By JEFF PICKELL
Darla the dog is no fan of babies.
I was worried about how she would behave when my brother John and sister-in-law Stephanie brought their newborn son over for Easter dinner last week. I even suggested keeping the froofy little bichon poodle in her night-night (cage) until John, Stephanie, and little Johnny Five were on their way home.
“Don’t worry,” my mom said. “Darla will be on her best behavior.”
To my surprise, she was.
When my nephew arrived, I was pleased to notice that the Winnie-the-Pooh characters on his brand-spanking-new Easter outfit were recreations of E.H. Shepard’s original illustrations—not the Disney-ized versions most are familiar with.
I’ve always been a fan of A.A. Milne’s original Pooh stories, and since high school have been disheartened by what Disney has done to the characters. I took a moment to remark to John that he was raising his son right.
“Glurg,” he replied. I reckoned I could’ve fit my entire comic book collection in the bags under his eyes. He and Stephanie had had a stressful week, as I imagine all new parents do in the days ensuing the birth of their first child.
First, there was concern over whether Johnny Five was eating enough, then there was concern about regularity, then there was concern about whether the operation “down there” was healing correctly—all issues that were discussed at length in the build-up to the Easter feast, which I was characteristically itching to get at.
Darla didn’t know what to make of Johnny Five. As my mom laid him on the couch to look over his outfit, the dog sat perched on the other side of her lap. She leaned over cautiously and took a sniff of the baby’s blanket, then darted back to her side of the mom. She stayed alert after that, nose up, perplexedly breathing in the new baby smells.
It was funny in a pitiful sort of way to watch the poor little dog try to figure out what the hay was going on. She shot me a series of desperate looks, as if to say, “Jeff, I don’t understand. Help.” I couldn’t help feeling bad for her.
I went downstairs to hassle my other brother Jamie while he played video games. When I emerged a few minutes later, Darla was sitting in front of the kitchen sink, separated from Johnny Five by a counter and a couch.
“What are you doin’ over there, boo-boo?” I inquired.
“Johnny Five hiccuped,” my mom said. “Darla didn’t like that.”
“Oh Dar Dar boo-boo dog,” I said, scooping her up. “You didn’t let that mean old baby scare you, did you?”
“She said ‘I did,’ she said,” I replied in mock conversation. “I don’t like those babies.”
“Boo-boo, you don’t gotta be scared of no babies,” I told her.
I went to the refrigerator and got her a carrot. My parents began substituting carrots for doggy treats when Darla started getting a little pudgy. I’ve read that, unlike humans, dogs can’t eat anything they want without gaining a pound.
Poor thing. In a few minutes, I would be in ham heaven.
Or so I thought. As my dad began carving that juicy meat into manageable hunks, an intense rumbling came from Johnny Five, followed by a cathartic wail.
Darla boogied out of the room.
Soon, it was clear that the confusion over whether Johnny Five was regular or not was resolved.
My nostalgic mom eagerly volunteered to change the baby’s diaper. I curiously ambled over to watch her work. I’d never seen anybody change a baby before, and knew it was a skill I’d have to learn at some point.
Boy, talk about a sour, unwholesome task. As my stomach veered south, my mom worked along with somewhat distressing enthusiasm. She handed the soiled baby wipes to John, who disposed of them in the next room, but not before swiveling around with an exaggerated motion that brought the wipes frighteningly close to my face.
He’s such a jerk.
Anyway, I was in no way prepared for what I saw—when babies go, they go, and there is all kinds of peripheral cleaning and maintenance that I hadn’t thought of.
Yuck. It was another of life’s lessons learned at the expense of my appetite.
But not at the expense of Darla’s. After we sat down to eat, she jealously nudged my leg as I munched a stalk of asparagus. Gone was my taste for ham. Gone was my taste for cheesy taters.
Dar Dar pawed at my shin.
Smiling, I flicked her a sliver of meat.– April 18, 2007