For the love of babygrows and a dog called No

In The Sticks
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The Independent Culture
DOUG AND BUSTER had their first row this morning. They shouted quite seriously at each other and Buster went out to school with "And don't slam that door!" ringing in his ears.

Of course, I saw it all coming. The row and the anxiety. Buster has been preparing his costume for the competitive fancy dress at the PTA summer barbecue on Friday, and is finding the conversion of a bin bag to Costa Rican rain forest a little stressful. For a week, the whole house has been taken over by dismantled cardboard boxes and little pieces of coloured paper as Buster worries and procrastinates and fails to get the job finished. All of which is a complete mystery to Doug who dropped out of his primary school egg and spoon race in 1972 because he finds competition boring. So when there were paper leaves stuck to all the cereal bowls this morning and Buster was behaving as if he was about to take the last penalty against Brazil, Doug inevitably lost it.

My anxiety has a rather more obscure root: Buster and Bunny's first babygrows that I keep at the bottom of my knicker drawer and found myself sobbing over last week. Hard to explain the train of thought but it goes roughly like this: babygrows to ex-husband holding babies to ex-husband leaving in spite of cute babygrow contents to not even shared babygrow experiences with Doug to keep him here.

However, my less emotional analysis of the situation may prove correct because, after the row, Doug didn't put his Scalextric set back in its box and say "I'm leaving", as I feared he might. There are things other than babygrows to hold a man after all. Poly tunnels for one. Our mole assassin neighbour Bob has decided he isn't going to get the price of a new Range Rover out of us in exchange for a corner of a wet field, and agreed a price we can actually afford. So before the summer is out, Doug's empire of plants could be establishing itself under a roof of plastic in the meadow next door, and unless he wants to sleep in the hedge he'll have to go on putting up with the old lag and the pre-teens.

And although we will (probably) never have first-size babygrows to croon over together, we will have first-size dog collars. Having got the "vein" and the "page three" on the dash of the Big White Van, Doug has now got the terrier, a ten-week-old Border who is far better looking than any human baby of the same age. And you can't get humans to poop on a sheet of Indy jobs pages at 10 weeks, or go through the night without crying. I won't tell you the dog's name because Doug is now rather ashamed of his choice (think classical literature, Italian). I'll just call him No, because all puppies go through a phase of thinking that's their name, anyway (No! Get down. No! Come here. No! Don't do that). The point is that Doug is similarly besotted with this doglet as I was with my babies, and although I didn't technically produce No, I was the one who bumped into his breeder in the vet's waiting room and suggested we go and look at the puppies. I'm not saying its like going through a pregnancy and childbirth together but it's as near as we're going to get, and at least we both bear the same genetic relation to No: it's about ten million years since the last shared ancestor. The bonding that Doug and I do over No certainly seems pretty parental: taking it in turns to walk him at six every morning, having him sprawled between us as we watch TV.

So I'll try and stay calm. No could be the key to it all, an object for all our love: Buster's, Doug's, Bunny's, mine, a joint interest to settle quarrels and sooth frayed nerves. No is of course "no" threat to anyone in the way a baby would be, except perhaps to our collie cross, Dog, and even she seems pleased finally to have someone lower in the pecking order than she is.