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Monday, December 3, 2012

Dirty Dog Dilemmas

 “It’s all we can do to keep our kids alive,” Russ jokes-but-not-really, because he’s telling the truth.

Kids and pets are a lot of work, and because we already have so many kids, we made the choice to be a pet-free home. Every so often, the kids will beg for a pet, but we’ve had too many failed attempts in our personal pasts to go down that path again.

I had a pet during my first marriage. My then-husband had raised dogs for hunting and for shows when he was young, and he said he felt his life was incomplete without canine companionship.

“I don’t know, dogs need a lot of attention, and we’re never around,” I’d said.
He assured me we’d figure something out.

“I don’t know, dogs are pretty hairy. Wouldn’t it shed everywhere?” I persisted.
He assured me there were special breeds that didn’t shed.

“Yup. They’re called,” he paused.

Was it for dramatic effect, or was it to send up a silent prayer for forgiveness for the words that would soon leave his lips?

“…Labrador retrievers.”
“Gosh, I didn’t realize they didn’t shed. Well, in that case, okay I guess…”

And THAT is how a ten-week-old polar-cub-white pup named Stoli joined our family.

As it turns out, Labrador retrievers DO shed.
They shed A LOT.

Every day I would sweep that house—several times—cursing the heaps of fluff and marveling that the dang dog had any fur left on his little body.

“Oo-la-la Labrador retrievers are magical mammals that don’t shed,” I’d mimic, muttering just out of earshot of both man and beast.

Fed up, I finally put the dog outside in the backyard. It was a lovely backyard with tons of room to run around. We’d built him a house. He had a kiddie pool filled with water if he wanted to take a dip, and a big tree if he wanted to nap in the shade.

I checked on him periodically.
He seemed happy.
He was filthy!
The house, on the other hand, was spotless. It was great!

We developed a routine, we did.
On the days the man was home with the pup, the dog stayed in. Dirty house, clean dog.
On the days I was home with the pup, the dog was out. Clean house, dirty dog.

Now before any dog-loving pals disown me, you should understand that my reluctant attitude toward dogs is not my own fault. It’s the way I was raised—and years of behavioral conditioning can be difficult to reverse.

I wasn’t always opposed to dogs. In fact, I remember begging my parents for a dog.
My mother said no.
It seemed that the cleaning lady was deathly afraid of dogs.

“Would you rather have a clean house or a dog?”
“Well, I want a clean house, and we can’t have both.” And my vote counts double, she did not add.


So eventually, when my marriage ended, I got custody of the kid and he got custody of the dog, which we both felt was fair. This meant I could have Clean House all the time. In theory, anyway.

Our house isn’t spotless all the time, but we don’t have a dog fur problem, either.

My whole life, I’ve been told that nobody can have it all, and this has proven true in the case of Clean House, Dirty Dog.

I suppose you could make it work if you’re willing to spend all of your time cleaning up after the dog, in which case you’ll probably go crazy. I’m guessing that would have its own set of drawbacks.

Clean House, Dirty Dog is not an isolated phenomenon.
I’m finding this Stay-At-Home Mom adventure is following a similar course.

We wanted our kids to have nutritious home-packed lunches, home-cooked dinners, an opportunity to play and participate in activities after school, a clean and organized home, and an available parent when the school nurse inevitably calls, but we found that we didn’t have time when we were both teaching. Now that I’m home, we have all of the above, but with one income, we don’t have money for restaurant meals or pretty much anything beyond our basic needs.

The first month was exhilarating—the challenge was fresh, the coupons were plentiful, and the bank account was still robust.

The second month was a bit discouraging. I ran out of Clinique Sparkle Skin—the best exfoliator in the world—and I really, really had a hankering for Kenny’s Wood-fired Grill and those perfect little seared tenderloin morsels atop crisp rounds of crostini with dollops of béarnaise and a delightful demi-glace that you’d drink from a mug were it socially acceptable. I also discovered the downside of the Dollar Store—some things aren’t really a value, and some of the products aren’t even worth a dollar.

I was so frustrated about the things I wanted but couldn’t have that I wasn’t mindful or appreciative of the blessings I did have.

Yup, that second month was a doozy.

Here we are at the end of the third month, though, and things have leveled out. I’ve found a sense of balance, and with that, a sense of peace. Like the Dirty Dog Dilemma—and like almost everything in life—nobody can have it all. Choices must be made to support priorities.

Our family chose this path, and we knew it would come with sacrifices. If Clinique and Kenny’s were so important to me, I could have chosen a different path. It’s comical to picture myself saying to the kids, “Sorry, guys, but you’re going to have to go to afterschool care for the rest of the year—Mommy needs Sparkle Skin exfoliator.” When I allow myself to visualize that alter-universe, it helps focus the lens on my genuine priorities.

I know I’m not alone in my out-of-balance situation. I suspect that there are lots of people out there who are fighting a battle between what they want and what they have. There are probably dog-lovers out there who are frustrated by their fur-filled homes, but oh how empty their hearts would be if they were willing to part with their pups. For them, it’s better to find peace with the “extra décor”.

If you ever find yourself in the style of dilemma, my advice to you is this. Take a moment to reflect on what you do have and what you might lose if you pursued that other tempting possibility. Most people default to good choices, I think, and you are probably already surrounded by all kinds of wonderful things that might be sacrificed if you pursued other options. You’ve probably already made the hard decisions; it’s just a matter of acknowledging to yourself that you chose this path because it supports your values.

And if, during analysis, you discover that your path doesn’t support your values, remember that you always have the opportunity to change.

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