Today is the Berlin marathon. A huge day for all the runners; physically and emotionally exhausting, but also triumphant and joyous. I signed up for the marathon a year ago, and I should be one of those runners. My friends Andie and Kristen are there in Berlin right now, having planned to be part of my cheering squad. Instead they’re drinking beer and eating sausages without me. I’m not there because I haven’t been for a run since Archie came into my life 8 weeks ago and I certainly would not have made it round 26.2 miles without training properly. I’m also not in Berlin having a fun weekend with my friends without the race because I didn’t want to leave him with a dog sitter all weekend, so soon after the big move.
I’ll be honest, I’m sad not be be there. I love the atmosphere of a big race, and the pride of completing something I’d previously thought was impossible. I was not all sporty as a kid and hated PE with a passion, but I discovered running in my 20s and fell in love with my new sport. Yes, it’s hard and not every run is a pleasure, but I love what I can make my body do. It makes me feel strong and powerful. I work out problems on my runs, deal with stress, listen to audiobooks and podcasts or let my mind wander. I’ve run mile after mile along the banks of the Thames and round Richmond Park, run the Brighton and Chicago marathons, multiple 10k and half marathons. It has became part of my identity, and I love it. But I’ve really struggled to fit running into my life since adopting Archie. We go for a daily 40 minute walk before breakfast but I don’t have time to fit in a run too before work, and I feel bad coming home any later than I already do. Archie definitely doesn’t like it if I head out again as soon as I get home either. And anyway I can’t look at a green space these days without thinking how much he would enjoy it.
The obvious answer is to take him running with me, and I hope we’ll do that once he’s a bit older (it can put too much stress on the bones and joints of puppies to take them running when they’re too young). I had thought I’d been getting enough fresh air and exercise on our walks but the marathon today has made me realise how much I miss getting my heart rate up, so I’ll need to find a way to squeeze it in, maybe at lunch time or as an alternative to the bus home.
Dog parenthood is not something to take on lightly. It means putting someone else first, and that means some sacrifices. Some of these, like running, are hopefully temporary (and I could probably try harder to fit in). Some I don’t, in all honesty, miss that much (I never really liked going out that much anyway). And others, well I’ll just have to learn to adapt. Here are a few of the other things I’ve given up since becoming a dog parent:
Spontaneity: fancy a drink after work? Dinner out? Popping over to London for a day of meetings? Weekend in Bruges, or the French Alps, or a Berlin mini-break? Sure, but what about Archie? Who will keep him company? I already feel bad enough leaving him home all morning on his own, so I hate to leave him in the evenings too. And we haven’t been apart overnight once yet. I do need to find a trusted dog sitter so that I can occasionally take advantage of Belgium’s ideal location in the heart of Europe for a sneaky little trip but but, like with kids, any such adventure needs to be planned, researched and booked well in advance.
Going out: see above. I’m getting better at having an evening out; dining out with friends is one of the pleasures of Brussels life and I don’t want to forgo it entirely, but I definitely go out less, and come home earlier, than I used to. One drink after work really does mean one drink these days. I don’t like to get home late, because I worry about my little pooch, and to tell the truth I miss him too. I have no tolerance for long tram and bus trips and am embracing speedy ubers. If I decide it’s time to head home to my pup I want to be there in 20 minutes or less. I’ll confess, I never really liked late nights that much to begin with, and most evenings would rather sit on the sofa in my pyjamas watching Netflix with Archie than be in a noisy bar. He’s a great excuse sometimes…
A pristine flat: as my old flatmate Rachel can testify, I used to be incredibly particular (some might say anal) about tidiness. I hated mess. I still do. I like everything arranged just so – magazines ‘casually’ fanned out on the coffee table, cushions artfully placed on the sofa, flowers in vases – my whole flat Instagram ready. Now there are dog toys all over the floor and I am fighting a constant, losing battle against dog hair. Archie dribbles water when he drinks and drops bits of dog food all over the kitchen floor. He sometimes drools. He makes a mess in other people’s cars (sorry Katie and Matt!) It drives me nuts.
I do my best to keep the mess under control. I’ve bought a special ‘pet hair’ vacuum cleaner and mop the kitchen floor several times a week. I am gradually replacing all of Archie’s old things with more attractive alternatives – his big ugly plastic toy box is now a wicker basket from John Lewis, which suits the decor much better. But I have had to learn to accept a bit of mess.
Stress: for all the worry of the first few weeks of dealing with a nervous dog I feel much more relaxed with him around. That’s not surprising. Petting or playing with a dog is proven to reduce production of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin.
But it’s not just that. Thanks to Archie I no longer live alone, and that makes me much happier than a tidy flat ever could. He’s so excited when he wakes up every morning and realises that we have another day to spend together. His little tail wags with joy. And he’s so happy every evening when I come home that he follows me from room to room to make sure I don’t leave again. He helps to keep things in proportion. Work is important, but home time is too. He doesn’t want to talk about the office, he just wants to cuddle on the sofa, play with his tennis ball or go for walkies. He has simple needs – food, exercise, love – and as long as they’re satisfied he’s a happy little soul. And so am I. What sacrifice isn’t worth that?