This isn’t really a story about Vejer. And it’s a little less about Christmas Eve than about my pregnancy-induced anxiety. But mostly, it’s just about Penny, our sweet, little, precocious, coyote-fruitbat of a dog.
Let’s start on the morning after our overnight trip to Vejer:
Vejer, Spain, December 24th, 7:00 am:
It’s 7 am and the December sun is slanting across the hillside, rimming the gray stone architecture in white light. It’s 7 am on Christmas Eve, and Cody and I are hustling along, very tired, very sleep deprived, and very ready to go home.
Let’s just call it, I had said an hour earlier in our hotel room. It was the beginning of my third trimester and a night of no sleep equated to the worst hangover I could remember encountering.
Alright, Cody says, it’s YOUR birthday.
So we’re hustling along in the semi-brisk air (semi-brisk for Southern Spain), sleepy, beginning to feel that gnawing urgency for food because we skipped the hotel breakfast.
We’ve got our 3 month old puppy with us, the reason for my sleeplessness the night before. She’s trotting smartly beside us now while Cody carries her kennel in the other hand.
I’m basking in the last-second glorious-ness of Christmas Eve dawn as it opens up across this sleepy little city, beginning to think that this made the whole night worth it when –
“Agh!” Cody shouts.
The punchline: Penny had pooped.
* * *
If you’re a dog owner then I’d hazard a guess that feces is not a new topic. And chances are you’ll probably feel the same amount of relief I (and probably Penny) did when your dog all at once squats in the middle of the road after nearly 24 hours of protest. There will also be some secondary relief when your husband narrowly escapes stamping his feet right into it.
But, to understand this moment better, let’s go to the beginning of Penny’s story and how our loving, anxiety-filled relationship evolved, 7 weeks earlier:
Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 11th, 10:00 pm:
Cody and I are in our hotel room for the night. Lights out and decompressing before bed, I browse through my phone. A post from a local facebook group pops up.
PUPPIES for adoption! 9 weeks old, found in Puerto, being fostered near us, husky-cross.
My heart churns. Dare I wake Cody? We’d agreed no dog until after Christmas, which would be three months before my due date when we likely wouldn’t be traveling anymore. We had Thanksgiving tickets already purchased for London two weeks from now, and plans for France, Germany, and Switzerland over Christmas…
…but then I saw the pictures.
Beautiful little balls of tan and brown and black fur with floppy ears and sharp little tails tugging on a rope. Oh, I need them! My heart declared. S/he is there! MY dog is there! The one I’ve been dreaming about for the past 3 years, THERE.
I wake up Cody, convince him into taking a look, send a painstakingly difficult-to-type message on my phone declaring, If there are any puppies left on Tuesday, we want to take a look!
No promises, though, I add for good measure.
I know in my heart of hearts that those puppies will go quickly but I also know without a doubt that I must have one of them. My long awaited dog is somewhere in that litter and I must get to him/her before they’re given away to the wrong home.
Rota, Spain, Nov. 14th, 6:00 pm:
The foster home is on Base. We go when Cody is off work. There’re only two puppies left, the least looking huskies of the litter: a ferocious black and white spotted one and a dreadfully shy, totally uninterested sibling, boring tannish brown all over.
Cody, of course, is already enthusiastically playing with the more aggressive boy. You know which one I prefer, he says when I query him. I know, I say with some hesitation. But my heart is anxiously drawn back to that poor, shy little girl. Why hasn’t she been adopted yet? Will she ever be adopted? She’s a cute puppy, why hadn’t she been claimed yet?
I cry to myself: She’s so shy. She comes off as unfriendly. No one will want her for that…I have to save her…but does that mean she’ll be bad with a baby? We can’t take her just to give her up in four months if she hates kids.
The lady fostering her suggests we take her home overnight just to try her out. If we want to keep her, she’ll dogsit while we go to London for Thanksgiving but she won’t be able to for Christmas.
Ok, that settles it. We take her home for a trial run.
The little tan fur-ball, so meek, so scared, falls asleep on a cushion at the floor between our feet with her tongue hanging out. She cries in her kennel in the hall that night until we move it into our bedroom and then she’s quiet. The next day in the cool sun of November, she sits curled up with me on our beach blanket and puts her paw on my leg.
There’s nothing else to be done. She’s already mine.
I’m certain her name starts with “P.” I consult Cody. Pixi? I suggest. Ugh. He responds. Penelope, he throws out. THAT’S IT! I say. Penelope Cruz-Campo Garner. Penny for short. She is definitely ours.
El Puerto de Santa María, Nov. 21st, 10 am,
Turns out, we were right, it is harder to travel now that we have a dog. We almost don’t go to London.
Poor Penny has a very weak immune system. She pukes up yellow bile in our bedroom, is lethargic, and sad… I know she’s already been treated for worms so immediately I’m researching symptoms and convince myself its parvo. I gather my courage and my terrible Spanish and I take her to get checked out. The vet is wonderful. She treats Penny for another case of bad worms and prescribes an easy-to-digest diet of rice, pork, and pasta. She can be around other dogs.
Luckily the lady who fostered her is still willing to keep her over Thanksgiving and feed Penny her medicine and her special diet while we’re away.
In London, Cody and I both admit to missing our warm little bundle of cautious affection.
Rota, Spain, Nov. 28th 5:00 pm:
When we get back, Penelope greets us in the same uninterested, cautious note she did when she first met us. Blast, we think, a week’s worth of bonding destroyed over a four day weekend away.
But by the next morning, we’re back in her good graces.
We talk about buying our tickets for our Christmas vacation plans. We wonder about how we’re going to find a dog sitter for a puppy over Christmas.
What if she forgets us again? The normally hard exterior-ed Cody says, cynical.
She’s not going to forget us, I reassure him. And if she does, we’ll just make her love us again. Hey, what happened to you accusing me of being the soft one?
We grumble and grate our teeth. Someone is going make the Christmas plans. One of us will have to find a dog sitter. We cross our arms. We wait for the other person to budge.
Poor Penny gets mange. Mange, poor dear! 30 years ago, she wouldn’t have survived. Cody and I both quail at the idea of this sweet little puppy dying 30 years ago. We quail at the idea of her dying on the street if she hadn’t been rescued. We quail at the thought of those worms that once riddled her intestines. She was just the runt, after all, with a weakened immune system.
Cody is finally granted leave dates for Christmas. But those tickets I had been eyeing towards Germany or Switzerland and wherever else have been creeping up in price. The day our leave is formally granted the cost has skyrocketed.
Let’s just stay here, Cody says. We’ll still do some local traveling.
What about my 30th birthday? I posit. What about our last chance to travel without a baby?
We’ll do local traveling, he says. I’ll look into it.
Sure, I grumble to myself. Sure.
Cody and I receive some scary news and a scary possibility about the baby. We opt to go in for a routine amniocentesis to help us figure things out and prepare. A giant syringe punctures my abdominal walls. It hurts way worse than I was warned. Cody cringes as we watch it through the ultrasound. The baby extends his fingers as if to grasp the needle. Cody holds my hand.
The doctors have their sample, they patch me up with a cotton swab and we’re good to go.
Except, contractions start. Things are painful. I shriek when we drive over a speed bump. Cody takes me to the OB-GYN. They take me up to Labor and Delivery. They hook me up with fluids to keep my hydrated. They keep me all day, mostly as a precaution. But I cry in the patient’s bed when the doctor tells me I’ll be staying for another two hours.
“What’s wrong?” She and the nurse ask, not unkindly.
“It’s just, it’s my puppy,” I break, tears rushing out again, “we just got her. She’ll be left home all alone.”
The doctor and nurse share sympathetic smiles with me and pat my arm.
Cody goes back and forth between work, the hospital, and our home, comforting the whimpering, lonely little dog and sending me picture updates. When we get the all clear and my contractions have stopped, I go home and cuddle with my puppy for the rest of the night.
El Puerto de Santa María, Spain, Dec. 21st, 7:00 pm:
I say to Cody, most likely accusatory, So, my birthday, where are we going?
Well, it’s so hard to plan without a dog sitter, he hedges.
My birthday. I remind him.
He suggests an overnight in Rota.
Last chance to travel. I remain firm.
We settle on Vejer almost entirely on the recommendation of a fantastic Moroccan restaurant and hotel. It’s only an hour and a half away. Beautiful Pueblo Blanco, a white housed city, set on a mountain that we haven’t been to yet. I make Cody call and inquire about staying with a dog. They’ll allow it! Hurrah! Just a 10 euro overnight fee.
Off to Vejer we go.
December 23rd, 1:00 pm
We pack Penny and her kennel into the car and are on our merry way.
I’m six months pregnant, quite big, and not just a bit uncomfortable. I am on a highly regimented sleep-eat-and-pee schedule or I get sick, thus part of the pressure for a final trip now three months before the baby comes.
Oh, and that sleep-eat-pee schedule? Penny has her own too. Turns out having a puppy is a lot like having a baby. They’ve got nap times and feeding times and pee and poop times and have to be buckled up in the car on a road trip. I’ve already faced her impending death twice in the last seven weeks. No way was I going to stop worrying about her now.
Vejer, Spain, same day, 2:30 pm:
Vejer has narrow, curved, cobble-stoned streets. They’re intimidating to an American driver in a smallish American car. Luckily Cody is up for the challenge, but, we’re not keen on taking too many chances, so after one go round trying to locate the parking garage, we settle on an empty section of the widest street a half mile away from the hotel.
I let Penny out of the car, relieved she was able to hold everything in for the ride and just as relieved we can offer her the opportunity to let it out now.
It’s been an hour and a half since we left our house, probably at least two hours since she last peed in our yard.
Do your business, I tell her.
She sniffs the cobblestones. She shies away from an oncoming car. She looks at me. But she doesn’t do her business.
That’s ok, I think on our walk to the hotel, it’ll be fine.
To be honest, despite my anxiety about her little puppy bladder I’m more worried about us offending any town-dwellers by walking Penny here. I’ve lived inside cities for the last ten years but I’m still from the countryside and Penny has only ever peed in the privacy of our walled lawn. Peeing or pooping on cobble stoned streets still seems unseemly and rude and I haven’t seen any other dogs do it here yet.
The anxiety begins.
We’ve been in Vejer for what, threeish hours? Our hotel is lovely and they kindly put us on the ground floor to make it easier to walk the dog. There’s a lovely wooden door connecting the courtyard to a flower filled street, perfect for slipping out for a walk. The surrounding city is filled with interesting angles and windy streets and lovely mountain-top vistas.
Oh, and mounds of dog poo. With that realization, I say, Ok Penny, it’s been 5 hours. Do your business.
She doesn’t go.
I try to push out the growing anxiety about her small puppy bladder and how she must be wrecking it. For some perspective, Dear Readers, she doesn’t last 1.5 hours without pooping or peeing at home, okay? And I certainly don’t want her to explode in our first hotel room with her. I am strung SO tightly by this pregnancy in a new country where I don’t speak the language that my only goal is to not wreck any more social mores.
The courtyard outside our room is all stone but there are large potted plants. Penny would fit nicely on the dirt inside of them. I’m desperate. I lift her up and set her inside. She sniffs the roots of the plant. I stare at her in the pot. She sniffs and then stares back at me.
Do your business, I command. She just stares back.
I move her to another pot. Same result.
We still have a few hours before our dinner reservation. I lift her out of the pot. Let’s take her for another walk, I suggest.
So we wander around the picturesque cobble-stoned ways, pausing whenever we come to a patch of moss sprouting up from between the stones. Obviously these areas have been in use by the local four-legged residents and Penny is more than happy to investigate them thoroughly with her nose. But not actually use them in the way we’ve intended.
My anxiety grows.
We move further afield, taking more liberties in where we lead her little wagging behind. I am sure the nature of our walk is obvious to any of the locals we pass; A couple of trespassing tourists, trying to get their pet to defecate and urinate all over their beautiful city.
I begin to get desperate.
I make the hunt-for-grass be our guide in this city of stone. We walk past a small park which really only has a negligible bit of dirt (Honestly, where do the children play here?) but, no, I won’t chance it, not with the apartment building casting suspicious eyes over us.
We see some lovely little green lots, tended as gardens, popping up on the sides of the terraced roads. Cody is for it but we’d be a bit like a burglar, I reason, trying to wander around the fences to get our dog to vandalize their blades of grass. We press on.
At least six hours and no pee.
We’re finally somewhere promising. It’s a downhill road on the far edge of town surrounded by trees and framed by the weedy slope of a hill. We tug Penny up onto the sides where the dirt and weeds were, guiding her to the most obvious patches of green. She sniffs and is happy to explore. We pause with baited breath every time she puts her nose to the ground. We’re all so freaking tense. It’ll be a moment of relief for us all.
Her poor bladder, I quail each time she lifts her nose and keeps walking.
Cody is a saint for dealing with all of this.
We finally go back to the hotel.
We leave Penny in the room while we walk upstairs to the restaurant. It’s a delicious dinner of chicken tangine and cous-cous and, being American, of course we’re the first and only people there at 8:00 pm. But I wanted to have dinner early enough so that in case Penny barked it wouldn’t disturb too many other guests. Plus, pregnant = sleepy earlier than usual.
Cody goes to check on Penny twice. She’s wailing the whole time. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh. So not only are we the hotel guests who tried to get a puppy to pee in their flower pots, we’re also the hotel guests who leave an obnoxiously crying puppy in their room while they go out to eat. We finish our dessert. We get up to go.
It’s past bedtime. I’m turning 30 tomorrow. I’m six months pregnant. I’ve got a puppy that will not pee and will not poop and we’re staying the night in a lovely hotel in Spain.
I’m desperate. We’re all desperate.
We walk Penny again in the moonlight. She does not pee. She does not poop. We try to go to bed. It’s a new place. She doesn’t want to sleep in her crate. She’s obviously uncomfortable. She whines. I shut my eyes.
December 24th, 3:00 am
Except I don’t sleep. I’m up all night on my phone, researching non-peeing dogs and how it affects their bladders and how to convince them to just let go. I consider a warm washcloth.
I’m also mortified that Penny may have an accident in the hotel room. She whimpers in her sleep. I’m too scared to risk taking her out of her kennel in case the comfort of the bed coaxes out her peeing reflexes.
December 24th, 6:00 am.
Penny is out of her kennel and now curled up between me and Cody on the bed, her first time on a mattress. I know we’re creating a monster but I can’t help it.
Let’s just call it, I say.
Alright, Cody says, it’s YOUR birthday.
We skip out on the hotel breakfast. They’re not serving for another hour or so anyway.
Let’s just get me home before I need to throw-up from not eating and before Penny gives herself a bladder infection, I advise.
So we pack up and say goodbye to the nice receptionist and start our walk of shame out the back door of the courtyard.
TOTALLY BY SURPRISE. You can tell by her face.
It’s a long pee.
We continue our walk to the car.
At this point I am freaking exhausted because: one hour of sleep, hungry, and beginning to feel that ickling feeling of queasiness.
Let’s just get to the car and find a way to drive out of this tiny town without getting the car stuck.
Oh look, over there, the sunrise, the beautiful landscape. Take it all in, Cody, I say.
– WATCH OUT!
Penny poops a small mountain’s worth, 24 hours’ worth of pent up product, 24 hours’ worth of my stupid, stupid pregnancy-magnified anxiety made whole. solid.
Of course this happens in front of a bleary-eyed town resident as they’re out on their early morning stroll.
Well that’s just great, Cody says as he bends down to do his least loved thing, pick up dog poop.
Now, Penny seems light, free, splendid. It’s probably all in my head but you could tell she’s happy too. She was as taken aback by the poop as we were, as if she was surprised it wasn’t staying in. But now she’s prancing. It’s like the first Christmas Eve morning of her life…well, it is, but somehow she’s suddenly cognizant enough to realize that.
We’re in the car. This story isn’t over yet.
Penny is now shivering in the backseat because she hates car rides. I’m in the front, unable to comfort her because I’m desperately trying to peel the mandarin I had stashed there, knowing the faster I get it in my mouth the less likely I am to vomit.
Cody starts the car, I peel the mandarin, Penny whines.
The once wide mainstreet is becoming narrow as we drive forward. There are old men literally two inches from my passenger window watching us go.
Cody is cautiously maneuvering the car uphill. Penny is standing up in the back seat, shaking. I’ve got deep purple shadows under my eyes. The old men are peering in at me. I can’t peel the fruit fast enough.
And.then.it.happens. My own moment.
I’m vomiting, again and again, into the grocery bag that held the orange. Into the plastic sack with the hole in the bottom. Essentially, into my lap
Sweets! Cody exclaims, stopping the car in concern.
Just keep going! I command between upheavals.
I’m not keen on remaining there in the middle of the street being the vomiting Christmas Eve spectacle in the American car to the old men any longer.
The GPS is no use now. It’s just as confused as us by these windy tight streets. So we take the first turn that allows us to go down. We’re immediately stuck in a tiny corner.
I’ve stopped vomiting so now I’m shoving the mandarin pieces in my mouth as quickly as possible to stave off another attack while also trying to stave off the panic attack of being STUCK between two plastered white walls.
Penny cries in the back seat.
Cody backs the car an inch, adjusts the wheel, pulls forward an inch and a half, and the process repeats itself.
Finally, we’re through the turn, thank GOD.
Several more excruciatingly tight twists and turns later, we’re finally back on the road. We’re turning onto the highway. Penny is laying down in her seat, relaxed. I’m no longer motion-sick. Cody pops the Christmas mix into the CD player.
We are now driving past green hillsides and other Pueblos Blancos in the Andalusian country side, holding hands on Christmas Eve, my 30th birthday morning.
Happy Birthday to me, Merry Christmas to all, I love you Penny, and thank you Vejer for being such an understanding host.