The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids

Don’t get a dog.

Life was good for Velvel. Then the kids were born.

Photo by Allison Benedikt

When I first met Velvel, he was peeking out from a cardboard box in the back seat of my boyfriend’s Saturn wagon. I was just back from a weekend away, and John had come to pick me up from the train station with the best surprise a man can give to a woman he loves: a puppy.

A puppy! Man, I loved this puppy. A border collie–American Eskimo mix (basically a shrunken border collie, but cuter), we named him after my dad’s Hebrew name, which is actually Yiddish and means “wolf,” though we didn’t know that at the time. He just looked like a “Velvel.” You know what I mean. (We get a lot of: “Volvo?” No. “Vulva?” No. Do you think we’d name our dog Vulva? It’s VEL-VEL.)

Velvel quickly became the center of our lives. Weekends consisted of taking him to the dog run or the dog beach or the dog park. I developed a very specific, high-pitched, raunchy voice for Velvel, because he had a lot to say. Remember when there was that big dog food scare? We freaked and started spending Sundays cooking huge batches of homemade dog food that filled our apartment with the disgusting aroma of chicken livers, broccoli, and bone meal. Velvel watched TV on the couch with us every night and slept on our bed. Sometimes I let him sit in the front passenger seat of the car and I took the back. We had a multistep system for brushing him out, which we did regularly and with discipline. We gossiped about the other dogs in our neighborhood and marveled at what a better and cuter and smarter dog Velvel was compared to them.

Then I got pregnant. Actually, pregnancy was fine. I still loved Velvel when I was pregnant. The night before I was to be induced, I thought more about how bringing a baby home was going to impact Velvel’s life than my own. “This is going to be very hard for him,” I told John. We’d have to be sensitive to his needs, we agreed. After the baby was born, we did exactly what “they” say to do: John took the newborn hat from the hospital for Velvel to smell, to prepare him for the tiny human heading his way. That was probably the last nice thing we ever did for him.

A friend of mine once told me that before he had a kid, he would have run into a burning building to save his cats. Now that he has a kid, he would happily drown the cats in the bathtub if it would help his son take a longer nap. Here is how I feel about that statement: Velvel, avoid the bathroom.

It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. And I am not alone. A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog. This is a near universal truth, even for parents with just one child, though I have more.

Here is a regular sequence of events at my house: I pick the baby up and he pukes on me. I run from the living room to the kitchen with the baby in one arm, trying not to touch his milk-dripping mouth to the left side of my shirt while I grab a paper towel to wipe off the milk-covered right side of my shirt, when I hear the sound of exactly 2,459 tiny fucking Legos crashing to the floor. My middle son has dumped out the Lego bin again. And my eldest (who is now 4) is yelling “ready for wipe!” from the bathroom. I think, “I’ve got to start trusting that kid to wipe himself,” just as the middle son, who is now sitting in a sea of Legos smearing Desitin all over his face, screams: “Velvel threw up!”

Don’t get the wrong idea: My life is not boring. There are variations to this lineup. Sometimes Velvel just whines. (I’m no dog whisperer, but this might be because he’s not getting any attention.) Other times I take him for a walk—it’s such a nice night for a stroll! You actually are a pretty good dog, Vel!—only to have him poop on himself. Like, he poops, and some of that poop gets stuck on his fur. Before we had kids, this was at least an occasion to give him a nice, calming sponge bath. Some warm water, a wash cloth, and soap would do the trick. Now I grab a pair of scissors and hack off a clump of his hair. All clean!

Did I mention he sheds? This is not his fault, exactly. But who else to blame when the new baby is covered in dog hair, or the older kids are making gagging noises while watching Jake and the Never Land Pirates because “there’s something in my mouth.”

There’s also all the other stuff, like having to walk him every day, and the fact that he loves to start a manic barking fit just as one of the kids is about to fall asleep. (We bought one of those collars that shoots “a harmless burst” of citronella at his face every time he barks. It worked for two days.)

Recently I took Velvel for his annual checkup. He’s 13, does not get enough (any) exercise, and has gained a fair amount of weight in the past few years, as we’ve started doling out the dog treats quite liberally because it’s the only thing that shuts him up. The vet ran some blood tests and called with the results a few days later. Velvel’s liver levels are a little off, she told me, but why don’t we try medicine first before discussing other options. The vet delivered the news gently, as if I might start sobbing at any moment. All I could think was, “I can’t remember if she said liver or kidney.” And then the baby spit up and I had to go.

There are many lessons I’ve learned from my parents, but one in particular I wish I had followed. They didn’t get a dog until my sister and I were grown. They loved him like a dog should be loved until the day he died. He never got less cute to them. I never heard them yell, “GOD WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS UNDER FOOT?” They never regretted him.

I cannot in good conscience tell you every thing I think on the subject of my dog Velvel. Yes, there’s more. I can only say this: To all you young couples, thinking, “We should get a dog!” “I love you, let’s get a dog!” “We’re not ready for kids, but what about a dog?!”—don’t get a dog. Or, if you do get a dog, don’t have kids.