I’m learning how to walk a dog and a baby at the same time. I keep telling Mike that I can only care for one mammal at a time, that I am a new and inexperienced zookeeper/mom, and that my primary mammal is Molly. For this reason, Mike remembers to take care of our dog 99.9% of the time. He walks her, feeds her, and remembers to pet her daily. But recently there have been a few moments that I’ve been called upon to multitask. Some mornings I have to walk two mammals at one time.
We live in downtown San Diego on a block of one way streets, where tourists often drive the wrong way and cab drivers yell their disdain with the added leverage of a car horn. To save on electricity, we keep our windows open in the summertime, so at any point during the day we can overhear a road rage interaction, a Bluetooth conversation from a convertible driver, or a homeless man shouting bizarre political rhetoric from down the street. Meanwhile, a commercial airliner flies overhead with a deafening exhale as we conveniently live just one mile from the airport.
City living is like experiencing five reality TV shows at once. We save money on cable.
On the mornings I walk both the dog and the baby, I chain my body to my mammals: the dog’s leash wraps around one wrist and the stroller’s emergency brake strap wraps around the other. We head out with enthusiasm and bravery. I immediately start losing circulation and consequent feeling in both hands—but this is unimportant. I am walking my mammals.
We walk one block at a time, getting stopped at light after light, waiting for the white pedestrian signal to blink our way. When we happen to stop in front of a family-friendly restaurant, all the patrons enthusiastically compliment my adorable baby. “What’s her name? How old is she?” When we stop in front of a trendy local brewery, all the hipster patrons compliment my adorable dog. “What’s her name? How old is she?” These interactions highlight which mammal each demographic is alternately more afraid of.
There is a necessary railroad crossing on each of our walks. Luckily, I played Oregon Trail as a child and if that computer game taught me nothing, it at least taught me how to ford a river. I think about this every time I ford the railroad tracks. My dog is the ox and my stroller is the covered wagon. It is basically the same thing.
Because the railroad crossing is potentially dangerous, it has become important for me to maintain my speed and physical fitness as a new mom and pioneer. I must always be ready to outrun a train while pushing a used jogger stroller and pulling a mildly overweight Labrador Retriever. You could say that motherhood has altered my fitness goals.
Frequently, well-meaning dog owners approach and assure me that their loosely leashed Pit Bull, German Shepherd, or neurotic Chihuahua is “friendly.” They want to have a spontaneous dog date on the tight quarters of a city sidewalk. “Sorry!” the owner says as the dog licks Molly’s face, “My dog loves babies! He knows there’s food leftover around the mouth.”
I stand there horrified. I smile. I wince. I spin the stroller around. I intercede for the red light to change.
But before it can, the “friendly” interaction between dogs devolves into angry growling, teeth bearing, and the realization that at least one of my mammal-chained wrists will certainly snap in half. In this moment, I worry that one of my daughter’s first memories will be of a dog fight. I worry that she will assume I was involved in an illegal enterprise during her early years. I worry that this long-lasting impression will lead her to a life of crime. I worry about how readily and seriously I consider leaving the furrier mammal behind.
Finally, the light turns green.
By the time we get home I’m sweating, the dog is panting, and the baby is sucking her thumb. These morning walks are the most dramatic means possible to accomplish moderate exercise. Mysteriously, this physical exertion does not generate any soreness in any major muscle groups, but rather in my neck, shoulders, and a pounding sensation in my ears.
I know that someday soon we will no longer have the privilege of living in an urban center. The military will take us somewhere else and I will adapt to a new neighborhood. Eventually, we will move out of the city to a house with a yard in a neighborhood that doesn’t have stoplights on every block, nor homeless men educating me on conspiracy theories through my living room window. I will have to start cooking again when I can’t rely on the empanada happy hours from the Argentinian restaurant, fresh pasta from the Italian market, or afternoon iced coffees from the Starbucks in our basement. I will no longer be able to walk to local concerts or major league baseball games or the Pacific Ocean, all of which are equidistant from my house. Someday we will have to move, and when that day comes, I’m sure I will look back on my city walks with fondness. I will recall with pleasure the times the Oregon Trail manifested in downtown San Diego.
So until that time comes, I will happily sacrifice my sanity and wrists for these occasional morning walks. I will also use the words “ford” “forded” and “fording” as much as possible, since it seems that this terminology might disappear along with happy hour empanadas, dog fights, and angry taxi cab drivers in the foreign but foreseeable future of the suburbs.