Bringing Up Barkley

More than 30 years ago, before we were married, my husband and I decided not to have children—though we are most certainly parents. True, our kids get around on all fours, carry things in their mouths, and shed all year round, but ask anyone who knows us—our dogs are definitely our kids. Our most recent is white with brown spots all over, a "liver” Dalmatian we named Barclay.

Like most parents, we forgot what having a "little one” was like, but in our case our last little one came more than 15 years before Barclay, so we have a good excuse. Given that Barclay gained more than 20 pounds and 12 inches in height in less than four months, we certainly had no time to reminisce, but the undeniable signs of parenting were everywhere: the toy minefield to distract destruction, the baby barrier to curb curiosity, the chewy "allsorts” to tame teething.

Parents everywhere agree that raising kids is a learning experience—there are no manuals to prepare you for what’s in store. Even if a manual existed, each kid is unique. Every day that first year, it seemed, I looked at my husband in frustration: "I don’t remember Devon or Molly (our previous dogs) doing this! I don’t think Devon or Molly did this! Do you remember Devon or Molly doing this?” The truth is that Barclay reminded me, in a hurry, of the most important "how to’s” of parenting a new puppy:

How to describe the amount of pee ("like a horse”) and the consistency of poop ("loosey goosey”) puppy has successfully discharged on the lawn.

How to get a good night’s sleep while keeping one ear open to puppy, in case there’s any need to discharge at some time in the night.

How to clean up the discharge on the carpet so that puppy will never ever again be able to smell what he did there and will never ever again do it in that exact spot.

How to grab a nap when puppy does, because you’re exhausted from spending all of your time making sure puppy will become a well-adjusted adult.

How to retrieve wads of (unclean) tissues, paper coffee cups, and candy wrappers from puppy’s mouth while he demonstrates perfect dental occlusion.

How to apply plaster to the holes in the kitchen wall that puppy made (on more than one occasion) while having nothing else to do.

How to be thankful that puppy chose to teethe on the wooden arm of the chair rather than the newly upholstered seat, for which you paid $250 only a month earlier.

How to hurdle a baby barrier with a full cup of coffee in hand, without spilling, and still leave puppy behind.

How to show puppy that toilet paper streamers are not the latest trend in home decorating, despite having done so just five minutes earlier.

How to bear the holes puppy dug in the lawn today, because they could be in the flower garden tomorrow.

How to carry on a telephone conversation when puppy is pretty sure you wanted him to bring you the bath mat and the face cloth and the soap dispenser.

How to explain to your guests that, actually, the hundreds of short, white hairs puppy firmly anchored to their pants do not come off.

How to remember that, no matter how expansive your vocabulary or flawless your grammar, puppy does not understand English, and never will.

How to face the fact that perfectly trained and obedient puppy will soon be a teenager.

How to forgive your husband for talking you into puppy.

Barclay (and I) managed to make it through his first year alive and (almost) sane, though he was the craziest puppy we’ve ever had. It took a few more years for him to grow up, but now that Barclay’s six we’re enjoying the (relative) peace of his adulthood. Thoughts of doing it again? Like dust in the wind, like ice on a hot sidewalk, like gas in the car, like…well, you get the picture (at least for now!).