When my wife and I brought home our first puppy a few years ago — a French bulldog named Scout — several friends asked if we were making a trial run before deciding to have a baby. (For the record, no. We got a dog because we wanted a dog.) Now that we have a baby, though, if I mention that little Hazel does some of the same things that our dogs do, people give me dirty looks as if to say, “How dare you?” Why are people so horrified about comparisons between babies and dogs?
Maybe I can clear things up a little. I’ve been a dad for more than 20 months now (which is, like, 2 in baby years), so I feel confident in declaring that HAVING A BABY IS LIKE HAVING A DOG. Can you believe I just said that? Blasphemy, right?
First of all, if the “getting a dog as a precursor to having a baby” thing is only about a general increase in responsibility, then why is it that, before you have children, when you and your significant other buy a plant for your apartment, people don’t ask, “So when’s the baby coming, huh? Well?” (With the exception of your overbearing relatives who keep giving you and your spouse weirdly inappropriate gifts of “sexy” underwear — they’re going to assume there’s a bun in the oven if you so much as buy a jar of pickles.)
If mentioning dogs and babies in the same sentence makes you squeamish, then we just need to look at some basic facts. Once you bring your new little one home, your life will be consumed with waking up every night to deal with crying and poop, going to the doctor for check-ups and shots, and trying to get your restless little monster to go to sleep.
Wait, I got distracted for a second thinking about pickles — was I talking about a baby or a puppy just now? Huh? Well? Exactly.
A year after Scout came along, another Frenchie — Pippin — was delivered by the proverbial seabird. (I always pictured a stork, but I’m pretty sure this was an albatross.) Those boys are relentlessly willful. On every walk, Scout tries to make a break for the nearby dog-run. Pippin takes any chance he can to eat acorns off the sidewalk. Both would tear across the street to chase a squirrel. That’s why we have leashes for them.
Once Hazel learned to walk, she also needed to be restrained — and for pretty much the same reasons. There are leashes made for toddlers, too, but most parents are mortified by them. I mean, it would be a disgrace to treat a baby like a dog! Well, I hate to break it to you: we already treat babies like dogs. If you still need convincing, just consider these questions:
• What’s the difference between a baby-gate and a dog gate? Answer: whoever is on the other side.
• What’s the difference between a dog toy and a baby toy? Answer: where you bought it. Hazel loves dog toys, while Scout is never happier than when he’s prancing around with one of Hazel’s stuffed animals in his mouth. To be honest, I can’t tell which toys are whose anymore. They all rattle or squeak, and they’re all designed to be chewed on.
All of that aside, I think I know what’s at the heart of this matter. People don’t want their precious children compared to dogs, because dogs are animals. Filthy animals! They eat things off the floor, they lick everything, and pee anywhere. Babies, on the other hand, are pure and clean like little angels.
Okay, so babies do those things, too, but never mind that — the idea is that dogs are inherently dirtier than humans. They get fleas. They sniff each other’s backsides, and worse. Still, since Hazel arrived, she’s been regularly licked on the face by these guys. She runs around with food in her hand — she has a nibble, and then Pippin takes a bite. Everything that’s unsanitary about dogs, she’s been exposed to it — and yet she has never caught mange, or the plague, or whatever you get from dog germs.
Funny thing, though: every time we come home from Toddler Time at the local gym, her nose turns into a geyser erupting slime all over her face for days. For all of their unsavory habits, dogs seem pretty clean. Toddlers, though, are disgusting, germ-ridden petri dishes.
If you believe babies are cleaner than dogs, stop by our apartment at dinnertime. Scout and Pippin lick their bowls clean, then switch and inspect each other’s dishes just to be sure. The baby? Well, by the time dinner is done, she looks like she got into a food-fight with Jackson Pollock. Mostly she doesn’t eat — she must absorb nutrients from food through her hair.
Are animals really that dirty? Sure, Scout and Pippin will eat cigarette butts off the sidewalk, but at least they didn’t leave them there to begin with. After living in New York City for a good 10 years, and also spending a lot of my childhood hiking in the Adirondacks, it’s clear to me that the wilderness, where animals live, is much more beautiful than the garbage dumps where people reside. We like to pretend we’re superior, but no amount of deodorant or exfoliating face-wash can change the fact that humans are the dirtiest animals on the planet.
The other morning, after Scout and Pippin wolfed down their breakfast, I gave Hazel a handful of Cheerios, which she promptly dumped into a just-used dog-food bowl.
“Why won’t this child eat?” I grumbled. But then she carried the dog dish up onto the couch so she could eat her Cheerios out of it in complete comfort. I winced at the sight, but instead of taking the bowl, I texted Hazel’s mom at work to give her the morning’s update. The replay came back: “Hey, at least she’s eating.”
Tim Perrins is a part-time stay-at-home dad who lives with his wife, their toddler, and two ravenous dogs in Park Slope, Brooklyn. More of his thoughts about babies and other things that confuse him can be found at www.Revolt
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