At some point, probably this afternoon, Older Daughter will relent and take her husband home. My Long Suffering Spouse will begin fumigating the den. And we'll be down to only one house guest. If you guessed that this is a reference to Younger Daughter, you're wrong. I don't count Younger Daughter as a house guest, not when she's just home from college for break.
No, our remaining guest is Oldest Son's dog.
Oldest Son and his wife Abby were here for Nochebuena; I took them from dinner straight to O'Hare so they could get on a plane for San Antonio to spend Christmas with Abby's family. Their dog was supposed to go, too.
At least that's what I was told originally.
This has been a busy year for Oldest Son. He got married, got a dog, and bought a car, in that order, all this year. Shortly after Oldest Son and Abby got the car, they came out to visit -- with the dog.
The dog is tiny, hardly worthy of the title 'dog,' really. They have a different name for it, but I call it "Rodent," since it is much more rodent-sized than canine-sized.
By breed, the dog is a Shih Tzu. The Shih Tzu is a Chinese lap dog of ancient lineage. It was a favorite of high nobility, even emperors, because of its diminutive size and long, silky fur. In an ancient Chinese dialect, Shih Tzu means "What The Little Dog Will Do On Your Rug."
When we first met the little creature, Long Suffering Spouse and I asked how Oldest Son and Abby were going to tend to its basic needs, since both of them work long days (and Oldest Son frequently travels on business). How was it going to get outside to do what doggies do?
It's a feature in chic, urban neighborhoods: Well-dressed, well-educated young people, walking well-groomed dogs -- and carrying baggies or plastic grocery bags and scoops or little shovels for when the dog does what a dog must. Pickpockets take a terrible risk in such neighborhoods: You might get a yuppie's wallet. On the other hand, you might get a yuppie dog's latest souvenir.
Oldest Son agreed he and Abby wouldn't have time to walk the little creature. She'd probably freeze solid on a typical Chicago winter morning anyway, he told me. Therefore, they'd "paper train" the dog and leave it all at that.
Naturally, newspapers are no longer used by the young people even for paper training. Oldest Son pretends not to know what a newspaper is, anyway. (He has a whole routine worked up about 'someone putting the Internet on paper.') Instead, Oldest Son and Abby have bought "puppy pads," absorbent squares of treated paper (I guess). They set out one of these for Rodent each morning before leaving for work.
They claim this works for them and for Rodent. I was less enthused. I was a tad queasy about the set-up, truth to tell. The arrangement has a high 'ick' factor, so far as I was concerned.
And in our initial visit with the little creature, I made it quite clear to Oldest Son and Abby that I didn't want any animals in my house that aren't housebroken. Period. End of discussion. Don't bother moving to reconsider.
That's what I said.
Now we get to Thanksgiving. Oldest Son and Abby had plans to leave the morning after Thanksgiving to fly to Southern California for the Notre Dame game.
I didn't get a chance to write about this at the time because of the appellate emergency I was dealing with, but because I knew that Oldest Son and Abby would be staying with us on Thanksgiving night, as the big day approached, I began asking who was going to be taking care of their little dog. At one point, fairly early on, Oldest Son assured me that a friend was doing the honors. But, as the day approached, I began to pick up subtle signals that a hitch might have developed in the dogsitting plans. I took each and every opportunity to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, in my best James Earl Jones Voice of Authority, that no way and no how was that little mutt to cross my threshold.
I happened to be looking out the living room window on Thanksgiving when Oldest Son and Abby pulled up and got out of the car... with the little dog.
I was angry. I was ticked off. I was, you should pardon the expression, pissed.
The friend couldn't dogsit after all, Oldest Son explained (after I calmed down enough to ask). That's when Younger Daughter stepped in an volunteered to look after Rodent. She'd gone over to Oldest Son's apartment before to watch the dog, earlier in the football season, in fact, when Oldest Son and Abby made a day trip to South Bend.
And Oldest Son made a show of surrendering the apartment keys to his sister, as if we'd really let her go back there alone for the weekend just to keep the dog out of the house.
(Well, I might have -- but Long Suffering Spouse would have overruled me on that one.)
Besides, offered Oldest Son, trying to smooth the troubled waters, he'd brought a supply of "doggie diapers" so that Rodent wouldn't leave behind any unwanted Thanksgiving leftovers.
No, I'd never heard of doggie diapers either. They have an opening for the tail, but otherwise look like standard issue Huggies. And just like paper diapers for little humans, sometimes they work better than others.
Somehow, we got through Thanksgiving weekend. I was still cranked out of shape, but who listens to old Dad anyway?
The one thing I made clear to Oldest Son and Abby upon their return was that this was our one and only foray into the dogsitting business. This was an imposition, I said, and it was rude, and it was never, ever to happen again. I looked to Long Suffering Spouse for reinforcement -- present a united front! that's the first thing they teach in the parenting correspondence course -- and Long Suffering Spouse nodded gravely and began to speak: "Your father is right," she began... and then she put in a loophole big enough to drive a kennel full of Shih Tzus through. "You should have asked us," she said. "You can't leave the dog with us without asking first."
"And you know what the answer will be," I said, trying to recapture the advantage. Even little Rodent saw through this feeble effort.
But, once again, as the big day approached, I began to sense a disturbance in the Force. Suspicious now, I was watching Younger Daughter to see if she betrayed any guilty knowledge. Thus, a few days before Christmas, I knew what was about to happen when Oldest Son called the house. "You talk to him," I told Long Suffering Spouse. "If he's calling to ask me, you know what my answer will be."
I still think that, despite my vigilance, Younger Daughter must have found a way to grease the skids with Long Suffering Spouse. My wife gave in too easily. Younger Daughter materialized at my wife's side when the call from her brother came in, too. Younger Daughter really loves that dog and I'll bet you any sum you care to wager Oldest Son tipped her off as to when he'd be calling.
Then came my moment of ultimate humiliation: Long Suffering Spouse handed me the phone. "He has to ask you, too," she said.
"What happened to the plan of bringing the dog with?" I asked forlornly.
"Ah," said Oldest Son, "Um. We found out that you have to have a certificate of good health from a vet before she can fly and we found out too late to get one."
I said nothing.
"And we found out that we'd have to pay an extra $150 both ways for her, even though the dog carrier would fit under our seats."
I said nothing.
"So, anyway, Dad," Oldest Son stammered, "can we leave the dog at your house when we go to San Antonio?"
I looked at Younger Daughter's pleading face. I looked at Long Suffering Spouse -- and her expression was just as pleading. "I suppose this is the part where I'm supposed to graciously acquiesce, right?" My wife nodded. Younger Daughter held her breath.
"Oh, alright," I said, defeated. "But I don't want any Christmas Miracles in my shoes," I began... and Long Suffering Spouse snatched the phone back to seek reassurances that the dog had mastered paper training in the month since Thanksgiving.
Of course it has, said Oldest Son.
I went back to the den and fell asleep in my chair watching the news: Mr. Irrelevant at home with the family.