Meet Mr. Bojangles, aka Bo. Because he’s really not even big enough for a one-letter name, but Bo will do. (Maybe Beau when he gets a few more ounces on him.)
My beloved M and I have been talking about getting a dog for years. She has been a dog person, and I have not. When people asked me if I had a pet, I’d say, “No, I have kids.” Then, for about six months, I was saying “No, I had kids. Who are now at college. Yay!” I’m an introvert. Really … what is the problem with an empty nest?
The aforementioned kids, of course, asked for a dog once upon a time, and got a stern “No.” As a newly single mom, that was more than I could take on. Besides, I’m just not into fur. I would pet other people’s dogs and cats … kind of like they would acknowledge my teenagers. All of these accoutrements were just fine … over there.
But the conversation continued. I’d catch my sweetheart watching puppy porn on YouTube; it was usually a bulldog snoring or a brilliant, tiny dog being clever. She’d sigh wistfully.
Oddly, I was developing my own yen. I saw an Airedale being walked around town; I finally met the owner and petted it. Then I began to covet it. Later we met a sweet wire-haired terrier on one of our camping trips. A trend was emerging. Dogs with beautiful lines and wooly coats — not fur.
But when it came right down to it, I kept saying no. Just not a dog person. And now with both kids about to be gone? Even my sweetheart knew that was a lot of freedom to give up.
Then I ended up between jobs, with writing projects and perhaps something more substantive on the horizon, but a few months away. “Great time to get a puppy …” she suggested. I began cruising the local shelter web sites again.
A casual afternoon out looking at puppies turned into a rendezvous with a seller in Garner, NC, at a Bojangles. (You see where this is going.) From which we departed with a puppy.
Without either of us intending it to, this triggered quite the little existential crisis for me. I was thrown back into the baby days, when life at home with a newborn and not nearly enough village was more than I could handle. Shortest maternity leave ever. (Sorry, Harper. We got better as we went along, though, right?)
After the first 24 hours with a too-young puppy and a too-inexperienced me, my beloved M was getting a concerned look on her face. “You know, we can always adopt him out.”
“AND THEN I WILL HAVE FAILED AT DOG!” I yelled inside. Fortunately, all that came out was “Yeah … that’s true.”
I had much thinking time and long conversations with myself that night and the next day. Can’t do this. What does that mean … what does it feel like? I’m a failure. Well, maybe not a failure. Maybe a human being. Who can’t do dog. Again, what’s the feeling in there? It’s too much all the time-ness. It’s taking up too much space in my thoughts. I have to schedule around it. I’m trapped. Is there a feeling in there somewhere? Sad. Mad. Scared. Yeah. Ever felt like that before? Yeah. Babies. And dogs. Uh-huh. What about when you were a baby? Oh.
See, there’s this little self inside there who has wordless embodied memories of parents that were gone a lot, and absent-minded or unpredictable when physically present. In technical terms, it’s called insecure attachment, and the after-effects of it can persist into adulthood. People who had insecure attachments as infants and toddlers can have trouble connecting clear into adulthood. My childhood did not have the greatest care for me as a helpless small thing, and did not in turn teach me how to care for small helpless things.
Being able to parent my kids was a challenge that I feel like I have spent all of their lives living into. And now, in some moments it feels like here we go again. Which is probably why I avoided the dog life all these years, just like I tried to avoid having kids. I was sure I did not know how to be a good Mom, and equally sure I did not want to know how to dog. Because intimacy, and love, and faithfulness … and if I don’t do it perfectly, I’ll get yelled at … or worse, something could die. (This actually happened. When I was little little, I had pet rabbits. I forgot to feed them. To teach me a lesson, my parents let them die.)
Better not to take the risk. Keep it simple. Keep it safe. (Keep it lonely … we know how to do lonely. Nobody [else] gets hurt.)
Sometimes the deepest fears drive us the hardest, even though they make no sense at all.
Well. As the Buddhists say, my teacher has showed up. And day by day, Mr. Bojangles and I are learning dog. I’ve cried a little … for the child I was, for those bunnies, for what is not present in my life right now (a job that would keep me too busy for this puppy) … and for what is: A beloved who wants me to have the joy of bonding with a little critter and experiencing its unconditional love. Neighbors (and their pets) who are serving as our puppy’s village. Two compassionate young adults who can’t wait to come home and meet the new addition: their mama’s dog.
I am still saying “Heaven help us all,” but at least I am laughing as I say it.