Today marks one year since you came to live with us in your new home.
At this moment you are lying down behind me in our recently refreshed home office. But a year ago almost to the hour, the rescue volunteer pulled up in our driveway, got you out of the car and we opened the kitchen door. You barreled in, turning in excited circles, gangly and ribs showing, the red rescue collar around your black furry neck. Your eyes were bright and your tongue lolled with new-place-new-people excitement, your legs longer and stronger than any dog I’d ever spent regular time around.
You bounded through the kitchen, around the corner down the hall and into every single room, pinging from spot to spot as we tried to pay equal attention to you and to the volunteer, who was giving us the final paperwork to sign. And even as I put my name in ink on the page, my heart thudded with nerves, because it was clear—you were here, there was no going back, and this was going to be quite an adjustment.
We don’t have human children yet, but I think in many ways you will always be our first child. You have taught me so much about parenting, as silly as that may sound. I’ve experienced the phases of getting to know each other—the frustration, the exhaustion, the fear, the not-being-able-to-see-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, the hope, the approaching light, the normal, the mundane, the joyful. The nerves about how you would get used to the house, the yard, staying in the living room while we go to work, the car, the neighborhood (and the neighbors’ cat), sleeping arrangements, eating habits, and countless other little pieces that make up the addition of a new being into a home.
You weren’t a puppy, but would you chew? Not shoes or furniture thankfully, but toys only last about 20 minutes or less (only a rope has survived longer than days), the end of the remote has teeth marks, the Avengers dvd case is wrinkled, and a paperback copy of A Game of Thrones met an overly-appropriate shredded demise.
Would you get used to going to the bathroom in our yard? On the first day you pooped in the house. On the third day, I tried to do yoga and you tried (too much) to do it with me, so I gated you in the living room and when I was finished I came out to a horrible stench and a present waiting for me on the hard wood floor (thanks for not using the carpet).
Would you ever sleep through the night? We put your fresh nice cushy dog bed next to our bed with blankets, but you only ever curled up on the rug beside it, getting up every couple of hours and tap tap tapping around to each side of the bed, back and forth, nuzzling your head into the crooks of our elbows until I thought maybe you had to go to the bathroom, but once we were standing in the yard in the cold at 2 a.m., you just looked up at me expectantly with playful eyes. I’d been fooled.
So many shifts, so many tweaks. Different chapters, all in a year.
The hard parts felt interminable. You came to us with heartworms, and for the first seven months we couldn’t do more than walk you down the street. But you still zoomed around the living room, kicking up the rug, cowabunga-ing off the couch to get out all the energy you were supposed to hold in for your own health’s sake (which of course, we couldn’t explain). I cringed at any cough, the main symptom, and waited for you to burst into a long spurt of hacking and wheezing that we’d been told meant we needed to get to the vet now. (What if this happened when we were at work and you were alone?) I hated that you couldn’t tell us how you were feeling. Once we did take you to the ER vet, because you’d coughed and hacked and thrown up and were restless and distressed, and we couldn’t tell if it was your stomach or the worms, so we went—and by the time we walked in, your tail was wagging, happy to see the receptionist and the tech who came out into the lobby to talk us off the cliff.
This piece is moving around more than I thought it would, kind of like you do when you ping from spot to spot, still one of your trademarks. The rescue told us that we wouldn’t really be able to get a sense of your personality until at least six weeks had passed (six weeks seemed like forever), and it probably was even longer than that. You love belly rubs, but you don’t like to snuggle—when you’re done wanting attention, you plop in your spot at the end of the sectional or curl up in Sean’s chair. (We joke that you’re an introvert like us.) You whine more than you bark, but neither very much. You love the car. You don’t love the camera (sorry about the 2,283 pictures I’ve taken of you this year, but you’re just too cute). You are happy to see any human who comes your way, and melt towards the ground almost immediately so they’ll rub your belly. You can speed like a bullet around the yard and you like chewing tennis balls more than catching them. You know “sit” and “lay” and “you hungry?” and your tail whooshes back and forth at “sweet girl,” especially when your dad says it.
It took me a long time to trust you. I think mostly what I really mean is that it took me a long time to trust myself with you, that if something went wrong or something happened on my watch, it would be my fault, and that is/was terrifying. Were you eating grass in the yard or something poisonous? Were you going to chase that squirrel right over the fence and run away, whether accidentally or on purpose? Sean would say blithely but wisely, “She’s just being a dog.” What I think he means by that is, whatever you do that might have repercussions is because you’re a dog and that’s who you are and even if we’re doing the best we can we cannot control every little thing that happens.
But we can control some things. Every other dog at the mountain house in the middle of nowhere is off leash, but you’ve happily gone on joyrides when given the chance and so I look like a no-fun parent keeping you leashed and close, even inside the house with 20 people where the doors open and shut with abandon. When is it worth taking the risk?
How many times this year have I told people laughingly (but inwardly guilty and frustrated) that you’ve shown me that I’m the helicopter parent I never wanted to be, and I’m trying to cure myself before I have human kids?
I wish it were that simple but I’m guessing it won’t be. But you’re still helping.
For the first few months I was relieved to have an excuse to keep you on the leash in the backyard so you wouldn’t over-exert yourself. Even when Sean started letting you outside without the leash my stomach would clench because man you’re fast, and you could be anywhere in our massive yard, and I won’t have control. Even when I started letting you off the leash in the yard I would try and follow you closely, leash in hand in case you showed any sign of escape. Of course you didn’t want to come when I called (from right behind you), you had no peace and quiet with me watching your every move.
Then I went out of town and Sean started letting you out by yourself in the morning, to save time while he got ready. “She just comes right back to the door when I call,” he said. I tried it myself, and was astounded when it was true. Sometimes it takes someone braver to show you that it’s going to be okay. Oftentimes you’re already waiting for me when I come to fetch you.
Of course there are exceptions. It’s the afternoon now, and I called and I called but you’d found a big hole in the middle of our patch of azaleas, and I had to wade in (in my church clothes) and drag you out, muddy nose and flecks of red clay under your eye. Maybe a better, more secure dog mom would have let you stay out there pawing to your heart’s content until you got bored. Maybe I will tomorrow. Maybe we need to figure out what made that hole and if they’re still around.
Sweet girl, you’ve taught me that lots of things about this being-in-charge-of-loving-and-keeping-someone-alive process arise organically, as we go, even when the going seems slow. Until recently, we’ve kept the gate up when we’re home, blocking you from the bathrooms and bedrooms, not sure exactly what you would get into if you were able to roam. Now we realize that you just want to be near us—and so the gate has come down, knowing that your desire to be close (just not cuddle close) outweighs any thoughts of mischief.
There are so many more things I could say about you and to you on this, your first anniversary of joining our family. But mostly I just want to thank you. Thank you for bringing an abundance of love and laughter into our house, for getting me out and walking (even jogging!), for reminding me to pay attention to you—living breathing beauty—instead of to my phone, for helping me to climb out of my comfort zone and making me uncomfortable and nervous and showing me that I and we can adjust to new routines, new patterns of life. Thank you for not knowing that you’ve done any of this, but simply existing to love and play, and lying down on the floor beside me as I write these words.
We are your forever people, and I can’t wait to see what Year Two brings.
We adopted Lucy from Atlanta Lab Rescue. If you’re in the area and looking for a pup, be sure to check them out!