Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

July 16, 2001

The truth about cats, dogs and babies

What’s the difference between pets and children?

If you had asked me this two months ago, I would have said, “Easy. One kind sheds fur; the other kind dirties diapers.”

Adam and I are the sort of people who, before we had a baby, treated our pets as if they were children. We traded a nearly new queen-sized bed for a king early in our marriage, just so we could accommodate the dog and the cats with us at night.

We continue to do this, even though Adam is horribly allergic to both cats and dogs. The nighttime ritual goes something like this: Take anti-coughing pill. Huff on flying-saucer-shaped inhaler. Spray allergy medicine up nose, twice. Kiss goodnight. Sink into cloud of fur.

We love the animals. They’re part of the family, even if one cat is a surly bastard, the other cat is dumb as plankton, and the dog has a heavy-breathing problem that would get us arrested if she knew how to use a phone. None has the slightest respect for a sleeping baby. They’ve wakened Lucy more times than we can count, to the point where we’ve wondered, Is this their revenge against us, for bringing the small, hairless pet into the family?

Their faults aside, home wouldn’t be home without them. There’s something about the clicking of dog toenails following you about and the thwurr of a cat on your lap to remind you that your life is full. As full as your vacuum cleaner bag — and then some.

Before Lucy crawled her way into the world, I thought I knew how much you could love an adorable creature that depended on you for its survival. I took Misty with me everywhere I possibly could, and to a few places I probably shouldn’t. (Once, an anonymous colleague in a newsroom I worked in accused her of infesting the place with fleas. Impossible!)

When Misty had a tumor in her chest, and I had one in mine, hers came out first. Every time I had to tie her up somewhere — outside the grocery store, for example — I could feel my heart banging in my chest. What if someone stole her? What if some world-hating teen taunted her cruelly with a stick of jerky? What if? What if?

I was not completely insane in my fears. Misty is a superlative beast, more human than canine. She has a beautiful white face and Cleopatra eyes, and she can’t help but grin at everyone she sees.

When Misty, Lucy and I are out for a walk, passersby are as likely to say “Beautiful dog!” as they are to say “Beautiful baby!” (Why is it that no one ever says, “Wow, you’re one hot mama!”? I don’t think I really want to know.)

I had and adored Misty for eight years before Lucy came along. So it was fascinating to realize that as much as I love Misty, I love Lucy even more. It’s like Misty’s love for dog kibbles vs. her love for baked goods. Dog kibbles are great to have around every day. But the baked goods ... they’re enough to make a girl do crazy things.

And the truly strange part was that I felt this way, even early on, when Misty and the cats both showed a lot more affection than Lucy did. While Lucy lay on her back, blinking, the cats would both rub their faces on my shins. And while Lucy demanded special favors with my breasts, Misty would bring me gifts. Sometimes unwanted gifts, such as dirty diapers. But it’s the thought that counts, even if it’s a doggie thought.

Lucy’s rapid-fire development for the first nine months of her life helped her catch up somewhat to the pets. No, she didn’t amuse us by contorting into funny positions and licking herself. Nor did she fetch, purr or warn us loudly about the vicious deliveryman at the front door.

She could sit, roll over and gnaw as well as any of the animals, though. And she showed significantly more excitement than the cats at our presence, and almost as much as Misty did.

So, even though she was the favorite pet, she was still a pet. One who even shared Misty’s bad habit of begging for food. Once she started on solid foods, Lucy would scoot up, grab my knees, hoist herself to the standing position, and crank open her mouth every time I sat down for a meal.

I swear she learned this from Misty, whose first words were, “Hehh hehh hehh hehh heehhh,” which translates to, “No one ever feeds me. Won’t you help?”

The thing is, I feed both the baby and the dog quite regularly. But, suspicious beasts that they are, they believe whatever I’m eating is better, just because I’m eating it. So, I’ve taken to tossing them scraps. A little burrito for Misty, a little wad of rice for Lucy. No pie for either of them. It’s mine, all mine.

Recently though — just a few days shy of her 10-month birthday — Lucy has demonstrated that she is rapidly leaving the cats and dog in the dust. Her days of being the fourth pet, I am realizing, are over.

My evidence of this, not surprisingly, relates to food. While the cats and dog have never once let us forget a meal, while they hound us constantly for bites — beaming their sorrowful eyes straight in our direction — Lucy has started doing something quite curious. She has started sharing her food.

She takes great delight in taking handfuls of whatever she’s eating — pita bread, Cheerios, beans — and thrusting them upward. “Here,” the gesture says. “Eat this.”

Could this be altruism? Love for us? The desire to take what is hers and make it ours? Is she, I wonder, giving something back?

The pets have never done anything like this. If Adam and I died, they’d gnaw the flesh right off our bones, and then complain that we tasted stringy. (Except Misty. She would look doleful, and then thump her tail in solemn thanks afterward. But mostly because we finally didn’t stop her from eating the delectable thigh bone.)

Lucy’s gesture, I learned, after taking a bite of the very soggy hunk of pita she had thrust in my direction, had nothing to do with altruism. As soon as I ate it, she laughed and laughed, not unlike a cartoon hyena.

And that, I realized, was the really big difference between pets and kids. Your pets might eat your very flesh when you’re dead. But your kids do something much, much worse.

They recognize you for the hapless fool you are, so much in love that you’d eat their already chewed-on food.

And then they laugh at you.


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