Everyone. I have a big announcement that I’m really excited to share.
My boyfriend and me had a baby.
Thank you! Yes, we’re excited. Yes, we’re thrilled. Yes, it’s been a challenge. Yikes, how could it not be, right? (El oh el!) But it’s so worth it every time we see the face of our little boy: Dexter. He’s adorable, rambunctious but sleeping through the night. (Thank god.) He’s a cuddle-bug who can drive us batty with his feverish teething – the flip-flop casualties are too many to count – but is learning to harness his energy and is already behaving much better during the daytime, when we leave him at home to go to work.
Wait, don’t call DSS: Dexter is a dog. (A whippet/terrier mix, to be specific.) But in the world of young couples, that’s sort of the training bra for parenthood, no? Not that I’m in a rush to have an actual child, the increasingly clamorous ticking of my nonexistent biological clock aside. In fact, after three and a half years together, my boyfriend and I still don’t live together. (Though we might as well, given how often we cohabitate.) In that regard, ours is a modern co-parenting arrangement.
Actually, I’m not among those that consider a pet a substitute child. There will be no birthday parties (at least none at Chuck E. Cheese) and I will not be spending more money on doggy sweaters from adorable South End boutiques than I do on charity donations. But there is a lot of responsibility inherent in raising a puppy, and as with parenting two-legged creatures, the experience hasn’t just been about the ward in our charge: it’s been about us too, and how to build an even stronger relationship.
It has helped us establish a work-life balance. My boyfriend works in PR, and I’m a self-employed writer. (Yes, the kind that actually has work, thank you.) These are jobs where “end times” don’t exist; you’re always working when you are your own livelihood, or when the livelihood of a business depends on your immediate accessibility to the whims of media. But, unless you want to live in a den of smeared poop and ripped bed sheets, the dog must be walked when the dog must be walked. Feeding, walking, playtime, vet appointments: being forced to carve out time to work together, the type we can’t shrug off, can only be a good thing for a relationship.
It has helped us appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a new light. That sounds pat, but it’s true. I appreciate his flexibility; taking advice from doggy day care experts and learning new methods to raise the child into an upstanding (or rather, heeling) member of dog park society requires a willingness to accept that, no, you don’t know everything. (This is something I can struggle with.) He, on the other hand, appreciates my stubbornness – I mean, steadfastness – in a new way. (I assume.) It comes in handy when unbending repetition (and refusing to cave to puppy eyes) is necessary to train.
It has opened us to a community within a community: gay couples who prowl the parks (I mean that in a non-sketchy way) with Fido, and are eager to make conversation with others in the same aren’t-they-a-pain-but-I-love-them-anyway situation. The mommy bloggers lunching at Flour can talk about feedings and fitting in diaper changes around yoga time; we can talk about which of the Real Housewives our dog’s personality most resembles. Kidding. Maybe.
And it has helped us experiment with the idea of a family unit. Starting one is still a long way off, but here’s something. And with same-sex couples, it can be especially helpful to dip a toe in gently; we have fewer family models to look to. (Though that has changed immeasurably, to be sure.) Maybe I need a little reassurance that I can cut it as a family man, even if my family won’t look like the majority.
Okay, I don’t need that reassurance. (I’m stubborn, remember?) But many people may. But when I’m crowded a bit more on the couch lately, with a loyal pooch looking at us with all that love in big brown eyes, it’s hard not to remember that this is how every child, furry or not, sees his parents: with unreserved adoring love. It’s only the rest of the world that can tell him or her that their unit is unworthy, and threaten to tear it apart.
And if anyone tries that when the real child arrives, be careful. There’s a big bite waiting for you. And the dog might snap too.