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And Baby Makes Four

Long before the Disney behemoth introduced early-nineties audiences to the likes of Ariel and Aladdin, I was pretty content to watch Lady and the Tramp whenever possible. I would talk in a Scottish brogue like Jock, barking “Look here, Laddie!” if anyone dared to halt my VHS viewing. I was reprimanded by my mom for using my nose to nudge a plate of meatballs more than once. We even owned a diabolical Siamese cat, in fact. For many years, this film has occupied a warm place in my cold old heart.

In the last year or so, though, I’ve started to see Lady in the Tramp in a new light. It isn’t that I like it less, or even that I feel less compelled to speak in problematic accents as a bizarre form of Disney tribute. It’s just that instead of seeing Lady and the Tramp as a freewheeling depiction of a dog’s life on the skids, I now see it as something else entirely: an animated documentary about a blameless spaniel whose parents invite a child into their idyllic household, and then all hell breaks loose. And believe me, I have a dog in my own home who can relate.

It’s now been more than seven months since our first child was born, and the routine for my wife and I has been upended in ways that were completely expected. We sleep more fitfully, we live more frugally, and the shoulders of our shirts are all festooned with spit-up stains. These changes, as any parent can likely agree, are a manageable part of the deal.

But for our poor goldendoodle, a six-year-old named Barnaby, the realigned hierarchy in our home was received with less enthusiasm. Try as we could to prepare him for the seismic shift he was soon to experience -- walking him alongside the stroller, introducing him to new smells, supervising his interactions with other children -- he wasn’t quite prepared when the day finally arrived.

Barnaby was terrified of the new addition. The baby’s cries and coos were more startling to him than his previous nemeses of thunderclaps and plastic bags. But most of all, the dog seemed to feel as though he was being replaced, and all the walks and cuddles in the world didn’t do much to shake him out of his funk. He couldn’t even bark without being scolded. Even his spot on the couch, painstakingly indented over the years to fit his frame perfectly, now was reserved for a bald little thing that didn’t even know how to fetch.

But sometime during the spring, a funny thing happened: my son became wise to Barnaby’s presence, and was fully obsessed with his furry big brother. When the dog would enter the room, careful not to even look in the baby’s direction, my son would shout and shriek in delight. When the baby was lying on his back on the floor, he’d roll and reach toward Barnaby, practically forcing an interaction that the dog didn’t at all want. It seemed as though we were at least reaching a stalemate where they could coexist.

This uneasy truce continued until we had a big thunderstorm a few weeks ago. The windows were rattling, the wind was wheezing through the trees, and the baby monitor started sounding its objections. Surely, our terrified goldendoodle had hidden in the basement, just as he always does during a good storm.

But when we went to check on the baby, there was Barnaby, sitting beside the crib, and our child was calmly reaching toward his dog. Barnaby wagged his tail, got a “Good boy” or two from Mom and Dad, and curled up on the floor. Barnaby had conquered two fears at once, right on time.

Now we just need to address his fear of plastic bags.

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