Our family owns this wonderful PJ Library book “It Could Always be Worse”, and old Yiddish folktale retold here by Margot Zemach.
I believe that most Yiddish folk tales are charming and fun, but this one hit particularly close to home this week.
I assume most of you have probably heard the story; a man goes to his shtetl’s Rabbi for help with his cramped house/family/life, and the Rabbi tells him to move the cow into his shack…etc.
I have one son in particular who has an extreme love of animals. Let’s call him Dr. Dolittle for now. A dead squirrel on the road leaves him devastated. He is of course a vegetarian, and he once asked a zookeeper with full earnestness what would be required for us to take one of the giraffes home with us. As you can imagine, the appeals for a pet are therefore emotional and frequent.
This is the same child who made a successfully angelic and manipulative appeal for a scholastic book order, so you can imagine how it pulls on my heartstrings. Despite all of that, we aren’t getting a pet. It just isn’t going to happen. One day feeling quite worn down, I actually took Dr. Dolittle to the pet store so we could slowly rule out with good reasons why every animal there is inappropriate. Anything with a lot of poop to clean up is out of the question.( Seven children is enough poop. I say so.) Fish would die quickly and then he would cry. Birds living in cages goes against all of his animal sensitivities, etc. I actually considered a snake. As we went over to their cases he saw the terrarium filled with the cute (?) little mice right as he asked me what the snake eats. Dr. Dolittle burst into tears and that was the end of any and all snake conversations, thank G-d.
So I walk around with pet-depriving guilt, knowing that this child would have several pets if he had parents that had chosen to have a smaller family. This guilt must be why I had such an open mind when our dear friends told us they were leaving for five days to Disney and asked if we by any chance would want to take their dog in to live with us for the week.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give my son a taste of having his own pet, let him enjoy having an animal for the week. And of course, see how much work it is and realize on his own that I was right all along, thereby ending the pet discussions, at least for a few years. I asked my husband to make the decision along with a family vote, and it seemed like a decent idea to him too.
One month later, in came Dog.
Dog is very cute and sweet. A cute, sweet dog that is used to its own house and environment, its own people and rules.
The week began with the marking of territory – all over the house. I looked up the top two behaviors for dogs feeling separation anxiety, and it turns out they are urination and violence. We clearly had a healthy, normal dog feeling lots of anxiety on our hands. Love and patience was required, right?
I also realized for the first time this week why I never really used baby gates much (my kids learned to climb stairs at really young ages.) We chose to gate off the upstairs, containing the chaos and eliminating whines from children wanting the dog in their beds. When you have seven children and the laundry is in the basement, you spend a lot of time up and down stairs. With the gate up, I felt like an olympic hurdler. I don’t know how you pet owners do it. You must give up and let the dog go in the bedrooms pretty darn quick.
Then came the snowstorm. That is, the first one. Walking a dog at 11:00 at night in the freezing cold so that my kids can enjoy having a pet temporarily is one thing. Doing it in fresh snow is another.
At this point I began to realize that when I had a dog many – MANY – years ago, I think I actually managed to never walk that dog once. I have a newfound appreciation for the dog’s co-owner and for getting away with that! The dog went to Canada after only a few months, and I never saw her again. I am sure she never missed me for an instant. She is still there, now an extremely old dog, having been raised and cared for by the woman who truly loves and appreciates the dog.
Between Dog acting like, well, a dog outside of its own environment, and the snow we started becoming very aware of the insanity of the whole idea to begin with. This wasn’t an instance where I had convinced my husband of a crazy scheme or vice versa (as if that ever happens…) This had made sense to both me and my husband, for some reason.
And then the virus arrived. A nasty virus/flu that slowly got to every single family member. (Stepson was spared, having not been around that weekend. He is sadly but wisely staying away until quarantine ends.)
I was able to nurse the kids and the husband and manage the dog… for about half a day. When even Dr. Dolittle got too sick to walk the dog, then I knew we were really in trouble.
My husband dragged himself out of bed late in the evening on day three to try and finally eat something. I had run up and down the stairs all day – perfecting my olympic hurdling – dealing with whines of “Ima” and all sorts of lovely fluids – including the dog’s – to the point of complete exhaustion. I plopped down on the opposite couch, unable to move. Dog jumped up onto my husband and with lots of “gusto” tried to get my husband’s dinner. When that didn’t work, we received a lot of understandable, but extremely unpleasant, barking. That was it. We cried uncle.
Dog is now at a Pet Grooming Service where he has been in the past, awaiting his family’s’ return. We just didn’t make it.
So this morning when the second snowstorm in one week arrived, along with our third snow day in ten days, and I spent the day trying to keep my job(s), tend to a houseful of sick children and a sick husband and contend with the inevitable cancellation of the cleaning lady due to snow, my suddenly expansive house felt magically manageable.
Perhaps the next time you are feeling overwhelmed by your life you should take the advice of the old Rabbi in the shtetl from that story, and offer to move your neighbor’s dog into your house.