December 25, 2009
Our Christmas Dog
Long-time readers of this blog will recall the family trauma we endured 3 1/2 years ago when we had to put down our beloved family dog Sandy:
Sandy soon became enmeshed in the daily rhythms of our family life. She came with me when I coached my kids' sports teams ... As time passed and we all grew older, my coaching career ended and Sandy sat with me on the soccer sidelines for countless games through the years. At her last game this season, she could no longer walk across the field and I had to carry her back to the car. ...
It has been three days since we put her down, and we are filled with grief, guilt and gratitude. Grief because our home and our lives are emptier now without her. Guilt because the decision to put her down was a difficult one, driven we fear more by our needs than hers (although she suffered with Cushing's disease, became so incontinent that we kept her locked in the bathroom when we were away, and dropped nearly 40% of her body weight (from 40 to 25 pounds)). Gratitude because she was everything one could want in a family dog.
Being the rational guy that I am, I issued a decree: no more dogs. Because our two kids would leave for college in Fall 2009 and Fall 2010, my wife and I did not want to be saddled with a dog in our empty nest years. My daughter Jayne took the news particularly hard, as she has a special love for dogs.
About a month ago, the senior pastor of our church gave a great message on the parent-child relationship, and he talked about how he was trying to make his high school senior's last year at home special (by taking his son on a road trip on Harleys). After watching a hokey Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, A Dog Named Christmas, in which a family provides a foster home over Christmas for a dog from a local shelter, I thought that would be a great thing to do for Jayne. Following up on the movie, animal shelters nationwide are sponsoring a Foster a Lonley Pet for the Holidays Promotion, and I found a wonderful participating local shelter -- Recycled Doggies, run by a Cincinnati lawyer out of her home. I told Jayne that we wanted to make this last Christmas at home a memorable one for her by fostering a dog over the holidays. I made her sign a contract promising that the dog would go back to the shelter on Dec. 26 -- no exceptions, and no fuss.
Jayne chose the dog, and we opened our home (and our hearts) to Josie, a mutt with a lot of Rhodesian Ridgeback in her. She has filled our home with love, as she wants nothing more out of life than to spend it with us. She moves from room to room, checking out where everyone is, before settling in wherever Jayne is. She sleeps on Jayne's bed, and studies and watches TV with her. Although friends, family, and neighbors taunted us that we would end up adopting her, I insisted we would not and pulled out the contract: Josie's time with us would end December 26. This morning, my wife and I gave Josie's adoption papers to Jayne as a Christmas present -- our empty-nest years will be more complicated, and fuller, now.
Prior posts about my special daughter:
- Off to the Ranch (July 1, 2005)
- A 14-Year Old Girl in Today's World (Aug. 26, 2006)
- A Father's Strange Bliss (Apr. 16, 2007)
- The Tax Prof Circle of Life (May 17, 2007)
- Shrek and Fall Out Boy (May 22, 2007)
- Tax Prof Groupie (Oct. 19, 2007)
- Letting Go (Mar. 7, 2008)
- Sweet 16 (May 20, 2008)
- 17th Birthday in NYC (May 20, 2009)
I cherish two of Jayne's writings:
My Daddy (written as a 6th grader)
Sometimes it is hard to let people go. One moment, you are swinging them up in the air and giving them kisses, and the next moment they are gone. A huge bit of your life, snipped away bit by bit. ...
Even though his work day is tiring, my Daddy always has time to hit balls in the park with me or to play basketball in the driveway until the sun sets and it grows dark and we can't see the basket anymore. Then we meander inside and watch the news as I sit between my Daddy's knees, watching my life unfold. Him growing older. Me growing older. My life beginning to unravel like a ball of yarn. Snip by snip. Bit by bit.
I remember him lifting me up high in the air and twirling me around in high arches as the salt water sprayed my fat little legs. I watched him, trusting him, loving him. He is my Daddy. He swung me around like I was nothing and everything at the same time. My hair static and free. I was loving every minute of it.
I remember piggy back rides to my bedroom. Me feeling like I was on the top of the world, that I could touch the sun. My fingers brushing the top of the ceiling, as Daddy warned, "watch the fingerprints," even though I knew he didn't care. It was wonderful to know that somebody out there was willing to stop and give me a lift to wherever I needed to go.
I remember Daddy pushing me on the swings, with each arc going a little higher. In my mind, I could see myself touching the sky, with Daddy behind me, lifting me up. "Look, Jayne, you're flying," yelled Daddy as the wind whipped my white hair. I was free, more free than I had ever been in my entire life.
I remember soccer games with Daddy as coach. The drills which seem so simple now caused me years of frustration. Games that he made fun. And as he passed me on to a new coach, I realized that as I grew older, I was letting go, snip by snip.
I remember playing baseball in the park. Me hitting balls 2 feet in the air when I was lucky, which most of the time I was not. My Daddy saying I was getting better. A litter of brand new white balls behind home plate, the smell of sand in our noses. All that was left was Daddy and me, and baseball, together.
I remember being with Daddy at the pool, begging him to go under -- that was the moment he became Dad, just Dad. No longer a Superman figure afraid of nothing. I saw his humanness and I balked. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Superman. In my mind, I thought, this isn't Daddy. Daddy's the one who kills spiders in the bathtub, and isn't afraid to check closets for monsters or to watch scary movies.
Gradually, I began to realize, this is Dad. Human, someone who makes mistakes and who is willing to risk anything for his family. Yes, he isn't Superman. He's someone better. My Daddy. As I go through my adolescent years, I am losing bits and pieces of my life. I realize now that I can't touch the sky, and I'm almost as tall as my Daddy. Sometimes, it's hard to let people go, like it was hard to let Superman go, and eventually my Daddy will have to let go of me. I know that he is always there to hold on to as long as I need to, and there will always be a thread connecting me to him, no matter how far away I am. My Daddy, my Superman, me and him, a team.
Dance of Love? (written as an 8th grader)
We dance under black blankets of sky
Hands on big hips full of potential
That bruise soft flesh
Far too close for comfort
And I know this is not my dream
We are a living in a fantasy
A lie all the same
Too caught up to notice just how far under I'm slipping
It's not like you care any way
Don't we both know it's all a publicity stunt
Advertising the latest and greatest attraction
Though the script is flimsy,
The plot all-together see through
It deserves an Oscar just for the acting
Pretending is not something I or you will ever be new to
In cafeteria girls giggle over forget-me-nots, summer days and lazy boy dreams
Trying to forget the fact that boys with hungry eyes is not what they desire
They stare at us with hormone induced lust
Across miles of food-scattered floors
They still find a way to make me feel violated
Shorts that could have easily been found
In Chris Browns newest and nudist music video pique their interest
We like to pretend they stare at our eyes
Not our bodies with longing
But it is the hour glass figure
Not the contour of our smile
That gets them every time
Our passionate lip-lock is not really true love
But we make it all too easy for them
Our school has caught the love bug
Or so they say
The infectious disease of perfumed notes
And staying out far past curfew
I'm beginning to lose hope in the cure
I can't help but miss the days of wide-eyed smile and toothless grins
When I would chase boys across the playground with puckered up lips
It was a game then but now it's a battleground
Tactics and warfare to win over an unwilling heart
I am not some prize
I refuse to be won
I remember when holding hands seemed like enough of a scandal
And going way too far was not even a plausible option
So is this love?
They way he sticks his tongue down her throat
After she finishes HIS algebra homework
She longs for his affections
And he knows that all too well
Wondering why church on Sundays won't sooth that guilty conscience
It's not a quick fix
But don't we all wish it was
Her high heels click on the floor
Along with a perpetually receding hemline
And shirts that seem to shrink in the wash
She can tear at my soul for hours
But my solutions never seem realistic
But still I will dance with the new him in my life
To a song that he claims will belong to us forever
Although forever seems to depend on where I'll let his hands touch
Because charming personalities
Lose interest all too fast
In a quick pace world of physical attraction
I'm finding that the me in myself had no place
Pretending that it fills the empty chasm
Where the part of me that made me whole used to lie
Because I am hungry for more than just food
Stomach rumbling in discontent
But I will choose to ignore it
Because this is how I've been told it should be
Because this dance is my new always
December 25, 2009 | Permalink
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I like that you temporarily adopted the dog in the spirit of the movie, but still expected to take the dog back on the 26th. Did you not watch the ending?
Posted by: anon | Dec 25, 2009 3:07:46 PM
I love your shared blogs with and about your daughter and your dog. I identify completely. We have one child, a daughter - now grown - with a daughter of 4-1/2 and a son of 2. She excelled in athletics (All State cross-country and track) and was an outstanding scholar. She went on to further honors at Princeton and Oxford before settling in Altadena CA with her husband (a research engineer) and becoming a professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Our dogs have, with one exception, been animals she rescued. We,too, had to put down one of our quadrapeds last spring, a dear friend who blessed us with her love and affection for 15 years. We still have a terrier our daughter brought home 11 years ago from the Ukraine where she did research for her Ph.D. Although she was many time zones away for 14 years, now that she and her family are only 34 miles, door to door, the temporary loss of her company is all in the past (though not forgotten), and the blessings of new life and love fill the emptiness of space and time. Cheers to you and yours, and every good wish for the New Year and the good years which lie ahead.
Posted by: Al Golbert | Dec 25, 2009 5:30:58 PM
Awww. This is sweet. And I totally understand your connection with Sandy. Our dog is a 10 year old lab mutt (also a rescue, from the SPCA) - we consider him our "first born" since he predates all of our kids. My 3 year old son is head over heels for him, proclaiming him the "best dog ever!"
I wish you lots of happiness with your new addition to the family!
Posted by: Kelly | Dec 26, 2009 8:00:37 AM
Great post! You'll never be sorry. A good dog compliments and strengthens a family and adds alot of love.
Posted by: Joan S. | Dec 26, 2009 8:50:04 PM
Thanks, Paul, for sharing a lovely story. Mine is somewhat similar, although not quite as dramatic (And I am not as good aa storyteller as Paul is.)
We had dogs for years and years, and when we put our last one down (a 15 y.o. Weimeraner, who looked like a Wegman photo)about 5 years ago, we were dogless for the first time in 30 years. The house had an empty feeling but we were oblivious to the reason.
About the same time, my wife went on a serious diet regimen, which included walking 3 or 4 miles a day, every day. She found that extremely boring, but soon developed the habit of reading a book while she walked -- a real book, not an audio version. And so she walked through our suburban neighborhood and our little downtown center with her nose in a book.
My daughter, who sounds a little like Paul's Sandy, but older, was visiting on a vacation, and suggested that Mom would be better off with a dog instead of a book on her walks -- safer, less likely to step in a pothole or get hit by a car, and she might not seem to be antisocial.
So, we went to an internet rescue site, found a cocker spaniel alleged to be 2 years old and given up by an elderly couple unable to care for him. Once we got through the application process the pound sent him here in a van (he's from Ark., we're in Mass.) When I took "Clyde" to the vet for an initial checkup, the vet said Clyde might be older than 2 -- but I did not press him for an estimate. He seems like a puppy -- runs through the woods like one -- and has brightened our days enormously.
My wife has met more neighbors in the last two years than she had in the 30 we've been living here, and we enjoy all the little quirks in his routine. Best move we've ever made
Posted by: eli bortman | Dec 27, 2009 9:06:16 AM
ok Paul but who walks the dog?
Posted by: mike livingston | Dec 27, 2009 12:12:48 PM
Umm....you do know by now that your "Rhodesian Ridgeback" is really a Pit Bull mix, right?
Fine looking animal, anyway.
Posted by: jimharper | Dec 28, 2009 1:45:42 PM
Despite my attempts to portray myself as a soulless tax attorney, reading this brought a tear to my eye. Perhaps it is just dusty in here.
You (and your family) are good people, Paul.
Posted by: TS | Dec 29, 2009 12:46:37 PM