Some years ago, me and Mrs E came under a certain amount of pressure around the kitchen table, particularly from numbers 1 & 2, to get a pet. After a number of months of resistance, we finally agreed that we could increase the headcount in the family with a hamster, an ideal pet that doesn’t actually do very much, is almost entirely nocturnal, and enjoys biting humans. So we trawled off to the pet shop, and the boys, after being encouraged away from the snakes and spiders, selected their new best friend. (The NBF, by the way, maintained the BF element for about 5 minutes after arrival, which might have been predicted, and ‘Brains’ maintained a hermit like existence for his entire life, doing what hamsters do, which, from my experience, is as little as possible.)
Anyway, we had a fairly memorable exchange with the shop assistant, who gave us a light/medium grilling on the importance of being prepared in the art and science of hamster rearing. Would we, for example, like to read up on the subject, just to make sure that we were completely ready to manage a new pet in the house? Perhaps we could take away a £6.99 book and check the safety features in our home, then return when we were absolutely certain we could cope with the upheaval.
I remember this meeting quite clearly, partly because Mrs E, who doesn’t raise her voice in public terribly often, raised her voice in public.
“Look”, she said, and I remember, all around us, people began to do just that.
“I’ve raised four children without a manual, I think I can manage a hamster”.
And so she could.
I mention the story of Brains (RIP) entering our lives in this way because we’ve just welcomed in a small puppy which has taken over our lives far more forcibly than the hamster, or indeed, any of the children ever did.
Just to give you some context here, I work away most weeks, returning on a Thursday evening to help with the telling off duties, so I end up speaking on the phone to my wife a couple of times a day. And for the last three weeks, almost every phone call between the two of us has focused on bringing up the new baby.
“Whatever did we talk about before we had Luna?”, Mrs E said at the end of a call last week, as I imagined the children looking longingly at their mother, desperately keen to tell me about achievements at school, new girlfriends, enthusiasms for improving readings, exercise routines and what they wanted to do when they grow up. (As if.)
In truth, having children has just about prepared us for the challenges of bringing up Luna, and so here’s a bit of a brain dump on how:
We are, for example, the only people who have ever owned a dog, just as in our own self-centred ways we were the only people to have ever had children, and thereby we reserved the right to bring every conversation around to how beautiful they were, whether they were eating/pooing in the right direction, what they’d learnt to do, and so on. Twenty years on, I can just about face talking about how boring we must have been to those around us, and only really justify it in that I’ve seen every other new parent I’ve met since behave in exactly the same way.
We’re ‘socialising’ the puppy in the same way as we took the kids to the park, and we look at her in that sort of benevolent angst that all the other dog owners do. Isn’t it great, we think, when they’re playing nicely together. But if your puppy starts getting above itself, we’ll take ours away before you can say obsessivemiddleclassttwit.
And, in the same way as we spent hours poring over the early learning centre catalogue to get yet another worthy toy, we’ve filled Luna’s living space (which started off as a bed in the corner of the kitchen and has now spread to pretty much the whole of the house), with dog toys, balls, chews and goodness knows what else. And, just like the children, she dutifully ignores all the toys and contents herself with a cardboard box. Most of the children have grown out of chewing table legs, but #4 still gives it a go now and again, and it’s quite sweet to see them side by side, munching on bits of furniture.
Already, Mrs E has trained her to have a better sense of personal hygiene than #3, although to be fair that’s not too high a hurdle to jump. Luna does catch you out though – when you’re home from a run, for example, she greets you by licking you as a makeshift salt lick – delightful at first, but a bit off putting when you realise she’s just had same tongue inserted in her own bum, and before that it was licking bird crap up off the pavement.
There’s a fundamental difference though, in the whole bringing up puppies and children thing. When our kids were born, obviously we loved them to bits, but their faces all looked like something between Winston Churchill and The Hood from Thunderbirds.
So, looking down into the pram, you might be forgiven for the odd shuddering recoil.
Thankfully they’ve all grown out of this look, although #3 does give a passable ‘Never Surrender’ look in a certain light – God knows what he’d be like with a big cigar and a homburg. In contrast, showing someone a picture of Luna always gets the same reaction. Altogether now…aaaah: