Give and take

On my birthday morning, I was jumped on in bed by two big, hairy males. That made three big, hairy males in my bed. They were all warming me up. I felt loved. Two of them started licking me, ferociously – ‘a little too loved,’ I told them. One of them then got the hiccups and with each of his breaths, I felt as if I was being knocked a little bit sideways.

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As I lay there all loved up and having been woken prematurely by two of them I had time on my side, I set off thinking about the similarities between toddlers and dogs. Because years ago, it wouldn’t have been dogs jumping on me rather too early in the morning, it would have been kids.

We got the dogs at a time when our lives had settled into a very pleasant routine of weekend lie-ins and leisurely baths. Wine in front of the fire, sprawled out on a shaggy, cream carpet. Teenagers who happily stay in bed and don’t start demanding anything until about midday. No more baby shit to clean up, projectile vomit was a thing of the past and a thing of the future. The here and now was pretty easy.

The thing is, I don’t do, ‘easy’. I need to have constant challenges in my life. Three kids just wasn’t enough and I was fortunate enough to have four. Four kids under 5 satiated me for a while, but then I was on the prowl for something else. Competing in Taekwon-do for England hit the spot. Now, years later, it’s dogs.

Dogs and toddlers wake you up too early. Dogs and toddlers piss on the carpet. Dogs and toddlers interfere with sex. I can no longer lounge on a cream carpet, casually putting my wine glass down on the floor. My bowl of nibbles is not my own. I have a pair of soulful eyes looking at the crisps and then at me, and when I turn my back, bam the crisps are gone.

Life is suddenly a bit of a challenge again.

But just as I learnt some tricks on how to deal with the demanding toddlers, so I am using the exact same survival techniques with the dogs. Put them in the car 5 minutes before you intend to leave – it’s all about head space. No squeaky toys for the same reason. Make sure there are toys in their beds for them to play with first thing. Take them out of the house and exhaust them – there should be soft play for dogs.

Of course, just like the toddlers, I wouldn’t be without them. The unconditional love they give, is worth the challenges they provide. We all need a purpose and without these constant little challenges in our lives, we would flounder in an abyss. I do wonder, however, how parents of toddlers and dogs cope. There’s a challenge I am happy that I never have to face.

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The Streak of Shame

People are always stopping and admiring our dogs – mainly because they are big, white and fluffy. Everyone who stops for a chat tends to say the same thing: must be a nightmare in the mud. Bet they don’t stay white for long…

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Actually though, what I’ve come to realise, is that the main problem with them being white isn’t the mud – it’s that it shows up the piss when one pees on the others’ head. Men of a certain age may suffer the dot of shame after a wee. Our dogs suffer the streak of shame on their head. It’s when an admirer’s hand comes in for a rub of their furry top knot – it’s always too late to say: noooo!! Similarly, when they’ve just rolled in fox poo. You try to give people the heads up, but sometimes they’re just too quick and before you know it, they’re in there with their hand, sometimes hands, giving a good old rub. Then they’re off into Waitrose, to rifle through the loose mushrooms and pick out the best peaches.

On our walk this morning the dogs ran off across the rec. “Come on boys!” I shouted – my usual cry. “We’re going as fast as we can!” came a reply from my right. I turned to see a group of about 8 elderly gentlemen with rucksacks and walking boots on, smiling at me with cheeky grins. 

On yesterday’s walk my flip flop, that had been well super glued together since dog 2 chewed it a while back, broke. A fellow dog walker questioned my walking bare footed amongst thistles, stinging nettles and dog shit. “You need a pair of Crocs!” she said cheerily. “There is no way on god’s earth that I would EVER be seen dead in a pair of those bloody ugly excuses for footwear!” I replied. As we walked away I noticed that she was wearing a pair of purple ones. Oh crap, I thought to myself. Something bad is going to happen to me.

Not long after this encounter I trod in a small pile of fresh turd. Croc karma, I guess.

Oh Crap…

For the past three days, dog 1 has had the shits. I say, ‘days’, but this obviously includes nights and I’m bloody knackered. It’s like having babies all over again. Wtf…the kids are currently in 6 different locations, none of which are here, but still we get no peace to do anything remotely romantic, except pretend to be asleep when he needs letting out again at some ungodly hour. Talking of which, to all mums with young kids: what are your top tips for getting out of the middle of the night/very early morning wake-up call? Do you take it strictly in turns with your other half? Or, do you have a special duvet over the head technique you’d like to share with me? I need more sleep!

The shits cause huge problems on the morning dog walk too. You know the scenario: there are people walking behind you and your dog has a crap. You make a big thing of pulling out a nappy sack (I’d forgotten how awful the fragranced ones smell – every jacket pocket I own smells like a whore’s boudoir) and leaning over as if there’s an Oscar at stake, to pick up aforementioned poo. Tying the sack up with a flourish and a smug look.

The trouble is, when it’s the shits, there’s nothing to pick up. This happened to us twice yesterday. Dog 1 squatted exactly as if a perfectly formed turd was going to descend, but instead it was slop. There was a man walking behind us, so I gestured to partner to pretend to pick it up. He gave me a weird look and his performance wouldn’t have won an award, but he’d gone through the motion for the sake of our fellow dog walker. On straightening up, he looked at me as if to say: what the hell do you want me to do with this empty poo bag, so I diverted everyone’s attention by pointing out that dog 2 was weeing directly on dog 1’s head. With that, the bugger only went and squatted again. Partner shot me a look and handed me the nappy sack. Oh bloody hell. The fellow dog walker had now caught us up and I got a hot flush with the pressure of it all. Divert, divert, I was silently screaming to partner, who was just standing and watching me, arms folded.

Kids, dogs, they’re all the same. Well, dogs are a hell of a lot easier, of course, but they’re all high maintenance. The thing that I have come to value most about the dogs though, is that they can’t answer me back. In a house full of teenagers, this one factor goes a long, long way and for that reason alone, I shall do the midnight shit run with a huge smile on my face and not roll over and hide.

This post is dedicated to my friend’s dog, Monty. Who sadly died suddenly today. RIP Monty.

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Beards

Daughter 2 came in to me, wielding the kitchen scissors. Let’s cut his beard off, she said, waving them around like a hairdresser who has a vendetta. She was referring to dog 1, but I knew that this could be controversial. You see, partner loves beards. I always knew that he liked beards, because occasionally we would pass someone with a beard and I would make a comment such as, ‘what a dreadful beard!’ and he would defend the beard. Yes, he would actually defend that person’s facial hair. Now don’t get me wrong, a bit of stubble adorning a chiselled jaw is super, a long, straggly beard on a 65 year old hells angel, isn’t. Neither is one of those beards that looks like a shit brown carpet from Carpet Right. I try to explain all this to partner, that there are certain beards that work and those that definitely don’t, but he still gets occasional beard envy.

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When we got dog 2 clipped, the first thing partner said was: he’s lost his beard! We are definitely a divided camp in this house: females x 5 anti the beard, male x 1 in the remain camp. And boy does that 1 x male gets a beard bashing from the 5 x females in this house. Daughter 4 called him, ‘prickly hedgehog’ for years, every time he said night night. I remember feeling the same way about my Uncle’s beard when I was little. But, oh the contempt of a teenager…have you ever experienced being dragged over hot coals? That is what it is like when a teenager lets rip:

Are you going to shave this morning? (disgusted look on teenager’s face)

I wasn’t going to.

(Teenager looks like she is going to be physically sick over her bagel) I think you should.

(Red rag to partner. I exit the kitchen.) Well, if that’s what you think, then I won’t. (I’m gesticulating, ‘let it go’ signs from the garden, through the window).

And that very same daughter is now wielding those scissors at dog 1, with a glint in her eye. ‘Let’s do it while he’s not here to stop us’, she says excitedly. I disarm her and hack away at it myself. It’s somehow liberating.

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On our dog walk the next morning, dog 1 gets chased by a greyhound. “That wouldn’t have happened if he’d still had his beard”, partner says. I laugh the comment off, skeptically. “He had more authority with his beard”, he continues.

So there, I thought, we have it: men, beards and authority. Perhaps this is exactly what teenage daughter is trying to challenge.

 

Take Me Out!

Partner and I were trying to decide where to go on Bank Holiday Monday. A whole day off is quite a treat, so it always requires very careful consideration and deliberation and umming and aaahing and still by Sunday night, getting nowhere. We needed to know how many of our kids were joining us and the conversation went something like this:
Ok, can you all come downstairs please! (Shouting)
What? (Chorused)
Come downstairs! (Yelled)
Why? (Chorused)
Oh ffs (muttered) Downstairs now! (Screeched)
So already Bank Holiday Monday has turned into even more of a stress.
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Who wants to come out with us tomorrow?
Where are you going?
We’re not sure yet.
I can’t, chirps daughter 4. I’m going to Dorset with Dad for the week.
When?
Tomorrow.
Blimey, I mutter, thanks for the heads up.
Let’s go to London! Brighton! Bluewater!
(Three teenagers seem to be available at this point)
Well, we’re thinking possibly Rye.
Is there a New Look in Rye?
No. There’s a Boots.
I can’t come, I need to revise.
(Two down, two possibles).
Will you buy lunch?
Yes.
So off two teens, partner and I went to Rye. Now, those of you with toddlers will be familiar with the phrase, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, chorused at regular intervals. Well, if I told you that you’ve still got a good 14 years of that ahead of you, you might want to drown yourself in alcohol, or find a cave to curl up and cry in – or perhaps both. Ok, it wasn’t two minutes into the journey – that record is held by daughter 2 on an 8 hour road trip to Scotland. No, it was about 20 minutes in – daughter 1 and 25 minutes in – daughter 3.
We arrive and daughter 1 is on the look out for shops. She spies a sign for: Rope Tree Walk: A Shopping Arcade. It’s like a mini Bluewater, partner jokes with her…and she’s off, like a rabbit out the trap. Followed by the biggest letdown since Father Christmas had too much whisky one year and woke her up by falling over her dolls’ house.
Ultimately, we all had a good time and as I dodged parents with buggies and double buggies around the narrow, quaint streets, I thought about how my life once was and how it now is.
Waiting outside the fish and chip shop for daughter 3’s chips to be double fried, there was a toddler next to me, refusing to get into his buggy. His parents had run out of options. He was sprawled on the pavement, meaning others had to walk in the road and he was hollering! My heart ached for the mum and dad and I wanted to say something to them. Just a quick comment to let them know that I had been there and that I knew how embarrassed and exasperated and exhausted they were probably feeling right now. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing – that comment that then gets repeated at soft play the following day to all the other mums. I looked at daughter 1 for inspiration and remembered her sprawled on pavements, on kitchen floors, in parks and in supermarkets and I turned to the parents and said: take a photo and then, when they are her age (pointing to my 16 year old), you can embarrass him. The mum smiled and I felt that I had said the right thing. A small dog then passed by the toddler, who was now sitting on the pavement and for some reason I added: I hope that dog doesn’t piss on him! I turned back to my daughters and smiled at them – it didn’t seem that long ago…and they were both shaking their heads in complete and utter embarrassment. What did I say?
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Dogs and Bluebells

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The biggest item trending on the local mum’s Facebook network this week was: where is the best place to photograph my child in bluebell woods? It sounded as if it was one of those events that must happen each year, like Christmas or a birthday. I love a bluebell wood, but on the day we had available to visit it, we had no children to photograph. I contemplated borrowing a cute baby from someone, to sit in a basket in a dappled wood, but chose to take the dogs instead.

... Photographer Surrey} <b>bluebell</b> portraits <b>baby</b> caterpillar <b>woods</b> spring

Partner plonked dog 2 on top of a good looking tree stump, surrounded by beautiful bluebells, with the sun streaming through branches. I was poised to take the photo. The problem was, the tree stump was hollow and dog 2 fell down the hole. That was the first photo opportunity missed. After that it was a series of exhausting attempts to get the dogs to look at the camera. The woods were packed with other photo opportunists, but all you could hear was partner and I squeaking the dogs’ names in fake excited voices and gesticulating madly, as they just pissed on the bluebells. We decided to give up and walk to the pub. We can get a cup of ‘gin and tonic’ I interrupted partner’s thought.

We’ve been to this pub many times before – last week and the week before that actually –  it’s dog and kid friendly, but I have never previously noticed just how unfriendly it is to men. In the ladies’ toilet the walls and toilet doors are adorned with misandrist statements. I wondered whether the men’s loo is similarly full of misogynistic crap, masquerading under the guise of humour.

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On the back of the loo door in pub – harsh

We left the pub and went on our merry way. I told partner about the man hating toilet and fuelled by our pit stop, we started trying to remember all the: Men are like…jokes we could muster. Here are some that came to mind as we walked back through those beautiful bluebells, add your favourites!

Men are like…

… Coffee.

The best ones are rich, warm, and can keep you up all night long.

… Commercials.

You can’t believe a word they say.

… Computers.

Hard to figure out and never have enough memory.

… Coolers.

Load them with beer and you can take them anywhere.

… Government Bonds.

They take way too long to mature.

… Mascara.

They usually run at the first sign of emotion.

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One man and his dogs, in a bluebell wood – he moaned that I cut off his head, ‘that wouldn’t have happened if I was a cute baby!'(Dog 1 is licking his lips – I think he ate the cute baby!)

Wake up and smell the shit!

Waking up to Norah Jones and the smell of shit is like biting into a chocolate and finding it’s a turkish delight. From then on, things can only get better.

I’ve been thinking about how I pick up the dogs’ poo. I always want to do it deftly, so as to appear professional and so that I’m not hanging around that smell. I also don’t wish to appear as if I am enjoying myself. However, perform the pick up too fast and you run the risk of missing some, or worse still, getting some on your fingers. As well this, we use cheap nappy sacks, so I have to be careful not to pick up a twig in addition to the poo and rip the bag – it can be a long way to the next bin. There is an art to poo picking. One time, dog 1 had eaten a nappy sack and I found myself in the strange situation of picking up a poo that came out almost pre-packaged.

Whenever the dogs lick me, I find myself thinking about the last thing they licked: the other dog’s nob or fox crap. I am surprised that we don’t all develop some awful skin disease, but somehow we don’t. Why do we let them lick us when we have all the information about where they have been at our fingertips. No human would get away with this sort of behaviour: Husband, “I’ve just licked a urinal. Come on baby, kiss me!” “Sorry, darling, I’d rather kiss the dog, who has just licked the other dog’s balls.”

Dog 2 doesn’t cock his leg yet. We are all waiting with bated breath. I’m hoping he’s not retarded, as dog 1 was cocking like a trooper by the same age. In fact, dog 1 seems to have unlimited supplies of wee, kept in reserve for all eventualities – all of which look meaningless to me: another bush, a discarded trainer, every available goal post. I’m glad human males are not like male dogs, I commented to partner on our dog walk this morning. It would take us forever to get anywhere if you had to piss everywhere. With that, dog 1 cocked his leg and pissed on dog 2’s head, and I might get very wet, I added.

Keep Two Dogs and Bark Yourself

Living with three daughters, my dad’s favourite saying was: you don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. I could pour a perfect pint from the age of 7, I knew his exact measure of whisky aged 9 and could fill a pipe by the time I was 11. All useful skills that have, over the years, stood me in good stead (perhaps not the pipe filling, yet). 

Now living with my own daughters, I find myself frequently using this phrase – it’s one of my favourites, along with: the floor is not a shelf and, what did your last slave die of, exhaustion? 

When we got dog 1 and dog 2, I had high hopes for what we would be able to teach them to do for us. I found a: ‘Teach your dog tricks’ in a charity shop. In it, a woman wearing gold spandex (I’m not sure why) gives a step by step guide on how to teach your dog to do useful things, like fetching your paper and getting a can of beer out of the fridge. She even demonstrates how to teach it to empty the washing machine. My kids still haven’t perfected this trick, let alone the dogs – I feel there is little hope. 

On the dog walk today, I decide to take a tennis ball. Partner is sceptical, as so far, the only balls they have shown much interest in are each other’s. I insist, however, inspired perhaps by the woman in spandex, that we need to persevere, and the ball comes with. 

At a suitable point I show the dogs the ball and chuck it ahead, accompanied by the iconic doggy word: fetch! Surely, dogs are just born knowing this word? Not ours. Initially it looks promising, as dog 2 chases after the ball, with dog 1 in hot pursuit. You see, I say to partner, they love that ball. They both run straight past the ball. ‘Fetch!’ I screech excitedly and then a second time, somewhat desperately. They both stop and look at me, heads cocked to one side, as if they are saying: what, are you talking to us? Oh for gods sake, I think to myself, as I go and fetch the ball. I can’t find it, so am stomping around the undergrowth. Partner and dogs are all looking at me with cocked heads. Well don’t just bloody stand there you lot, I shout in an irritated voice. I see the fluorescent yellow of the ball and decide to try again. I lob the ball towards partner and dogs and it ricochets off partner. Dog 2 retrieves it – success! I wave my hands madly at him: leave it! Leave it! I shout determinedly. He turns and runs in the opposite direction, ball in mouth. I rejoin partner and we continue walking. Work in progress he says , putting his arm around my dejected shoulders. Keep a dog and fetch yourself, I think to myself, feeling that I have let my dad down.

Great Expectations

Dog 1 is lying with his head right on dog 2’s balls and it got me thinking just how different dogs are to humans and then I was thinking how different, different types of dogs are, which led on to me thinking about how different, different dog owners are and how the sort of dog you have seems to affect the sort of dog owner you are and vice versa ( imagine just how exhausting it is living with me). 

Partner and I are both new to dogs, so we feel like the new parents, where how you react to bad behaviour is judged, the state of their coats is judged, the food you give them is judged. In fact, the puppy manual we had, reminded me of: The Contented Little Baby book – after a few days I wanted to chuck it out the window (sorry Gina) and follow my gut. Which worked on the girls, but I’m not sure it’s always working with the dogs. 

Partner and I have observed that it is sheepdog owners who are the most judgemental. This is probably because their dogs are so incredibly well trained and ours, well, aren’t. When dog 1 or dog 2 bound over to the sheep dog, the owner tells it to ‘sit’. This is the equivalent of refusing to let your child go on a play date with mine. You immediately feel judged. Why don’t you want my dogs to play with yours. Do you think they will be a bad influence? Dogs 1 and 2 react to this rejection by circling the beautifully behaved dog, seemingly taunting it with jeers of: you’re not allowed to play! Sheep dog owner then crosses his or her arms. Dog 1 responds to this sense of humour failure by jumping up and barking: let him play, let him play! By which time, I’ve told partner to run over with treats and sheep dog owner stomps off, muttering what awful parents we are. Partner and I are left looking at our gorgeous, happy dogs, now sitting perfectly in front of us, wondering if we are bad parents. 

Of course, it all comes down to expectation. Partner and I need to raise our expectations of our dogs. I look back down at them. Dog 1 has removed his head from dog 2’s balls, but by way of a thank you, dog 2 is now licking dog 1’s nob. I always had high expectations of the girls, but dogs really are so different. 

Shoe Chew* *Friday night takeaway – may contain dog

We are having a real shoe crisis in our house. Daughter 4’s shoes are still somewhere between the hospital and an orthotics manufacturer, so she is wearing the closest thing we could find to school shoes in her size, which are daughter 1’s black leather converse. They are slightly too big for her, but the cool factor seemed to offset that and there wasn’t a fuss. 

After daughter 2 being initially quite sceptical about the Oxfam shoes that I bought her, to replace the expensive shoes dog 2 chewed, her and FaceTime friend found the very same model, brand new in Jones with a price tag of £87 reduced to £45 and that seemed to give the shoes enough kudos to start wearing them. She did, however, have to have a short break to let the blisters heal. In the meantime she is wearing black Nike Air Max trainers to school, again, without a fuss.

Last Thursday evening she announced that the next day was the day she would start wearing her Oxfam shoes again – the blisters had all but healed and I was happy. 

It was later on Friday evening that it occurred to me that wine, dogs and shoes with tassels are not a good combination, when, with an air of deja vu, dog 2 appeared in the sitting room with the Oxfam shoe, tasselless in his mouth. Yet again, we had taken our eyes off the shoes. We were back to square one. Back to the trainers. 

Yesterday daughter 2 came home from school with an update. Student Services took my shoes, she said, so matter of factly that I wondered whether it was for some sort of social experiment; and they gave me a horrible pair to wear, she continued. I have to report to Student Services every day to get a horrible, uncomfortable pair of shoes to wear and take them back at the end of the day, when they give me back my shoes.  This is a school, I thought to myself, that has come across the problem of girls wearing inappropriate footwear before. After we had all managed to stop laughing at the thought of the incredibly style-conscious and easily embarrassed daughter 2 in a ill fitting pair of someone else’s pumps, I did feel slightly sorry for her and promised to have a quick scout round the charity shops today. Please can I have proper shoes from a proper shop, she pleaded. What if someone had a smelly feet, or dirty toenails, she keeps going, clutching at straws. I give dog 2 a withering look. It’s Friday tomorrow, I reply. Perhaps I’ll leave shoe buying until the weekend.