By Kristin Owens

Overnight my husband and I became parents, a title neither of us expected or planned. We inherited a 10-year-old dachshund and became a family, though maybe not in the most traditional sense. But then we aren’t very traditional; two middle-aged professionals trying to transition gracefully into retirement without kids.

Danny Boy is the child we’ll never have. Instead of focusing on each other exclusively, we have an eager recipient for our extra love and attention. Who knew we had so much?

And when Danny Boy arrived, so did the anxieties of raising a little one: is he cold, hungry—bored? Should we buy him an iPad? In the beginning, we promised each other Danny Boy would never sleep in our bed and we would never refer to each other as “Mommy” and “Daddy.” After all, we are highly educated people with more self-respect. That lasted six days.

Our sex life suffers because of the Hot Pocket snoozing in between us. A dog who enjoys sleeping width-ways has managed to displace us from our king-size bed.

Now we have a third party to dote onto a frightening degree. Monthly grooming appointments consist of moisturizing oatmeal shampoos to keep his coat shiny, pedicures for his dainty paws, and massage to soothe arthritic muscles—with Miss Tatiana only.

Luxurious faux-fur blankets magically appear for wherever his little tooshie wishes to perch. Each month brings a new holiday-themed toy to chew on. Chicken-flavored toothpaste for his evening teeth brushing. We’ve purchased a wardrobe of jaunty bow-ties, warm winter turtleneck sweaters, and functional raincoats with fluorescent stripes for evening walks. We sing a nightly song to him.

However, being new parents, we are cautious around other dogs, justly concerned for our boy’s safety. Potential playdates are carefully scrutinized prior to scheduling. We built a $3,000 fence to en-circle his kingdom in the yard. If we could safely wrap him in bubble-wrap we would. But that would be…silly.

It didn’t take long for us to become proud parents. We practically burst watching him chase a soccer ball around the community dog park. He runs circles around the larger dogs. My husband and I confer (in hushed tones) about how other dogs don’t get enough education and exercise, which is why Danny is so much more advanced. We receive happy dog kisses and glowing reports after a day at doggie camp. This leads to more boasting. Our Subaru’s new bumper sticker reads, “Our Dachshund is smarter than your First Grader.” We’ve turned into parents you want to kick in the shins.

 

Danny Boy enables us to finally compete with other families—ones we’ve secretly scoffed at. For example, every December we suffer through holiday card inundation, complete with photos of unattractive children performing mediocre activities. Look at Lucy climbing a tree! Max eating an ice cream cone! Get ready, because wait until you see our holiday greeting this year.

Alas, it was inevitable. We’ve become a huge sense of amusement to our extended family. Siblings laugh and chide us for over-indulging a dog. However, my husband and I knowingly smirk to each other, recognizing their jealousy, and feel sorry for them. Deep down in our hearts, we understand. Their own kids are a disappointment. They wish they had a boy as fabulous as Danny.

Every evening, after he’s tucked into our bed and kissed goodnight, we watch him fall asleep. His chocolate brown eyes close. His noble head rests on an embroidered pillow. My husband and I whisper softly about the next day’s schedule: a nature walk, followed by an energizing nap. An organic lunch. Then a promenade in the sculpture park, maybe a playdate with Tucker (if he behaves), a gluten-free snack—being a parent is exhausting.

Suddenly, Danny Boy’s fur, laced with gray, twitches. A little snort escapes and I quickly adjust his blanket. Is he chilled? His lip curls up over his teeth and he makes a wheezing sound. Does he have a cold? Should we call the pediatrician, I mean, vet?

No. We are convinced it’s a smile. Our family sleeps soundly at night. Content. Now complete.