Today was an emotional day.
Charlie was my first dog. My parents hate animals, and we never had so much as a goldfish growing up. Lauren and I were considering a dog — and, in fact, only looked at condos in LA where they were allowed — shortly before our wedding in 2003. We went one day to look at a maltese (a dog I’m generally not allergic to), after Lauren saw an ad on Craig’s List.
We discussed beforehand, and on the ride to the home in Arcadia, that we weren’t getting a dog that day; we were merely checking out the experience of dog shopping.
That lasted until 10-week-old Charlie came bounding into the room. He ran around with impressive (even by puppy standards) energy, bit our fingers, and was generally adorable. $600 later, he was ours. He peed on my leg — just a little — on the way home. I was impressed to note that I didn’t mind too much.
Charlie was an early wedding present to ourselves, and we loved that dog like crazy. Lauren and I taught him tricks — Bang! (for play dead), Gimme Five!, Who’s The Man (for speak), roll over… We were impressed with Charlie’s learning ability. We snuggled with Charlie at every available opportunity. We bought him an insane amount of toys, especially ones that were meant to stimulate his brain (like toys with other toys inside them, or a ridiculous gumball machine-esque contraption that dispensed food).
Our dealings with Charlie were a remarkably prescient predictor of how Lauren and I would perform as parents. We aim to teach our kids constantly, we’re impressed by how quickly they learn, we snuggle incessantly, we buy them too many toys — especially brain stimulating ones. We often said that Charlie was like a practice kid for us, and we were more right than I realized at the time.
Charlie’s life changed when we moved from LA to New Jersey. He was diagnosed with diabetes, serious allergies, and other issues, and we soon began a regiment of twice-daily insulin injections, monthly allergy shots (administered by us), and a variety of other oral medicines. That cocktail of medicines brightened his mood considerably, and restored some of his vim.
But Charlie still wasn’t the same dog here in Jersey. Of course, we weren’t the same Lex and Lauren, either. That’s obviously because in October 2006, Anya was born. Our lives changed dramatically — and entirely for the better.
Charlie, however, received markedly less attention than he’d ever had.
Over time, partially as a behavior issue, and partially as a side effect of being a dog with some serious health problems, Charlie became more difficult. Peeing on our comforter, or in my office, or in the playroom. Or pooping on the playmat in the playroom. A lot. Note that his doggy door is right inside the playroom.
On top of that, Charlie also got mopier. With two kids, we really couldn’t give Charlie even a fraction of the attention he wanted. His bathroom problems, coupled with some other constant misbehaviors, on top of his daily exacting medical needs (injections precisely 12 hours apart chief among them)… These all added up to a situation where sadly we realized Charlie became more burdensome than anything else.
This, not surprisingly, was a very sad realization for us.
Today, after much reflection and not a little grief, we gave Charlie to a very loving family, where folks are always home (and not working), and the kids are a bit older than ours to boot.
Saying goodbye to Charlie was very difficult today. But seeing the family that took him, their excitement and eagerness, was quite reassuring. Giving Charlie away — admitting defeat — feels like a declaration that we’ve failed Charlie. And in some ways, we undoubtedly have.
Still… As difficult as our decision was, it was the right one for Charlie. Of that, I have no doubt. He’ll thrive on the attention he’ll receive there, and we’ll be happier andsaner here to boot.
In many ways, this to me is a key element of parenting. You need to make difficult decisions that you know are the right ones. (I’m not advocating giving away your kids. Rather, I’m just saying sometimes we need to make difficult or unpopular decisions — no Dora unless you eat your veggies, perhaps? — because even if they induce near-term grumpiness, they’re important and right to make. We’re still pretty bummed about the Charlie situation, but I’m honestly proud of us that we were able to do the right, hard thing.
Today, Anya and Lauren had a cute conversation.
Anya: I love my baby! (Referring to Sierra.)
Lauren: Should Mommy and Daddy have another baby some day?
Lauren: Do you want a brother, or a sister?
Anya: A brother. I already HAVE a sister!
Yesterday, Sierra learned how to clap her hands. Much like she did when she learned to wave hello, Sierra’s been celebrating her newfound skill nonstop. Watching her perfect her clapping would warm even the stoniest heart.
After Anya’s nap, I asked her if she wanted to go outside and read with me on the glider. She said yes. I asked her what we each would read. She told me I would read my “Candle,” which is frankly pretty close. Anya took her “Giant Book,” an oversized book of stories that playoff Disney classics. We sat there, swinging together on a not-too-hot, perfectly sunny day, reading next to one another. I got an email on my Blackberry while I was out there, from the family that had Charlie, reporting that he was playing happily on the beach with them all day.
Anya finished her book, and I was prepared to go back inside, even though I was fairly engrossed in the novel I was reading. Anya told me that, no, she wanted to read her book all over again. We sat there together for 90 minutes.
When we finally went back inside, I didn’t have to worry about Charlie barking at the sound of the door, waking Sierra from her nap. Even better, I knew that he was right at that moment having oodles of fun with his new family. But the best part of that moment was that I had just spent an hour and a half reading alongside my older daughter.
There’s a ton of guilt surrounding this Charlie situation. Again, though, I know that we made the right call with him today. Still, I prefer when the right decisions are the easy ones — like, say, reading outside on the glider on a perfect day.
As I wrote this post, Sierra started crying in her co-sleeper, and Lauren went up to comfort her. Moments later, I heard Anya, went to her room, gave her the water she wanted, came back downstairs, went back to her when she called again, soothed her again, and came down to finish writing.
I don’t have a pat conclusion to share here. I just know that today was a memorable one for me. We made an emotional but ultimately good decision regarding Charlie. Sierra seemingly applauded it. I shared a great moment with Anya. I’m not suggesting that I earned a parenting merit badge today. But I do know that one uniquely rewarding element of parenting is the constant awareness that you’re getting better at it.