I have been spending a lot of time looking at dog poop with pride and admiration. If I am far away when the deed is done, I find myself going towards the scene of the act to make sure I get a good look at the crap. I have set an alarm to wake up at 2am and then at 5am, but in both instances I wake up before the alarm rings and roam around the home searching for someone on the floor. I sit on the swing in the lawn outside and talk to someone who doesn’t really answer me yet. But she will soon, I am sure of that, just like my human babies eventually began to respond to my gibberish.
You have guessed it right—I am a first-time pet-parent. To keep up with our reckless adventure-embracing ways as a family, we adopted a puppy and a kitten together and I feel like this moment might be the before and after point of my life. I am in love with these baby animals and I am riddled with nearly unmanageable anxiety. In the outside world, I am still managing to pass off as my usual self, but at home I have become unrecognizable. I have asked my children for help. They are helping me.
Each of our three children had wanted to adopt a dog or a cat when they were little but it is the youngest of the three who has finally held our hand and guided us to this point. She has remained focused on what she wants, and year after year, she reminded us that we had promised to bring home our animals when she was old enough. She turned 11 last month.
“Beta, if we bring a puppy home, I suspect I will fall in love with her so obsessively that you guys will wonder where your mother went," I have often warned my children in response to their entreaties. I had never had a puppy before, so I don’t know how I knew that the presence of any animal in my life would unleash my latent neurosis. I mean love, of course. Exaggerate its characteristics and being in love makes you appear a little mad, doesn’t it?
As a pair of new pet-parents, my husband and I are back to our old ways, especially as we try to toilet-train the puppy and regulate mealtimes. We disagree about everything and then we realize that we are actually saying the same thing. We wear each other out and then we realize that we are dependent on each other for support when we feel worn out.
“If this is how you scold her," he says to me, when I am trying to sternly tell the puppy to not treat the cat litter as her favourite snack, “then she is certainly going to keep repeating this behaviour to hear your tone again and again."
“If this is how you scold her," I say to him when he is trying to train the puppy to not piddle in the living room, “then Aliza and I will have to leave home and camp outside the local temple with a begging bowl."
“No need to be so dramatic," he says.
“Only if you also promise to be less dramatic," I say imploringly.
This is just like the early days with our human babies, I think to myself again and again. When the pup and the kitten have had a full meal and are snoozing contentedly, I feel physical relief. I return repeatedly to stare at them sleeping and finally settle down near them, even though I thought I was desperate for a break from them. Of course, I take multiple photographs of both of them as they sleep.
“Feed them less," my father says over the phone. “They are always sleeping in the photographs you send. What’s the point of a dog who can’t keep awake?" I am mortified at the thought that my father imagines this precious puppy as a future worker. I know I panic-feed her and I worry about how much they sleep too, but that’s because I have temporarily lost my mental balance. I hope to recover from this incessant anxiety.
Within days of having our life disrupted and cancelling our family travel plans for the next many months, I find myself wondering how I could have spent so many years of my life without allowing myself the gift of loving an animal.
On the surface, it seems that the presence of these creatures in our home means that we won’t be able to do so many of the exciting things we had planned for ourselves. After all, we were just beginning to emerge from being a family with young, dependent children to a family of almost grown-ups, with each beginning to enjoy being independent of the others. Now we seem to have pressed the reset button again. Sleepless, stressed parents, siblings required to watch over each other and travel logistics so complicated that we might as well find ways to entertain ourselves at home.
As usual, I realize that less is more. These two new babies who seem to have thrown everything in disarray have also been responsible for bringing the family back to a common space, both mentally and physically. As I find myself coming apart trying to handle work, home and new pets, the children have stepped up.
I worry about my lack of experience with parenting a pet, but they just seem to know how to talk to and take care of them. Nurturing others expands our heart. A bigger heart means greater joy and more pain, both of which are exhausting.
Being constantly vigilant and mopping the floors has tired us, but we are also exhilarated. The main purpose of travelling long distances together had always been to find opportunities to get closer to each other and now we don’t even have to leave the living room to achieve the same results. Just as the puppy and kitten are learning to play with each other without accidentally biting each other’s head off, so are the humans in the family.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.