. It was annoying, and I didn’t get much sleep. I am also not a fan of the peeing. I mean, it gets everywhere. The morning feeding and walking also took place about two hours earlier than I would have liked. I work from home, so I’m accustomed to waking up whenever I want, not being forced awake by crying. Between you and me, sometimes I just let him whine and sleep the extra hour.
Luckily, Monty is a miniature Australian Shepherd, so he doesn’t take much offense.
I never thought of myself as the kind of gal who would baby her dog. I bristle when I see women with their little yappy dogs in designer gear that I couldn’t afford for myself, cooing at them to “give Mommy kisses.” I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t think animals are like people, and I don’t think you should tote dogs around in weird pet strollers or papooses. And I’m feminist, goddamn it – we only like cats! Right?
But like it or not, Monty is my baby. My starter baby.
I never really believed in the whole “biological clock” thing. It was a patriarchal construction devised to control women, a bullshit standard made to shame those of us who had the audacity not to want to breed as soon as humanly possible. Then I turned twenty-seven – and all of a sudden, frigging babies were everywhere. I could have sworn that women were reproducing at twice the normal rate. I never remembered seeing so many babies on the street and in coffee shops; strollers and Baby Bjorns always seemed to be in my eye line. And, much to my horror, I wanted one.
I started to think about the relationship I was in and how it wasn’t necessarily conducive to child-rearing. After all, Brooklyn hipsters with coke problems don’t exactly scream “daddy material.” It wasn’t long before I ditched the boy and left my Williamsburg loft, which was locally famous for impromptu, late-night parties. But looking back, I know I didn’t want a baby in any real sort of way – I wasn’t about to go get knocked up or start hopefully asking guys on our first date what they thought about children. I realized that I didn’t want a baby, I wanted to baby.
Enter Monty. He came into my life via a very nice woman in Florida who let me adopt him after an arduous application process and hours of interviewing me and my family members. It was trying, but I’m betting it was easier than labor.
And I really must admit . . . the dog was a much better choice for me than a baby would have been. I get to let loose all of that mommy steam without the actual responsibility of a kid. It’s awesome.
Monty is furry and cute, and he will never go through a hateful teenage stage where he’ll roll his eyes at me and refuse to acknowledge my existence while in public. While he’ll chew the occasional computer wire or shoe, Monty listens to me and never talks back. He never cries in a supermarket or otherwise embarrasses me. I never have to scold him and look like a bitchy mom. And, perhaps most wonderfully, I don’t have to worry about scarring Monty for life if he catches me and my boyfriend having sex. In fact, he seems more intrigued than disturbed by the act.
Sure, I’ll be cleaning up Monty’s shit for the rest of his life, but I figure it’s small price to pay in exchange for not having to pay his college tuition. It only took a couple of weeks of getting up early and cleaning up pee that the whole baby plan was put off another couple of years.
It is, however, somewhat irksome that even as staunch feminists, my boyfriend and I have managed to fall into bizarrely traditional gender roles when it comes to Monty’s caretaking. I stay at home, coddling while blogging. I do most of the walks, the feeding, the over-excitement when he does something cute – which, naturally, is often. Andrew does the discipline, the training, and gives me a hard time for being too much of a softie. But I figure even our present Leave it Beaver model is a plus, as it gives me the opportunity to work out the traditional Mommy-Daddy roles thing before I breed for real. You just can’t lose when it comes to a starter baby.
Even better than missing out on potentially crappy kid stuff and getting unconditional love from a massively fun dog is the fact that my baby-tinted glasses are now pretty much gone. I like going to visit my young cousins, cooing at friends’ infants and then . . . well, leaving. I walk away, go home and no longer dream of toddlers with red hair. (I have a thing for gingers, so sue me.) I mean, it really only took a couple of weeks of getting up early and cleaning up pee – on my white couch, no less – that the whole baby plan was put off another couple of years.
And, dare I say it, I think having Monty will make me a better Mom one day. (Not soon, Andrew, calm down.) I’m more patient, more responsible, and much more realistic. Now if I could only resist the urge to dress Monty in a cute little sweater . . .