Dogs and Toddlers: Life “Lessons” for the Ridiculous

the old puppy

I laugh much more than this blog makes it seem. In-between grim theologizing about the nature of existence, anyway. So, let’s have a light moment: let me teach you what I know about toddlers. What I know about toddlers, that is, based entirely on my week of dog-sitting for my parents’ miniature dachshund way back during last December. San Francisco has more dogs than it does children, so that must mean dogs can stand for children. Let’s see how this goes!


I arrived for a Christmas visit, extracted from the sunny cool of the Bay Area of California, whose version of winter mostly involves what I grew up experiencing as the milder days of fall. That’s okay, though, because when it rains, everyone in California freaks out as if it has just snowed two feet. On come the winter jackets and the shivering grimaces, the slow and agonized driving, just like in real winter. Except entirely without pain, snow, heartache, ice, or shoveling.

I arrived to the Midwest, where I grew up, to encounter record-breaking cold and snow. My many years of tough winter survival had been readily obliterated by Californian living, and my entitled whining was entirely ignored by the battered locals. At least my mom lent me a winter jacket, which of course I did not have.  I am a very well-prepared and thoughtful caretaker. Who does not think to buy a winter jacket for winter.

Lesson one: have jackets

Looking good already.


old puppy sleeping

Meet Penny. She’s a miniature dachshund my family got when I was in high school, which means that the tiny hound is about a million years old. She’s deaf, and can’t see so well anymore. She likes to bark at things, and people, and fictitious noises. Still chases chipmunks and squirrels all over the damn yard. (Dachshunds, by the way, are crazy fast for such tiny, ridiculous dogs. Even this old version of one.) Dachshunds love to dig and burrow, by nature, so we always give her a bunch of blankets to bury herself in and fall asleep on. She’s awesome at sleeping.

Something that is important to know about dachshunds is that they get very emotionally attached to their owners, especially as they age. They are loyal pack members, basically, who also happen to be capable of separation anxiety.

Something else that is important to know about Penny is that she has her favorites. My mom is her favorite person in the history of ever. Then comes my sister. Then my brother. Then my dad and me. Us last two have been in a competition for least favorite since Penny was a puppy. No idea why she resents my dad. He’s awesome. Me: I’m much more interested in Latin than dogs.

Lesson two: teach your children Latin


My parents left for Florida early in the morning, leaving me and the dog together. We were both exhausted. The dog responded by crying incessantly and walking to the garage door to sit and cry some more. She whimpered and fussed, then came over to me – I had helpfully laid myself on the floor, trying to sleep – to howl right by my ear. Perhaps with accusation in her dog-voice.

Eventually, dear Penny put herself in her little bed and went to sleep.

Lesson three: tiny creatures can cry loudly


For the next few days, the tiny old dog flatly ignored me and moped around the house in mourning. She started a hunger strike. I went about my business as usual. As an academic on break, I naturally took the time to do even more work.

I figured something changed when I found the dog napping under the feet of my chair as I read a book.

Lesson four: eventually, your children will decide you’re dead and move on to other people


Snow dumped itself all over the Midwest again, and I found the dog and myself basically snowed in. It is important right now that you imagine a large, Midwestern yard and long driveway – the kind for houses that exist near cornfields, as my childhood home does. I could not be more effortlessly Illinois-Midwestern unless I was an Irish Catholic. Wait, I’m that too.

So of course the good old Irish fatalism kicked in when I observed the snow that reached up past my knees, blanketing the landscape until it was almost unrecognizable. “Penny,” I said, “we’re going to die.”

She didn’t answer. Remember, she’s deaf.

So I set myself to shoveling out a place for the tiny dachshund to do her business – she gets stuck in the snow otherwise, and it’s hilarious – and digging us out in case an emergency meant we had to drive somewhere. My many years of Irish-esque pessimism have trained me to assume that the worst can always get worse: people just aren’t imagining it right.

The dog was insanely upset at me for being outside for so long in the snow. She barked and barked. I opened the door for her to join me outside, and she just barked some more.

Lesson five: just leave children inside the house by themselves

After shoveling the damn snow for a couple of hours, I returned to the house exhausted. The dog had barked herself to sleep by the door. She jumped up to her useless little dachshund feet when she saw me, tail wagging vigorously, and she tossed in a few more barks for good measure. I have no idea what her barks mean. I assume German curse words.

Lesson six: watch it, kid, I know German too

I sat down, sore and cranky, to watch some TV and have some whiskey (yes, I’m a stereotype). My parents’ couch is awesome. A huge thing you can sink into and fall asleep on. It engulfs me. I’m a useless human, too tiny for real work, which is why I do academic work instead. And…I just realized I’m a human dachshund.

The dog, already traumatized by the apparent death of both my parents, was determined to keep me in the house henceforth. She did this by launching herself up onto the couch – she has the vertical leap of Michael Jordan – and climbing onto my legs. She set herself there with a huff, as if to dare me to try and move now that she had me helplessly pinned down with her bitty paws.

Lesson seven: if you sit down to rest, your children will sit on you


So we continued our days, me reading my books and the dog following me around like the world’s least sneaky shadow. We built up a little relationship, and together we survived snow and dark.

When my parents returned, the dog spent an entire day ignoring them both resentfully and sitting by my side. It was one of the most spiteful things I have ever witnessed in a creature. Of course, the next day, my mom was the best person in the universe again, and all was back to normal.

Lesson eight: children are hilariously spiteful

So, there you go. Now you can raise a toddler.




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