Dr Matt Albert

I Can’t Even Get the Covid Puppy Right

What should have been the thrill of victory turned into the agony of defeat. Is Covid parenting tormenting us for the fun of it?

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you may have spent Saturday mornings watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The program’s intro included shots of victorious athletes with the voiceover proclaiming “the thrill of victory” followed by a clip of a terrifying ski accident with the voiceover describing “the agony of defeat.” As a parent, I sometimes feel like the pandemic has been one long agony of defeat.

Nothing better personifies this than my attempt to get a covid puppy for my kids. Agony is not a strong enough word. Let’s call it an epic disaster on a calamitous scale.

My-12-year-old has been asking for a puppy for about 15 years. At every birthday and Hanukkah she asks for one thing, a puppy. She never requests anything else. American Girl doll? Blah. Princess dresses? Meh. Books and clothes? No thank you.

Just. A. Puppy. Pleeeeease!

I didn’t grow up with pets because I’m allergic. My cat allergy is borderline deadly. Dogs not as much but still not great. Having grown up in a petless home, I never understood what a pet means to kids and to a family. In the two weeks we had Scout, I learned a heck of a lot.

Dr Matt Albert
Scout, our former puppy.

First, I saw how much joy a puppy can bring to a family. Cuddling up with her, watching her chase a mini tennis ball, and experiencing her unbridled enthusiasm for everything brought us together like nothing had before.

Second, I watched my kids accept responsibility for another living being. They were diligent about food and water, taking her to pee, and making sure she had toys and a soft blanket to sleep on. It showed me a side of my kids I hadn’t seen before.

Third, the love with which they undertook the playing, walking, and caring for Scout made my heart melt. The minute that puppy entered the house, the kids were transformed. No, they didn’t become perfect citizens, but they did change in a way that showed me their nurturing selves.

And then I took her away from them. I am a monster. How could I? When will 2020 end?

The long and short answer to why the puppy had to go is that I couldn’t breath. At all. My childhood asthma popped up and said, “hello old friend. I know you want to bring joy to your kids but I’m not going to let that happen. That’s what you get for suppressing me all these years with your fancy inhalers.”

There was no way we could keep her. She was even one of the “hypoallergenic” breeds. Or so I was told.

The announcement that Scout couldn’t stay was met with four straight days and nights of crying. The kids could see I was suffering and they knew I couldn’t go on like that. But that didn’t make them feel any better. We went from jubilation and joy in the home to mourning the loss of a family member just like that. I feel like an absolutely terrible father.

The night I told them, my daughter wept in the shower. It was so loud I could hear it in the next room. She cried in bed and I wanted to tell her it was going to be ok. I wanted to offer to get her any damn thing she wanted to make her feel better. I wanted to put in an order with Eaze and pretend none of this was happening. But I knew that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to mourn and she needed her dad to be there while she did it (my son didn’t take it as hard, or he just suppressed his feelings like a good little man – kidding).

The crying was on and off for the next few days. We had lots of talks as she dealt with her grief. She went through all the stages backward and forward. I could see her processing and her long cries really helped her. I know that letting her go through the process was far more helpful than anything I could have done to “fix it.”

This isn’t going to be the last time my kids are disappointed. It’s not going to be the last time I mess up. And it’s sure not going to be the last time my mess ups cause them deep disappointment. It’s just that I had hoped for something good during Covid. The puppy gods did not shine down on us this time, but there’s always next time…

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