Saturday, July 11, 2015

Baby/Parenting: Growing Up With a Pet - Victoria & Wilson

You don't need to read through thousands of child psychology or baby development textbooks to know that children love animals. The bond that is formed between the baby and the family pet - whether it's a dog, a cat, a hamster or a bird - is proven to be a big factor in child's emotional development. Being around an animal is beneficial in many ways. 

A pet is a great friend and loyal companion. Most pets have it in their nature to look after babies, though some breeds will be better for your baby than others. For a list of suggested breeds, please visit: Just Dog Breeds

Research has shown that children living with pets are less likely to develop certain allergies, as well as asthma and eczema. Their immunity is boosted through regular interactions with the pet, and so they develop a natural immunity to all sorts of yucky stuff, including seasonal colds and many types of bacteria. 

Regular exercise and, therefore, a more healthy life style, is yet another "side-effect" of owning a pet, particularly a dog. As soon as your baby learns how to crawl, they will start chasing the dog around the apartment, trying to pull its tail or grab a fistful of that fluffy fur. Then comes actual running after the dog, playing with the ball or frisbee, jogging around the neighborhood or even just playing in the backyard. 

Caring for a pet helps teach them become more responsible and improves their nurturing skills. They are more empathic and more caring. Being able to care for another creature, boosts their confidence and gives them a sense of accomplishment

Additionally, the relationship between children and their pets offers a special kind of comfort, one that not even parents can provide. According to studies, children with pets are more mature, have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and have virtually no trouble forming and maintaining peer connections. In other words, your child is happier with a little furry friend around

Growing up, I always had at least one pet keeping me company. When I was only 5, my parents brought home an adorable, loving dachshund. We named her Sandra. I still remember running around the apartment with that little monkey-dog, cuddling together on the couch while watching Disney movies (well, at least I was watching, I don't know what kept Sandra sitting so still and fascinated), and going for long walks into the woods area surrounding our home. These are some wonderful memories and I will always cherish them. 

Sandra was my first pet, but far from the last one. After she was gone, we had two German Shepherds, two mixed breeds, a parrot, two hamsters and a fish-tank full of, well, fish. One time, my dad brought home a wounded hedgehog, and we took care of that poor guy, too, until he was healthy enough to be released into the "wild". I grew up surrounded by animals, learning how to take care of them and feeling their unconditional love. Nothing could ever replace their presence in my life, no games, no movies, no books, not even my friends. 

When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I wanted the same kind of wonderful experience for my baby. Luckily, we already had a wonderful pet, a loving Sheltie boy named Wilson. Now, Wilson is a real sweetheart. He is smart, caring, gentle, and - as weird as this may sound - very considerate. And so I knew from the get-go that he would be a wonderful big brother to our baby girl. And of course, he is. Moreover, he's even better with her than I could have ever hoped for.

Of course, I was a bit worried about the logistics of it all. With my husband in dental school and my parents all the way across the ocean, I am virtually all by myself here. A toddler to take care of seemed like enough work, especially in the first few months when you're barely getting any sleep and constantly smell like baby vomit. Or poop. Or both. 

I worried about taking the dog for a walk with a newborn baby. I worried about finding the time to feed him. I worried he may accidentally do something to hurt her (he is a hugger, he likes forcing his furry butt onto your lap). I worried about many things... And sure, it's wasn't exactly a walk in the park and it took some serious planning and trouble-shooting, but it was and is definitely do-able. Not to mention rewarding. Just seeing these two together makes all the running around, not getting any sleep or rest and often-times, not eating so these two can eat WORTHWHILE. 

When Tori was still small and unable to walk, my daily routine was pretty crazy. I would get up in the morning, I feed the little one, change her diaper, change her clothes and then I'd make myself a cup coffee. I no longer had the privilege of enjoying it on the porch in the morning sun. Instead, I  would pour it into my go-mug, leash the dog, get the baby settled in her stroller, and off we'd go. Two rounds around the neighborhood and one coffee later, we were back home. Baby nap time, why, wouldn't that be a perfect time to sit down and read a bit? Nope, I would quickly take a shower to wash the morning vomit off and then I'd prepare a meal for Wilson. Baby wakes up, it's playtime. Then it's feeding time again, and then we'd go for another walk. If I'm lucky, I had the time to grab a snack for myself to enjoy, if not - oh, well! I'd just wait till hubby got home (around 6 p.m.). Sure, it took some sacrifices. Sure, it's not easy. Is it worth it though? Totally. 

When Victoria was only 4 months old and I could already tell how much she adored Wilson. And vice versa. And their mutual affection and love seems to be growing with every day. She cries a bit and he is the first one to run to check on her. He comes around and she is grinning like the happiest kid in the world. I tell him "say hi to Victoria" and he sticks his cold nose into her cheek and licks her chin a bit, and she is so delighted, she squees out loud. They are so good for each other and I am so happy to see them growing up together. After all, Wilson is still kind of a baby himself, he's only 4 years old this July.

I really couldn't wait for Tori to be old enough to walk, to see her playing with Wilson and interacting with him in a more involved, independent manner. And you know what? It is awesome. Every day I look at them being so happy with one another, playing, running around, Tori laughing and squeeing and Wilson wagging his tail and nudging her with his cold nose - and it's so adorable, my heart swells with affection and love. I'm so glad that my daughter can experience this, it's so precious and so very needed. She purposefully drops food under her booster chair so Wilson can have a little snack, she opens the cabinet where we keep Wilson's cookies and feeds him (really, if it was up to her, Wilson would eat the whole bag in one day), she pats him, hugs him, even kisses him on the nose and it's just so beautiful and wonderful. And I can tell how happy they are and how much they love each other. I know Wilson will always be a good friend, a good older brother to Victoria. And I know she'll love and care for him. What more could I hope for?

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