That Time I Asked My Tween If We Could Have Another Dog

Having her boyfriend move in was a big deal for the writer, and an even bigger one for her daughter. Would a foster pup help ease the transition?

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Every season, as I peer out the window of my therapist’s office at the trees in Central Park, I wonder if I’ll still be talking about the same stuff when they turn colors, then bare, and then lush again.

I can tell you, after 30 years, the answer is “probably.”

“I, uh, got an email about a dog,” I told my therapist over the summer, sheepishly, and then quickly looked at her. “I said no. Of course.”

I had this weird feeling, like a recovering alcoholic talking about being in a bar. Not that I’m addicted to fostering dogs. I just like to do it—too much.

I used to foster a lot more dogs when I was living with my husband and child. But when we split up (my husband and I. My child and I are still together) and my life was an amorphous mass of chaos peppered with lightning bolts of panic, I stopped. Not officially. It’s just that moving apartments three times in four years and with three existing dogs and said child, and no money and working on ten million projects, I would’ve had to have been an idiot (well more of an idiot) to introduce a needy rescue dog into the mix.

But things began to calm down, and the siren song (bark) of those dogs who needed me came calling. I found a lovely boyfriend and he and my daughter were getting along pretty well, and he loved my dogs and walked them a lot. And we were planning for him to move in … when my daughter was ready… when the thought of telling her didn’t make me hyperventilate.

My therapist asked me if I had wanted to say yes to this dog.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, “No question. It’s this cute tiny girl who kind of reminds me of Beatrice.” (I rescue Boston terriers and every dog that comes my way reminds me of a dog I’ve loved and lost.)

“Why don’t you do it?” She said, adding, “I’m not saying you should. Just asking why wouldn’t you?”

“Because that would be crazy,” I said. I thought of my mother and my aunt, like Woody Allen’s mother in New York Stories, screaming at me from the sky telling me I was crazy. My aunt had actually said, “I’ve had a lot of sympathy for you going through all of this, but if you take on another dog, I won’t.” That’s tough love in my family.         

My words sat in the air. I continued, “I don’t know why I want to do it, I just do.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s something you’re very good at and you’ve been very successful at and you aren’t feeling very good and successful these days.”

“That’s true. I’m not”

“It’s not crazy to want to have that feeling.”

“Well there’s something else, too,” I added, “I think it might help Violet (my daughter) feel okay about Dan (my boyfriend) moving in. I don’t know.”

When I first brought up fostering again to Violet, she wavered. Sometimes she wanted to foster and sometimes she really didn’t. At 11, she is so much wiser than I am. She expressed concern that we’d become attached to the dog—and then keep it. And we agreed that our dogs (we were down to two now because of a car accident that took my little Bea the summer before) felt like enough.

One of the thoughts floating through Violet’s mind was that Bea would return to us in the form of another dog. Maybe she would. Or maybe the pup would be Otto. Or Moses—or one of the others.

But my gut was telling me that we should seriously consider taking in a dog for a while, and include Dan in the decision, that it would somehow help us work through the transition of moving in this strange new person. Violet wasn’t the only one wrestling with that.

The nice thing about dog rescue is: If you want to foster, you never have to wait too long for the chance. In a week, I heard about a pair that needed to be fostered together, an older sick male dog, and a young female who was being surrendered by her owner because she fought with their new Yorkie. I was worried that my slightly aggressive dogs would terrorize the older sick dog and fostering two seemed a bit overkill even to me. But the female, Cleo, looked like the love-of-my-life dog, Moses, and seemed like the best fit for dipping our toe back into fostering. Violet agreed, Cleo was the one. We could take her; I promised we wouldn’t keep her.

Cleo came on a Saturday when Violet was at her dad’s. An unbelievably cute black- and-white-faced Boston, she was housebroken and completely nuts. Which I get: Imagine you are taken from your home by a stranger, transferred into various weird cars, and then end up at the place of a new stranger and their dogs. It didn’t help that Cleo came from a small town, and that I live in Manhattan with the sirens and the honking and the lack of grass and she had every right to be going as ballistic.

Dan and I did proper street introductions. Strangely enough, my dogs backed off—it was Cleo who acted aggressively. We thought maybe the quiet apartment would help her, so we set up her crate and a barrier between the rooms. I stayed on one side with her and Dan stayed on the other with my dogs—when my dogs are separated they have kind of that “hold me back” syndrome. Like: “If this gate wasn’t here I would cut you!” Mostly I’m describing my dog, Wisteria. Fiorello, the coward, would bark bark bark at her, but then run away. 

After about three hours of this, they appeared to calm down enough that we let them be together—while on leashes. The experiment wasn’t exactly a success. Dan suggested we cancel our dinner reservations.

Then it all came back to me, the first moments of a dozen foster dogs gone by, and I remembered: I HATE this. It’s like throwing a lit newspaper into the middle of the gasoline-stained junkyard. A junkyard that you live in. And you don’t know where the flames are going to start. And you think to yourself, Do I really need this?         

But a long 24 hours later, as Cleo curled up in my lap in the kind of deep sleep that only a dog post-trauma can have, I was reminded why I keep doing it.           

Later that day, Violet came home, and declared that she wanted to take care of Cleo. It had been decided that Cleo would be her responsibility. She would love her and play with her feed her and have her sleep in her room. I heard her talking to her, soothing her, telling her not being scared even though she was living in a new place, assuring Cleo that we are nice people, that sometimes things feel scary until you get used to them. I patted myself on the back so much I almost broke my shoulder. How much of a genius was I? Maybe I should teach a class about how to integrate your boyfriend into the lives of your children. I should definitely write a book about it. A podcast, too. No, wait—a TV show! Oh, where to put the Emmys?

We set Cleo’s bed beside Violet’s. Cleo got in. Violet got into her bed and I sat in there for a few minutes basking in the glow of love of girl and dog and amazing mother. I walked out of the room to see if Dan wanted to hear what a genius I was. Except that Cleo followed me out.

So I walked Cleo back into Violet’s room and Cleo climbed back into her bed and Violet was still in hers. And as you might expect, when I left the room, Cleo followed me out again. This happened about six more times until finally Violet scolded me. “Mom, this is stressing me out! Can you just take her with you?”

And just like that, my Emmys were gone.

Over the next few weeks, Cleo got better, and oh, God was she cute. And my dogs hated her guts. They would have written “Cleo Sucks” on the wall by her food bowl if they could have. So I started the process of looking for her furever home. I posted her picture on Facebook and about ten people wanted her. One person was the mother of twin girls who’d been in Violet’s fourth-grade class. I had a special place in my heart for those girls because they’d bonded with my daughter during a particularly difficult year, as the twins’ parents, and my husband and I were going through our respective divorces. Their friendships helped get them through.

The mother came to meet Cleo without the girls. It was on the DL because she didn’t want them to get excited if it wasn’t going to work. But it was love at first sight, and the girls fell fast in love, too. A week after they took her, I got a text from the mom saying she had initially believed Cleo was to be a pet for the girls, but now she realized it was she who was in love with dog and couldn’t imagine life without her.

I knew exactly what she meant. I always thought it would be “good” for my “kid” to have a dog … or five. But I was the one who walked them and fed them and made up songs about them … and told them that other dogs didn’t like them because they were jealous of their great beauty, and pretended they got phone calls from top model agents begging them to be in their dog magazines. My kid liked them well enough but it wasn’t “her” thing like it was mine. I was, let’s face it, dog crazy.

As far as easing the transition of my boyfriend moving in, Cleo was cute and distracting. But I don’t think she made a difference. My ex-husband was probably more helpful than Cleo, being supportive and friendly with the newcomer. And Dan made it easy. He never pushed himself on Violet—and buying her the occasional iTunes card didn’t hurt.

It’s been three weeks since Dan has moved in. Which, sadly enough, coincided with his mother going into hospice care near her home in Iowa. Dan went to be with her and has been there with her ever since. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.

Yesterday Violet and I returned from her dad’s to the news of the #snowpocalypse.

“Isn’t Dan flying home tomorrow?” She asked, concerned.

“No, honey.” I had spoken to him and it didn’t make sense for him to return right now. He could work from Des Moines, where he has an office. “He’s not going to be back for a while.”

We’d made a calendar before Dan moved in, of the times he would be traveling for work, which was frequent. I thought somehow seeing that he’d be away for chunks of time would make his moving in easier for Violet. Now she was looking at it.

“Oh,” she said. “Well I’m glad he isn’t flying in this weather. But I miss him.”           

I welled up when she said it. Yes, because I missed him, too. But I was also so moved that somehow at this moment, the whole thing was coming together.  

And I know that’s not the end of the story.  I expect there to be ups and downs because that’s how life goes … and because Violet is a ‘tween.  But just now for this second, I might have a shot at those Emmys. 


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