I feel the tension every night when my husband, two baby girls and I squeeze into our tiny queen-sized bed. To put it plainly, not everybody wants to snuggle. In fact, my eldest daughter doesn’t even want to come to bed until my youngest has stopped fussing and is sound asleep.
Ok, before we go any further, my ‘eldest’ is my 9-year-old chihuahua, and my ‘youngest’ is my 10-month-old human baby. If you think I’m one of those crazy women who refers to her pets as her furbabies and has a dedicated pet Instagram account, well… guilty as charged. (The handle is @tottochi.) I think of my chihuahua as my baby, and so does she.
You can’t blame us. Chihuahua are like newborns in so many ways. They weigh as much as newborns, and cuddle as much as newborns. Some of them are even as noisy as newborns. (Not my Totto, thank goodness! Think of her as a chihuahua on mute.)
My husband and I got her four months into dating. We were exploring Pasir Ris and wandered into a chihuahua farm. Yes, on hindsight, I never should have stepped into a puppy mill. But I did, and I fell in love.
Totto was scrawny and weak when we first found her. She had these awful bald patches on her forehead and front paw. At seven months, she was smaller than other four-month-old pups of her breed. The dog farm owner suggested I pick a healthier puppy. But I knew she was the one.
All the way home, she curled up into a tiny weightless ball on my lap, and didn’t even move. When we brought her to the vet the next day, the vet offered to write us a letter to return her to the pet farm. (Yes, this actually happened!)
But precisely because Totto was so frail, she brought out the maternal instincts I never knew I had. I poured all my love upon her. I slept with her, worked with her by my side, hand-fed her mangoes, and took her along on my dates.
And day after day, she blossomed. Her bald patches disappeared, her fur grew out, and she filled out her little body. She grew into a loving, fluffy, cuddly, slightly overweight 3kg forever-puppy – the sweetest dog anyone could ask for.
The first few years of our marriage were somewhat tumultuous – we were still finding out feet as a couple. My husband will tell you how Totto placed herself between us when we had a fight, and how she’d quietly comforted whoever felt more upset. She also shared all our happiest moments. She’d be beside us as we blew out birthday candles, and she joined us on sunset walks and breakfast dates.
So when I was pregnant with Baby Lily, I naturally assumed that she’d love whoever I loved. I imagined the lazy afternoons we’d spend together, our mini adventures in the park, and the nights we’d cuddle together.
I was so wrong.
I think it was because when I first returned from hospital, I completely neglected Totto. I’d just had a c-section and couldn’t bend down to pick her up or sit on the floor with her like I used to. It also took me a while to get the hang of breastfeeding. And for the first month, I was simply exhausted from round-the-clock feedings, pumping, caring for a newborn, recovering from my wound and following the silly rules of confinement.
I first noticed how jealous Totto was when I was breastfeeding in bed. Since she was such as small dog, she’d use a special step ladder to climb on and off our bed. However, she suddenly refused to use the ladder whenever I was breastfeeding. Instead, she’d insist on being carried onto bed. Because latching was so hard for me at first, I refused to do it until after I’d finished nursing.
I think that’s why she began to see Lily as the competition, or maybe worse – the enemy. Even after I decided to pause mid-feed and carry her onto the bed, she refused to co-exist with Lily, and would climb down. Each night, she’d run off and wait till Lily was sound asleep before returning to cuddle with us in bed.
Interestingly enough, as Lily grew, she became more and more fascinated with Totto despite the daily rejection. One of the first words she said (right after ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’) was ‘Tata’. In her cute little way, she’d try to ingratiate herself with her fur-sister, smile at her, wave at her from across the room, crawl after her, and try to share her treats. The more Lily tried, the more Totto would snub her. It’s as if my baby were the uncool kid in school, and Totto were the cool worldly older girl she was always trying to impress.
Believe me when I say I’ve tried to bridge this divide. However, it’s been 10 months, and I’ve kind of given up, and decided to let them work it out in their own time, on their own terms.
But as I write this, both of them are asleep on my bed. It’s 5am in the morning, and they look lost to the world. There’s a special bliss in watching your babies sleep peacefully, counting each rise and fall of their chest, and listening for each soft almost-soundless breath.
I want to hug them both and say, ‘let’s just stay here like this forever’. Because I know even as I write this that the Earth is spinning relentlessly, and each second is secretly sneaking away from us and disappearing into the void of time.
I want to tell them that world may change with the wind, and people may come and go. But we are family and family is forever.
Family is the anchor against all of life’s storms. Family must love one another. No matter what happens during the day, when we come home at night and lay down together, we should put aside our insecurities and differences, leave behind any wariness and scepticism, and pull down all invisible walls.
Laying down to rest together like that is one of the greatest comforts and intimacies we can enjoy in life. In a life marked by long stretches of solitude and loneliness, this may be the closest we’ll ever be to another person.
Having said that, it’d simply be so sad to hate the person you lay your head beside each night, wouldn’t it? That’s what I want to tell my baby girls. But how do you explain this to a chihuahua and baby?