In the Gary Larson Far Side cartoon of my life as a mother, dawn breaks on the serengeti in an explosion of chaos, running, and screaming. The lions are chasing the poodle again, which is a hassle because the poodle has to get the lions fed, dressed, and ready to leave for school in 45 minutes.
IN 45 MINUTES.
It has taken me a while to get used to preparing two young boys for school in the morning, but now that I’m five months in, I can say that…it remains a game of survival.
Oh, I’ve honed my instincts. Like the poodle who raised me and the poodle who raised him, I make my coffee the night before. I set out my coffee cup and put the sugar in. I meticulously pack school lunches that I know will never get eaten. I put out my plate for my toast and knife for the butter. I assemble library books and snacks. I set out water and milk cups.
I don’t want to anger the lions. I don’t want them to smell my fear. I just want the lions to wake up – preferably not at the crack of blackness – pad out to the savannah, say “good morning” like civilized animals, and eat what’s in front of them – preferable not me. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.
Sometime’s, when the moon is in retrograde and pigs fly, it’s a veritable scene from “Oklahoma” with smiles and kindness. But most of the time, it’s blood and guts. It’s bins of Legos dumped everywhere and jumping on couches and fighting for territory and bickering about who’s better and smarter and older and faster. And that’s when I have to get the tranquilizer gun out.
Which looks a lot like the remote control to the TV.
In the blink of an eye, the predators are sedated. I have 25 minutes to shove waffles down gullets, tip cups of milks in the general vicinity of mouths, strip pajamas off and move zombie limbs into shirts and pants. If I’m lucky, I have two minutes to pour scalding coffee into my own mouth.
And every day, I push my luck too far.
The sedation ends before I can brush the animals’ deadly canines. Before I can brush my own, before there’s a last trip to the potty, before shoes and socks cover craggy claws, before 50 last-minute but extremely important things need to be done, like organizing the rock collection. The final ten minutes will always feel the most psychologically crushing to the poodle. The lions will circle her like a slab of steak, their whines of “No!” and “I don’t want to!” and “We were smelling each other’s feet!” push her to the very brink of sanity.
Each night, I plot and connive, rally my strength, gives myself a pep talk: I will lay out their clothes the night before! They can put food into their own mouths! But I know – and every other poodle out there knows – that putting control into the hands of lions amounts to 45 minutes of “Take another bite. Your underwear doesn’t go on your head. Take another bite. In your mouth.”
If I allowed events to flow as they normally would, it would take 45 minutes for the lions to decide that they are even hungry.
And no one understands the stay-at-serengeti poodle’s plight, especially not the working poodle, who asks questions like, “Why didn’t you have time to do that in the morning?” To which I must respond, each and every time, “Do you know how dangerous it is on the serengeti? THAT I’M A FUCKING POODLE ON THE SERENGETI?”
I have heard myths about creatures who dress themselves each morning. Who eat breakfast and brush their teeth and load themselves into the circus car on their own. Surely these are the female of the species! Glorious, self-sufficient angels of potty-training and politeness who appreciate the part of breakfast that includes actually eating and graciously spare their poodles’ lives! Are these myths true? It’s probably all a crock of shit.
I need to take ownership for the here and now. This is my home too! If I want to sit down and eat my toast by an acacia tree, I’m damn well going to. If I need to lasso the lions and make it “pajama day,” so be it. If dry cereal is served in a car seat at 55 miles an hour, then that’s breakfast.
True, I’m a retriever at heart, I have a history of embarrassing hair styles, but my breed excels in obedience training, after all.
The lions might be the kings of the jungle, but this poodle is no one’s bitch.