Dogs, children and books – are they compatible?

I had my first child and my first puppy in close proximity of each other. The puppy was a female mongrel of eight weeks, the child a female toddler of sixteen months. And the novel I was working on at the time was about twelve months old. That is, I’d been writing it for the previous twelve months, and was working on the final edits. The timing of all three beings – puppy, toddler and novel – was pretty bloody tough, to say the least.

I had postnatal depression at the time, so I thought, what I need is a puppy to provide some fun and mischief in my life. Well, it provided mischief a-plenty, that’s for sure, but as for fun …? More like hard work, exhaustion and stress – both physical and mental!

For a start, I was trying to toilet-train both untrained creatures simultaneously. I lost count of the number of times I discovered unwelcome little piles of poo in various corners of the house, and couldn’t work out whether the culprit was Puppy or Toddler. Not that it made much difference anyway – the puppy generally discovered the smelly deposits and ate them before I had the chance to scoop them up and dispose of them down the toilet. Uugh, gross! I’d yell at the dog. My furry pet would just blink at me, and my toddler-daughter would chortle. It’s NOT funny! I’d yell at her even louder, after which she’d howl in despair and I’d feel like a totally mean, pathetic, out-of-control mum. Whatever happened to all the joys of pregnancy? Whatever happened to the gorgeous little bundle I first held in my arms – my fragile baby; my fluffy pup … what happened to them? Where did they go? I felt like I’d been taken over by imposters! Which is exactly how the protagonist of my novel felt.

Ah yes, my novel. My much-needed outlet that did not involve chasing dogs with poos in their mouth round the living room, or trying to hold baby-cooing conversations with midget human beings who did not yet speak English.

I had this crafty literary plan, every day of my life, which worked about 10% of the time. As soon as I lowered my sleeping daughter into her cot for her afternoon nap (take my advice – be strict about naps if you don’t want to evolve into a toddler yourself), I’d breathe a great whopping sigh of relief and scurry away to my study to get back into my almost-finished masterpiece. Nineveh City, it was called – a semi-fantasy novel based on postnatal depression. Whenever I plunged back into it I always felt marginally better, because it made me realise that at least I wasn’t quite as bad as my female counterpart, who simply could not cope with motherhood. Or marriage. Or anything. That’s why she eventually disowned Hubby, Baby and Home, and absconded into a fantasy world of night-time streets and lurid bars and erotic adventures wherein no Responsibility dwelt.

But back to my point about afternoon naps. Here’s the thing. More often than not, as soon as I tiptoed into my study, sat down at my desk and switched on my Amstrad computer (yes, I really was an owner of the very first brand of PCs to enter domestic homes!), the whirring of the damn thing woke up Poor Puppy at my feet, who had been sweetly dozing but was now fully reanimated and yelping ten to the dozen, in turn waking up Tearful Toddler next door, who was now promptly howling in cacophonous duet, and … and … well, any fellow-writer and/or mother can surely empathise with my total and utter frustration!

By some miracle, Nineveh City grew into a completed novel that was praised by many, and the puppy grew into a proper dog that became a loving member of the family, and the toddler grew into a proper woman who now has two small children of her own. So yes, I am a grandma by accident. Never planned to be one. Never thought I’d be one – at least, not yet! I mean – I’m not old and decrepit enough, am I? I still feel like that same young woman who was toilet-training puppy and toddler simultaneously, and writing about postnatal depression when in the very midst of it, all those years ago. But it doesn’t feel like all those years ago. I’m still me. I’m still writing novels, still thinking amorous thoughts (oops!), still training a puppy…

Ah, yes. Meet the latest member of our family – Bruno the Beast. Actually, he’s quite adorable, not really all that beastly. At nine months he’s getting pretty big and powerful – and yet he is STILL not fully toilet-trained, would you believe?! Bloody hell, I think to myself some mornings when traipsing downstairs and opening the door to the kitchen where he dwells overnight, and widening my eyes at the big smelly mounds he’s tried to hide under the dining table – what did I do wrong?

And now the grandchildren are visiting me in Krakow, and are absolutely TERRIFIED of the Beast, who, compared to their miniscule size, really IS a beast in their minds, even though all he wants to do is play-bite and play-jump on them and delight in their yelps and shrieks of terror as he chases them round the kitchen and living room until either their mum or gran rescues them and orders the Beast out into the garden as punishment, whereupon he promptly proceeds to dig holes in the lawn and bite flowers off their stems and chew the hosepipe… until he’s ordered back inside again, but not in the living room, where the quivering grandchildren are now goggling in front of the telly, and not in the study, where he’s likely to eat all the freshly printed-out pages of Gran’s latest literary masterpiece, and not in the hallway, where he’s likely to feast on all those delicious wellies, shoes, sandals and slippers … so …

So unless you can afford a full-time Au Pair while juggling young animals and young children in the same household, you’re in for a very rough ride!

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