About a year ago, Ethan began asking for a dog. I didn’t see how I could grant his wish, especially since we travel so often to Dan’s in Philadelphia.
“If I drove it would be different,” I explained.
What I didn’t say was that when I was still married to his dad and we had Casey, a sweet lab mix, looking after her had been really hard on me.
Casey was very much Richard’s dog. Her devotion to him ran deep and was monogamous. She and I liked each other, but we were more like roommates than family. Regardless, I did most of the caretaking because, well . . . Richard was an expert at talking me into doing things for him.
At seventy-plus pounds, Casey was simply too large for me. When something grabbed her attention on walks she pulled — hard. I told Richard I wasn’t steady enough on my feet to safely walk her. He answered that I was letting my cerebral palsy get the better of me.
“Ninety-nine percent of your limits are in your head,” he claimed.
One afternoon, as we walked through the park, Casey yanked towards a squirrel. The next thing I knew, I was face down on the cement, and a stranger was crouched beside me asking if I knew my name. In the distance, I could hear a siren, though I didn’t realize the sound had anything to do with me. I ended up with ten stitches in my head and a purple bruise that covered half my face for weeks afterward.
Richard remained cavalier.
“You were using the wrong kind of leash,” he said.
Finally, when I was pregnant with Ethan, I insisted Richard take over Casey’s walks.
For a while Richard did his best, but when I left my job during the last weeks of my pregnancy, he saw it as an opportunity to sleep a little later in the mornings.
“You’re home anyway,” he reasoned, despite my protests. “Besides, that’s my kid in there. He’s as sturdy as a rock.”
At that point I swayed like a Weeble. Only, unlike Weebles, I could easily fall down. Still Richard often got up too late to walk Casey. Ignoring city ordinances, I took her without a leash. Fortunately, she never strayed too far ahead of me.
After Ethan was born, Richard frequently stayed late at work or went out afterwards with friends.
“Casey needs a last walk,” I’d remind him when he called to tell me his plans.
“Just ask Bruce or Jeanne to do it.”
Bruce and Jeanne lived in our building. We weren’t close friends, yet somehow they were willing to do me this favor. As gracious as they always were, I felt like a beggar every time I called them. Yet, with a baby to put to sleep, I had no choice.
“Let me know how I can reciprocate,” I’d say, though there wasn’t really anything I could offer them.
Once the evenings warmed up I invented The Pajama Stroll. I’d get Ethan ready for bed then tuck him in his stroller so he could fall asleep during Casey’s walk. At home I’d transfer him to his crib, trying desperately not to wake him.
When we separated, Richard took Casey with him. How he juggled her needs with his own no longer concerned me. I felt cool and indifferent towards dogs by then. Cute as they were, they seemed like nothing but trouble.
This feeling finally changed when Dan came into my life, along with his wonderful guide dog.
I love Chandler for the work he does, allowing Dan to lead a busy, vibrant life while keeping him out of harm’s way. Not only that, once Chandler’s off duty, he’s loving and playful, not just with Dan, but also with Ethan and me. It surprised me to discover that I not only miss Dan on the days we’re apart; I miss Chandler, too.
Still, as Ethan continued to campaign for his own dog, promising to walk it, feed it, and take full responsibility, I resisted.
“You can think of Chandler as your dog,” I tried.
“It’s not the same and you know it.”
I did know it. On the weekends that Ethan isn’t with me, he’s at Richard’s. Casey died two years back, so he no longer has her company. I understand how good it would be for Ethan to have a pet that would live with him in both homes. As an only child of divorce, it would give him some much needed consistency.
I talked to Richard about taking on a part-time pet and to Dan about how we’d handle Chandler and a puppy. I went over it and over it in my own head, haunted by my old life with Richard and Casey. Clearly, I had trouble setting limits during my marriage. But if parenthood has taught me anything at all, it’s how to do just that.
Ethan had a birthday coming up — his twelfth. He was old enough to be held to all his promises. In doing so, I’d not only be teaching him to be responsible, I’d be keeping myself from the trap I’d fallen into with Richard. I like to think I’d also be helping Ethan learn to be accountable to the future women in his life.
The next time Ethan asked for a dog I could tell from his resigned tone that he expected my usual response.
Instead, I told him, “We have to find one that’s small enough to carry onto trains.”
Ethan stared at me with wide startled eyes.
“That means it couldn’t weigh more than ten pounds.”
Grinning, he threw his arms around me. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But then, am I ever?