I'm not sure why I said yes. Maybe it's because I have boys. Maybe it's because I have a husband, a brother, two brothers-in-law, and three nephews. Or maybe it's because I yearned for that brief, blissful few months, back in the summer of 1996, when I read Carol Weston's work for the first time and was surrounded by nursing mothers.
I had our first son in July, right after OJ Simpson was acquitted. The weather stayed warm for a long time and my life consisted of short, morning walks to the park, my baby bundled up in his stroller, and then long afternoons in our sunny apartment, our baby napping in his crib, while I sat adrift in breast milk and diapers, blissfullly reading Carol Weston's book From Here to Maternity and Jean Kunhardt and Lisa Spiegel's A Mother's Circle.
My best friend from college and I miraculously managed to deliver our first babies on the same day in the same hospital, and together we joined a baby group---a group of new mothers who had had their babies within a month or so of each other. We all lived on the West Side, and we were all nursing our first children, so once or twice a week, we would walk thirty or forty blocks or whatever it took to get to each other's apartments, and then sit for what seemed like hours, letting our babies fall asleep on the blankets in front of us, trading intimacies, sipping coffee, and talking about babies and occasionally, books. One of the women in the baby group had lent me Carol Weston's book, and I remember laughing and feeling relief at the funny way Weston wrote about having her first child (who happened to be a girl.)
Days went by slowly. Sometimes I sat alone for hours on the old white couch in our sunny apartment, nursing our boy. While he ate, I read. I was fat and so sleep-deprived that I can't remember doing much of anything else at the time, but I do remember talking on the phone about what I was reading, and eating delicious frisse salads with bacon---a dish that Peter's, the restaurant around the corner, made particularly well. My life was a pleasant, simple blur---my husband worked twenty blocks away at a job he enjoyed, and all that was required of me was that I keep our son clean and fed, and occasionally, host a group of women and their children in our living room.
That baby group lasted about nine months. Eventually, the kids were too big and mobile for us all to meet in one apartment, and several of the women went back to work. And the truth was we just didn't need each other so acutely anymore. Eventually, my husband, son and I moved out of New York. We had another boy and I joined another baby group out in the suburbs. But this group was full of second, third and even fourth time Moms. We were all a lot more confident and knowledgable than we had been with our first babies, so we didn't not spend hours in the afternoons together. Instead, our playgroup met for an hour or so in the mornings. While our babies crawled around our basements, we drank our coffee, talked about our other commitments, and disbanded.
It was probably because I remembered those first, clubby days of motherhood so fondly that when the president of the local Wellesley Club asked me to host an event for mothers and daughters, and said the author Carol Weston was scheduled to speak, I immediately said yes. Never mind that I didn't have a daughter. Never mind that I hadn't read any of Carol Weston's books since 1996. I just could not wait to have a house full of women, and an author whose work I knew, speaking to us in our living room.
The day before the event a snow storm arrived. I ran around the house, moving chairs into the living room, cleaning up the basement (not that I planned to let anyone go down into that toy-strewn cave), making sure our silver tea service was polished (this was, after all, a Wellesley event, and since afternoon tea had been a weekly ritual in our dorms, tea had to be served.) I emlisted my eight-year old and his friend to make brownies and blondies with me, until the snow beckoned and they abandoned the batter to go shovel in it.
The event was scheduled for Sunday, 2-4 p.m. The Giants-Eagles game was scheduled for 1 p.m., and though my sons were sort of invited to the mother-daughter event, my husband told me that there was no way they were going to be there---so they went off to a neighbor's to watch the game in peace, and left our dog behind to keep me company.
Carol Weston and the president of the club arrived first, followed by a Wellesley friend. This friend and I didn't actually know each other at Wellesley, but our sons go to school together and have become close, so she brought him over so the boys could watch the football game together. This woman is lucky enough to also have an daughter, and of course this adorable little girl wants to go to Wellesley, so she came too. As I watched my friend's bright, blonde girl help herself to a brownie, I felt a bit of envy, and bit my lip. I focused on chatting with Carol Weston, a delightful, attractive, funny person. I told her how much I had loved From Here to Maternity. She thanked me and said the book had not made into paperback and was now out of print (but still available through Amazon booksellers). Weston has spent the past fifteen years as a columnist for Girls' Life Magazine, and writing novels for preteen girls, so she quickly got busy stacking up her newer books, The Diary of Melanie Martin, With Love From Spain, Melanie Martin,and Melanie in Manhattan, while I got busy putting out more brownies. Eventually, the house filled up with middle-aged Wellesley women and their daughters, and Carol addressed the crowd. She spoke about her life as a writer and a mother. She read excepts from the diary she kept as a girl, read rejection letters she had received before her first book was published by Knopf, and read a bit from the manuscript of the new book she is working on.
Though the men in my life were absent, my dog, Roxy, who happens to be a girl, roamed around the living room, looking for brownie pieces and trying to be part of the conversation.
This is where I tell you the truth. I long for a daughter. Part of me is glad I don't have one---my teenage daughter would probably snarl at me, just as I snarled at my mother when I was thirteen. And I would probably impose on my daughter the same obsession with weight, clean nails and polishing the silver that my mother and grandmother imposed on me. Yet, part of me mourns the fact that I don't have a daughter, and therefore, will be be at the mercy of my daughters-in-law (assuming I am lucky enough to even have those.) So Roxy, our large, yellow Lab, has kind of, sort of, become my daughter. At least, that's how my husband refers to her. The good news is she doesn't talk back and she doesn't have mood swings, and she never tells me I look fat and should take whatever I'm wearing off because it's old and ugly. The bad news is I will probably outlive her, and because we had her fixed, she will never give us grandchildren.
Of course, I love my husband and my sons, but for years, I have longed for female companionship. Really, any girl would do, and there were never enough of them. I went to an all-girls sleepaway camp and then Wellesley, but after college, I went to work for a male-dominated investment bank and then a business magazine. Sure, there were women around, but mostly there were men. At home, I've always been surrounded by men, and women who have raised men: Our houskeeper and our old babysitter have five boys between them. (Even our painter seems to only make boys: He showed up while I was writing this and told me he is expecting his second grandson.) I actually have a half sister, but she is half my age, and is (understandably) more interested in talking to her friends on Facebook than talking to me. And I have two wonderful sisters-in-law, but one lives in Berkeley, and though the other one lives nearby, she has two sisters of her own, so I am not her go-to girl.
Since my husband and I are blessed with two boys, our lives are filled with ice hockey, baseball, Xbox, and routing for the Giants and the Devils. A couple of years ago, my mother and I, who have probably seen the New York City Ballet's "Nutcracker" at least twenty times together, tried to take the kids to see the ballet. The kids writhed in their seats; we never went back. Our holiday card is filled with pictures of all of us dressed in blue---in one picture, we are actually at a Giants game. In view of the fact that our older son is now 12 1/2, I try to give male rappers their due: This morning, we listened to TI's Paper Trail in the car, and I love a lot of it, but my favorite song on that album is "Live Your Life," in which Rihanna does most of the singing, so who am I kidding? And I really genuinely love Eminem, who's a friggin' brilliant song writer, but again, my favorite song of his is "Cleaning Out My Closet," and that's all about his mother.
Anyway, this is a long way of saying that when it came time to get a dog, there was no way we weren't going to get a girl. We brought Roxy home the summer of 2006. Our kids almost named her Tiki, after Tiki Barber, the former running back for the Giants, but then ultimately settled on Roxy.
Roxy is a beautiful, blonde, well-bred girl. Her parents are champions; if we had had it in us to show her, maybe we could have. Instead, we have let her turn into a lazy, happy, food-chasing, suburban dog who walks my younger to school, goes for a run with me and then spends most of her days lazing on the day bed in the family room, sleeping in a sunny spot in the dining room, or cozying up to the shoes in my closet. I treat her like a girl: She wears a hot pink, flowered collar, and if I could zip her into in a flowered, Lili Pulitzer golf skirt, I would. On her birthday, I wrap a gauze white ribbon with a flower attached to it around her neck (which she hates) and give her a big bowl of vanilla ice cream (which she loves.) Roxy is one of those creatures about whom it's easy to say, "She never gives us any trouble." And she doesn't. Her only flaw is that she is overly friendly. When people come into the house, she wants to stick her nose in their crotches to see where they've been.
The night after the Wellesley event, I was upstairs, taking a break after making tacos for my kids. I'm not sure what I was doing, but I looked at the door to my husband's closet and noticed there was red paint everywhere. I immediately screamed for my younger son: "You got paint everywhere!" He had been doing ceramics at school, it had to be him. Then I saw paint on the rug. Then I saw paint on the green wallpaper. I went into the hallway. There was paint all along the wall in the upstairs hallway. There was paint on the door to my office. There was paint all along the wall in the back hall staircase. I started to hyper-ventilate.
I went downstairs. There was red paint on the floor and on many of the lower kitchen cabinets. What was going on?
I looked carefully. I put my finger on the paint. It was dark red and it was everywhere. Then I realized, It wasn't paint, it was blood. "Where's Roxy?" I yelled.
Then my kids told me: One of them had inadvertently slammed the door on her when she went outside to pee. She wandered over to me, looking forlorn. I checked her paws, cleaned them off with a wet paper towel. Still, I couldn't find any blood. I left my kids to eat their tacos and set about cleaning up all the walls and cabinets. There was blood on all the walls, leading to my bedroom. I felt like whoever had to clean up after Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." Every time I turned around, there was more blood. Where was it coming from? I went downstairs, and checked Roxy again. I couldn't find any blood on her, but she was despondent and put her head in my lap. My kids came over to stroke her. We rubbed her back and her tummy, she kissed our faces and looked at us with her big, sad brown eyes. I felt sorry for her, but kept seeing blood everwhere. Where the hell was it coming from?
It was all the walls and the cabinets, but not on the floor. It must be coming from...I finally realized, her tail! Her tail had gotten caught in the door!
Dear God, poor girl. I took hydrogen peroxide and cleaned off her tail. She whimpered and moved away. My kids gave her treats. I went back upstairs to remove the rest of the blood from the walls. Miraculously, it all came off, except for a tiny bit on the green wallpaper near the desk in our bedroom.
When I came downstairs, she was resting on the floor in the kitchen, next to the mat in front of the sink. An hour later, she took herself down to her crate in the basement, and put herself to bed.
The next morning, we got the kids off to school and then Roxy and I went for a long walk/short run. It was sunny and cloudless but the air was frigid, so I wore a pink down vest, purple neck-warmer and pink hat over my running clothes. Roxy trotted alongside me, looking sweet and fully-recovered in her pink collar and yellow fur. She might never go to Wellesley, but she will always be my girl.