I never fantasized about having a baby. I thought that I would like to have one, at some point, but I wasn’t preoccupied with the idea. But I’d always been obsessed with having a dog. I considered a canine companion, in many ways, preferable to a kid.
When I was in my 20s, roving Europe as a doctoral student, I yearned for three things: an apartment of my own, a wife and a dog. I didn’t care in what order these came, and I didn’t dream more about one than the others. During my solitary nights in various cities, I researched dog breeds, considered the characteristics of the ideal spouse and sketched interiors for imaginary apartments. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to realize that I was seeking stability in my otherwise voluntarily itinerant existence. A baby didn’t crack the top three on my wish-list, though; perhaps because I’m a guy, perhaps because babies often bring the opposite of stability. In the best possible way, they turn your life upside-down.
I wound up with the wife first, and, from that moment I stopped yearning for the apartment or the dog. But my wife knew that I’d long wanted a dog, and bought me one for my 30th birthday. She searched for a breed that was small enough to carry and didn’t shed. We settled on a Peruvian Inca Orchid (a.k.a. Peruvian Hairless) that we named Hubert van Eyck (Eyck for short).
Eyck loves to cuddle, and is always on my lap. He is my surrogate child, pampered and catered to, snuggled and goo-goo-ga-ga-ed, my constant companion. I can see why the ancient Incas used these dogs as bed-warmers. If I lie on the couch and throw a blanket over my legs, Eyck will dash under it and assume a comfortable position before the blanket has floated into place. The Incas also used these dogs in religious rituals, and believed that the heat emanating from their body had healing properties. When he snuggles me, I certainly feel better about the world. With a wife and a dog, I no longer felt the need for my own apartment. I had two living creatures upon whom I could pour my love and cuddles.
But then a third came along.
Until I met my wife, I didn’t realize how important having a baby was to me. If asked, I would have said that I wanted one, but I didn’t have the ache for a child that I know my wife felt. It was not until my first daughter was born that I realized what all the fuss is about.
Now that I have both a dog and a baby (and a second baby girl), I can see parallels between the two relationships. And I realize that having the dog first provided good training for me, mentally and physically preparing me to welcome the next generation of Charneys.
For childless individuals and families, a dog can be a stand-in. It’s a loving, loyal, dependent creature to snuggle and care for. Folks without dogs think canine-obsessed pet owners, who talk endlessly about their pets, are weird, just as people without babies can’t imagine how anyone could talk for hours about diapers, strollers and drool. Having experienced both, I understand how babies and dogs nestle into your heart. And the fact that I “trained” in how to care for a living creature for four years with my dog before any human kin showed up has been vital to my ability to care for my kid.
Before Eyck, I never had to take care of anything, or anyone, but myself (and I wasn’t great at that). As a puppy, Eyck had to be taken outside twice each night to answer the call of the wild. As babies, my daughters needed to be fed and changed at about the same intervals. So when it came time to wake in the night to care for a baby, I was used to it. Even better, I didn’t have to get dressed and take her outside to answer nature’s call, so it felt like a bonus.
Washing Eyck each time we return from a walk was solid practice for bathing my girls. My wife and I wanted to let him hop on the couch and bed as much as he likes, but didn’t want him tracking in dirt from outside, so we popped him in the shower and hosed him down briefly each time we came inside. He goes out two or three times a day, meaning two or three daily showers (he’s the cleanest member of the Charney family, by a wide margin). When the baby came along, it seemed an easy luxury to bathe her only once a day, or every other day.
I was also used to considering my dog’s needs — going out, playing, cuddling, eating — and integrating them into my day. The dog is fairly easy — feed him once, take him out two or three times, let him run around a bit and you’re done. Babies require a lot more attention, but the dog had gently pushed me out of my self-centered inertia.
Both dogs and babies provide a killer payoff in the form of cuddles. There, for me, the lap dog and newborn baby run neck and neck. Eyck is a world-class snuggler, but the kids quickly caught up, converting over-the-shoulder burping sessions into neck hugs.
It’s not a competition, though both childless pet owners and petless parents tend to think the other group is weird. As a lover of both, I know that babies win out. It comes down to this: Eyck will forever remain a largely mute, four-legged four-year-old. He can be eloquent with his looks, his whines and his body language, but I can’t reason with him. I can watch Red Sox games with him, but we can’t talk about it. Conversations are largely one-sided: I run ideas about my latest book by him, and he licks my feet.
My kids on the other hand, now 3 and 1.5 years old, currently respond to such discussions in a similar way, but they grow more interactive, responsive, opinionated, empowered and human all the time. The kids change every month as they learn. They will be able to remember, reminisce, ride on my shoulders and ask me why the sky is blue (I’ll have to look that one up). They will hug me at their graduations, dance with me on their wedding days, greet me with their own children and, the fates willing, be there for me in my old age, the way I am here for them now.
So while dog vs. baby is a close race, and they are the two best things a guy could wish for, the kid’s gonna win every time.
Noah Charney is an author and professor of art history, specializing in art crime. He writes regularly for magazines, including ArtInfo and The Daily Beast, and he teaches art history, writing, and art crime at American University of Rome and for Brown University. Find him on Twitter @NoahCharney.
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