Well, as Nate’s pre-K class starts to peel off into romantic pairs—seriously, it’s not even spring yet!—Sam, too, has decided to take a paramour. And it’s Wally, our dog. And it’s very much unrequited.
Though really, Sam’s always had a bit of a crush on Wally. Nate, on the other hand, came home from the hospital as a newborn and seemed to view Wally as part of the landscape of our house, glancing over him as he did the ugly floral print chair next to the fireplace. Meanwhile, Wally resented the attention-hogging infant, so they never established much of a bond.
And then Sam came along.
As an infant, he was not the best sleeper, and we would often bring him downstairs after bedtime to rock him back to sleep on a giant physio ball while we watched House of Cards. Sam’s a stubborn and manipulative guy, just like Frank Underwood.
One night, exasperated with his insomnia, I placed Sam on a blanket on the floor—probably so I could finish a bowl of ice cream. He wasn’t even able to crawl yet, but somehow he managed to worm his way over to Wally’s bed and wiggle onto his neck to entangle himself in Wally’s fur. They lounged there for the better part of an hour, Sam massaging Wally with a combination of curiosity and affection, and Wally unsure whether to be grateful for the attention or fearful of his prodding little fingers.
It was certainly more soothing for Sam than for Wally and we were soon able to put Sam to sleep with ease. That night anyway.
But that was the start of the unrequited romance.
Sam’s never used a pacifier, he’s used Wally instead. When he’s distressed or agitated, which is almost always, he wraps his arms around Wally and buries his face in his neck. After a few moments of cuddling and some inquisitive finger jabbing of Wally’s face, Sam is always calmer, more serene—for about five minutes.
When we come home from an outing, Sam seeks out Wally to tell him where we went and what we did. “We went Trader Joe’s, Wa. Got lollipops.” Wally is his equal, his brother—a brother whom we always seem to mistakenly leave at home when we run errands.
Sam apportions part of every meal to Wally and takes pride in the fact that he’s nourishing his dog and using his sharing skills. “Wally doesn’t like grapes!” or “Wally likes Cheez-its!”
But, like any pair of lovers, Wally and Sam have their ups and downs. Wally purposely positions himself in between Sam and his breakfast plate every morning. In fairness, Sam usually takes one bite of his waffle or bagel and wanders away to gather Lego’s or something, so in Wally’s canine sense of justice, the plate is up for grabs.
When Sam returns, though, he emits his squealiest squeal—that he reserves for these moments of injustice—and shouts out, “Move, Wa!” while kicking him in the butt or the throat or the ribs, whatever Wally’s left vulnerable.
“You move Wally, Dad?” Sam asks after Wally refuses to budge despite the pain from the bruised ribs he must be feeling.
“Huh?” Tighe looks up from his precious DVR-ed American Ninja Warrior, just long enough to say, “Move, Wally.”
Wally un-wedges himself from his post next to the coffee table and drags himself to higher, safer ground on the other side of the sofa. Sam takes another bite and then scoots away again to his Lego’s, which he refers to as “Ninja Turtles.” Wally slithers back, next to Sam’s plate, and the cycle repeats.
During the day, Wally’s favorite place to sleep is in the office, next to a ground level, arch-shaped window from where he can watch squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and the occasional cat, slowly and bravely meandering through our yard.
This also happens to be Sam’s favorite place to dump out all his Lego’s and a basket of books, and every wooden Melissa and Doug puzzle we own. As any parent, caregiver, or former child knows, applying one’s bodyweight to the surface of Lego’s causes pain, and it seems this is true for dogs as well.
Wally avoids the room when Nate and Sam are in there playing—one never knows what toys will suddenly become weapons or projectiles, and Wally can’t always escape fast enough to avoid being caught in the crossfire. But when they’ve retreated back to the TV or to the mess hall for a feeding, Wally will return, worming his way through the toys to create just enough space to catch a nap before the ceasefire ends and he finds himself in a battleground again.
But if Sam returns and finds his dog, his best friend, sprawled out peacefully, with perhaps a leg or a tail resting on the corner of a puzzle or sought-after Lego, he lets out another squealiest squeal, demanding that Wally move.
But Wally’s stubborn. Or just really tired from a long day of guarding the house, so oftentimes, he’ll stay there. Until Sam’s squealiest squeals turn to screeches, at a volume and pitch that no ear can withstand. Then he lumbers away, still drowsy from his incomplete nap. Sometimes he stands by the back door, seeking out some quiet time in the backyard. If the weather is nice, he sits on the patio for hours, like a lion overlooking the savannah, and when he returns to continue resting in the house, Sam stretches out on top of him, massaging and caressing.
“Wally’s penis is dirty, Mom.”
“Yes, Sam. Don’t touch it.”
We’ve been over that a lot. Because boundaries are important and even Wally needs some privacy.