In Place of a Third Child, a Puppy

New puppyI see them everywhere, these mothers I know who were once like me. For years, we traveled the same mommy road. Flush with first pregnancies, they floated through the aisles of the baby superstore as I did, studying their same tidy lists of must-haves and can’t-do-withouts, gazing with confusion at the rows of breast pads and onesie extenders.

They were with me in our novitiate, in the midwives’ waiting room, our bellies out to here, clutching our partners’ sweaty hands.

We cooed side by side in mom-and-baby yoga, shared stadium seating at the sandbox, compared kindergarten teacher notes. Together, we staggered bleary-eyed down the grocery aisles way too close to dinnertime, two kids each now hanging off the carts. We navigated the baby years, the toddler years, the soccer teams and sibling punchfests, these moms like me with the oh-so-sensible perfectly eco-conscious Seattle family structure — two kids, just enough to replace our own carbon footprint. No more, no fewer.
 
But lately, I’ve noticed a change — a separating. Baby carriers emerging from the closet; sweet newborn faces peeking out. Backseats of Subarus packed like sardine cans. Friends asking for that ancient baby gate back; they need it again.

While my husband and I are finally contemplating backpack camping and international travel with a 6- and 8-year-old, some of the parents we set out on this road with are U-turning straight back to diaper duty for the third time.
 
From the get-go, we agreed to two children. It seemed the perfect number, the smart number. Enough to fill a house and life with joy and purpose, but not too many to overwhelm other goals: career paths, financial stability, sanity. We agreed so harmoniously that when I consigned my husband, two months after our second daughter was born, to an appointment with the city’s infamous “Dr. Snip,” my main concern was how soon he would be able to load the dishwasher again.

I still feel content, convinced, with two. Really, I do. I love my grade-school duo. I love my freedom, my job. My sleep.

Yet despite my contentment with two children, a loving husband and a sweet old lady of a dog that predates my kids, I find myself readying for a new baby.

Not a human baby, but a puppy.
 
Against my husband’s better judgment, against the advice of my friends, and as if to throw a middle finger at the finality of that visit to Dr. Snip more than six years ago, I am having a puppy.

As of this writing, she is due to arrive tomorrow. Eight weeks old, all 10 fluffy pounds in direct contradiction of my rational judgment and the limits of my bank account. Peach-soft head, creased eyes, warm curled body.

Baby gates have reappeared in my house. We had long since handed ours off, so back to the baby store I journeyed one recent weekend, roaming the aisles of tiny sleepers and bottle warmers in strange wonderment, stomach-stroking pregnant women gliding past me like semi-familiar oddities from a bygone era.

Last night, I found myself on all fours, scanning the floor for any errant Playmobil head or Japanese collectible eraser that suddenly, again, constitutes a choking hazard. We have new stashes of disposable waterproof pads, age-appropriate toys and parenting books that emphasize the importance of early bonding and putting puppy on a schedule. My alarm is set for 5 a.m., when the baby needs to be taken out to pee. Frozen treats to ease teething wait in the freezer. The dog crate sits snug by my bedside, a metal reimagining of the cradle used twice before.

I am as filled with anticipation and unrest as I was nine months heavy with my first daughter, worried that I will be the most clueless mother in the world, hopeful that I haven’t taken on too much.

There are so many reasons why I tell myself I signed up for a puppy now: It’s great for the kids — it’s good experience for them to raise a dog of their own. It brings joy to our home. It buffers us from the inevitable passing of our older dog, who is nearing 12. It heals the hole left from the recent, painful passing of our other adult dog, who got cancer. There’s no more to it than this: the right time, a loving addition. Is there?

Maybe this is the best of both worlds. One last warm little body to cradle, but with the dog sitter on speed dial should we choose to make an eleventh-hour escape to California.

The birth pains should be the fastest they’ve ever been, in any case; the postnatal healing, a cinch. I’ll be running around the dog park in no time.

Whatever happens, after this, I’m done. For real. I think.

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