A year ago last Monday, Kimberly and I adopted young Baozi (包子), our German Shepherd mix1 puppy. “Baozi,” pronounced “Bow-dzuh,” means “little stuffed bun” in Mandarin. As you can see below, she certainly was a little dim sum when got her at about 3 months old. Now, at 1 year & 3 months, “giant stuffed bun” would be more appropriate. We could have expected that change, but there were a lot of things we didn’t expect…
3 months old
for this & more pics, see my “Year of Baozi” album
I had expected a month or so of pure chaos and plenty of joy, but that isn’t what happened.
For starters, the total chaos never happened. I thought the first few weeks would be a whole lot of cuteness – but also like a puppy bomb exploded in our house: there would be poop and destruction left, right, and center. It never happened. Sure, there was a total rearrangement of our schedule, but it felt surprisingly manageable. And she really didn’t destroy much.2
Having a puppy was simply awesome as far as I was concerned! SO. MUCH. CUTE. I was sooo happy! SO. FASCINATING. Then, a month or so in, I found Kimberly angry and upset with “everything” & I couldn’t understand why. She explained all that was wrong & I tried to convince her otherwise, but in doing so I realized she was right, actually. My life had become a mess, without me noticing.
There was no puppy-bomb, only a slow leak. We had run aground amidst everything we put off dealing with to establish our life-with-pup. In all the cuteness & adventure, I kind of lost track of everything else & we were behind on all of it.
In the months after we recovered & as we began training Baozi more, I learned a lot more about myself and Kimberly as potential parents. It wasn’t all good.
I’m naturally more inclined to try to see situations from the dog’s point of view & as sympathetically to the timid young dog as possible. This makes me gentle with her and I try to soften what blows the world throws at her.
Kimberly is more naturally inclined to see situations as opportunities for Baozi to learn how to behave properly. This makes her constant, firm, and focused on the right outcome.
We’ve discovered all this in watching each other work with the dog. At worst, I coddle the dog too much. At worst, Kimberly is too stern. Neither extreme is a good way to raise a little being. We’ve had more than a few fights in dealing with each other’s style & still find it contentious at times. I think it has caused Kimberly to re-evaluate me as potential father, actually. I never expected that.
We got into this puppy thing primarily because we both love animals, and for me, because I have always always always wanted a dog. But a real secondary consideration was that we figured it would be good training wheels for having children. We never expected that it would actually be even more instructive of the challenges we would find in dealing with each other as parents. Luckily, the margin of error in raising a puppy is greater than a child, at least in that the bar for “good dog” is so much lower than the bar for “good human.” We’re learning a lot about how to be parents with each other & hopefully how to help each other grow through their shortcomings. This was supposed to just be practice at being awesome parents. Totally unexpected.
Kimberly Persecuting Baozi
It is of course, cliché to gush about how much one loves their dog, and while in the most obvious way, my intense love for Baozi is completely expected (*always*wanted*a*dog*). On a deeper level, it really has tapped into something I didn’t expect was in me.
The thing is, Baozi is kind of useless. She doesn’t produce anything useful other than affection. And even in that, she’s not the most cuddly & affectionate dog I know (that’s you little Porco!).
Don’t get me wrong, her boundless enthusiasm when I come home every day is already one of the best parts of my life, but she also balances that with a fairly constant refusal to come cuddle with us when we are watching TV – she prefers to sit nearby. And on a more pragmatic scale, she just needs. She needs affection. She needs to be played with often. She needs to taken for walks. She needs her poop picked up. She needs to be fed. She needs to be brushed. She needs, she needs, she needs.
At 44, I’ve come to realize that one of my greatest challenges is that I’m not very good at unconditional love. I have an assessing and critical mind & my approach to everyone, especially myself, is rooted in that nature3. Even in relationships, it has taken years of growth (luckily mostly done before I met Kimberly!) to get any facility with loving partners for who they are and not what they do.
So how then can I bring myself to tears just thinking about this small, useless and willful little quadruped? How is it that every day when I come home, a small burst of pure joy erupts in me as she trundles down the steps to greet me, giant ears flattened against her head. I even choke up when I see an older dog now, knowing that my little Bao will age much more quickly than I… How has it come to this? Especially for someone like me?
Early into owning Baozi, I was talking to my therapist about this inexplicable turn of events. She pointed out that it is often easier to tap into our deepest affection with animals, simply because so many obscuring layers4 are not possible. And this is the root of it. I really am much more capable of deep love than I ever expected. My therapist suggests that it points to something more primal even: it lends credence to the idea that we really are, at some level, deeply loving beings with boundless abilities to connect with, care for, and appreciate others unconditionally. I would have never guessed that was me.
Is it unconditional for me? I still don’t know – but if it isn’t truly unconditional, it certainly doesn’t require much – just a few wags and a constant interest in whether I feel like playing tug.
Happy Anniversary Little Doglet.
.ps If the pictures & videos here aren’t enough (click on any of them to get to my whole set on Flickr), see Kimberly’s awesome set of pics here: A year of puppy
for this & more pics, see my “Year of Baozi” album
2. She has gotten a tad more destructive since then, but not a lot – unless it comes to flip-flops. She is a flip-flop terrorist.↩
3. Whether it is nature or nurture is beside the point, at 44 – it’s me.↩
4. In my case, layers of expectation and judgement.↩