I read in a magazine in the therapist's waiting room that a sixtysomething couple could liven up their marriage by repopulating their empty nest with animal life. The article stated that a goldfish wouldn't cut it. You needed something you could cuddle and walk with, something you could, you know, love. Best move? Get a puppy.
I brought it up with the therapist. She said I must be crazy. I said, "I know, that's why I see a therapist." Nonetheless, six months later I adopted a three-month-old, female golden retriever.
Tom and I were not new to canine parenthood. We'd had a couple of dogs for ages. Then, last summer, just as Oliver (also a golden) turned eight years old, his sidekick Joe (a mutt) died at fourteen. He'd been a cranky ankle-biter, but nonetheless, his passing left us bereft.
While Tom and I rebounded in a suitable period of time, Oliver continued to lie in a depressed heap for weeks, crying in his sleep. So lethargic and forlorn, the dog wore down my resistance to the idea of finding him a new companion.
Tom was also lying in a depressed heap and crying in his sleep because he was about to turn sixty. I was not all that sympathetic: I had just turned sixty-five, for Pete's sake. "Cry me a river," I'd say.
But I did want to ease Tom's pain with a spectacular birthday surprise, and he was longing for another dog. He launched what he thought was a subtle campaign, posting irritatingly cute videos of puppies on Instagram every day.
I had many lively arguments with myself on the puppy subject, weighing the pros and the cons.
1. My Manolo pumps would be reduced to chew toys.
2. I would have to dress exclusively in running shoes and sweatpants, at least in the early months. (This is a look I'd sworn I would renounce at my age.)
3. I would have to spend hours every day teaching the dog where to pee—time I'd normally use for, say, a mani-pedi, or other worthwhile pursuits.
4. I was pretty sure that at least once a day I'd be scraping dog poop off my Nikes with an old toothbrush.
5. It would be I, not my husband, who would be getting the wake up paw-in-the-face at 6 a.m. and would have to cope.
1. I would get a lot more exercise, chasing the puppy up and down the stairs shrieking, "Potty outside!"
2. I could boss her around, which would satisfy my inner control freak.
3. People would find her so cute, they might think I was cute by association.
4. She would earn me lots of likes on Instagram.
5. My husband would be so grateful, he would buy me diamond earrings.
But it was none of the above that finally tipped me.
It was that Tom and I spend much time pursuing our separate interests: I like the theater and fine dining, while Tom likes sports and … well, sports. Raising a puppy would be something we could engage in together, adding new zing and complexity to our 25-year-old marriage.
Any doubts I had (oh, yes, I had plenty) were dispelled when I presented Tom with his birthday gift: He gasped with surprise and wept with joy. He loved her immediately and named her Cali, our California girl. He swore he'd be eternally grateful and would faithfully scoop the poop.
So, that was nice, but I soon found that I'd forgotten, in the eight years since Oliver's arrival, what the first couple months of puppy-rearing are like. As with childbirth, if you remembered how these things went down, you'd never repeat the experience.
Now that she's five months old, Cali's first days at home are, like Oliver's, mostly expunged from my memory. However, I do recall writing notes-to-self saying "Never do this again!" and "What the hell were you thinking?"
But we are now on the other side, through the gnarliest part. OK, so yesterday she chewed up our copy of Camus' "The Stranger," distributing its torn pages artfully around the living room. But Cali is now relatively civilized. She pees only on grass, walks nicely on a leash and will stay in a crate for a couple hours so I can get a mani-pedi.
I'm sure there will be annoying episodes to come—she has the makings of a world class counter-surfer—but now the delightful moments far outweigh the difficult ones. When Tom and I recently took our old and new dogs for a canyon walk on a beautiful, Los Angeles so-called winter day, it was kind of perfect.
"It's sort of like parenting again," Tom said happily, Cali trotting steadily at his side.
He's right, it sort of is. But raising a puppy is, of course, only a faint echo of what it was like with children. Still, it has its advantages. Unlike a kid, you can leash a puppy. Plus she won't need braces or SAT prep and she'll have a mercifully brief adolescence.
We'll see how this goes, but right now I can report that our nest, though covered with golden hair, is cozier than it was B.C. (Before Cali). Oliver is no longer in a depressed heap, but in a playful tangle with his little sister. Tom and I are warmed and energized by puppy love. Honestly, I would even say she makes us feel younger.
And guess what Tom gave me for Christmas. Yep—diamond earrings.