Wednesday, October 22, 2014

11.5 years

I guess you could say, at age 33, that I've been a grown up for a while. I don't look in the mirror often. I'm always on the go, always got something to do. And staring at my imperfections is not really my idea of a good time, nor is constantly trying to cover them up. I'm happy with who I am. I'm content with the way that I look. God and my husband think I'm beautiful without a trace of makeup, and that's all the really matters to me.

I guess if I spent more time looking in the mirror I'd recognize that the years have made me older.

You'd think having 3 children would force the reality of my age. That 6 years of only shortly unbroken all night parenting, and constantly juggling a work schedule around school schedules and managing to work just enough to keep my children fed and comfortable, and not enough to miss investing in their childhoods would have made me feel responsible.

But if I stop to admit it, I have still kind of continued to think of myself as a kid in my 20s. Reckless and carefree and full of unbounding energy.

Maybe its the pace which with life has accelerated since the adventures of marriage and parenting began. Maybe because I haven't had much time to think about who I have become.

But it wasn't until this past Sunday that it occurred to me that I had done it.

I am officially a grown up.

On Sunday, I said goodbye to the sweet little puppy I adopted the day before my 22nd birthday.

I was fresh out of nursing school when I picked her up from the foster home where she was living, and she played or slept with her head on my feet as I studied for boards.
I took her out at 4:45 am before leaving for my first job at a hospital an hour away, and missed her wildly every day while I was gone. I remember wondering how I would ever leave my children behind to work when it seemed so sad just to leave her.
She was just a dog, but to me she was a promise from God. Secretly, I called her Cosette Rainbow, because she was my rainbow. My reminder from God that He had good plans for me. That all the struggling through college and nursing school and the confusion of early adulthood was preparing me for good things.
I imagined that she would be a therapy dog, and I took her to obedience training, and I tried to bring her everywhere I went to "socialize" her, and I just knew that if I was responsible with her that God would give me the family that I so longed for in my heart.

She loved me, and I adored her, and she licked my cereal bowls clean in the morning and slept in the bed with me at night, and I didn't care.
She lifted her nose to the air and howled whenever she was particularly excited.

The little puppy grew into a 60 pound greyhound mix that loved to run on the beach. She tagged along whenever I checked the waves.
She lived with me in my first apartment, in the beachside ghetto.

The therapy dog stuff wasn't meant to be. It turned out that no amount of "socializing" kept her from being terrified of strangers, and eventually she became quite aggressive towards them.
She liked to dig. And when she got upset she chewed things.

One night when our weekly bible study group was getting ready to start, there was a knock on the door, and it was my future husband.
Cosette barked her head off at him, but he still came back the next week- with dog bones in his pocket.
She loved him quicker than she loved other strangers, and so did I.

When we married, she couldn't stay with us, as I moved into his condo which didn't allow large dogs. My parents graciously kept her for me. They filled in her holes, and repaired her damage, and buttered her bread for her. I still brought her to stay with me sometimes, especially when I was lonely and JT was frequently working the weekends.
When Aquaman was born, she always heard him wake up from his nap before I did. She lay close to him wherever I set him.
My first baby became the dog who got hair on my baby, and I had less and less time for her.

And then about 18 months ago my parents began preparing to move, and without a yard themselves, and with my mother's health problems, it was time for me to take my dog back, and we all found it to be a difficult adjustment.
Unsure if the HOA would even let me keep her, as she was over the weight limit, I tried to find her another home, until I was eventually told by the owner of a rescue society that some dogs are one family dogs, and they cannot be re-homed.
And so we settled down to keep her.

And we had some good times. She was always patient with the boys. We took a lot of walks, all of us together. She took naps on the couch with JT.
She got a lot of Beggin strips.

But she wasn't the same dog, and I wasn't the same owner. In the beginning she sought out the attention she used to get from me, but busy with work and small children I was rarely available to give it to her. Her dog heart was broken, and she began refusing to look me in the eye.
She was terrified of the boys as they grew, though they really did try to be kind to her, and spent most of her days hiding in the closet, and her nights and time when we were gone getting into things and destroying things. She became more and more anxious, and so did we.

It was just barely over a week ago, as she lay in the kitchen with her head on the floor and her mouth bleeding as I surveyed the door that she had just chewed almost completely through...when I looked at her and realized that I still loved her. Still loved the dog she once was, and still loved the cowering anxious mess that she had become, and that it was my job not to let this continue any longer. And that it wasn't my fault.

It wasn't my fault.

It just was.

She was unhappy. And she was unhappier still when she made us unhappy.
And it wasn't fair to the people I love to continue the level of stress she caused in our household just to keep an unhappy dog alive.

I used to think that if I just kept feeding her, if I just kept walking her, and if I just patted her on the head and cleaned up her messes, that would be the responsible thing to do. In some ways, for a while, it was the easiest thing to do.

But the right thing, and the easy thing, are often not the same.

And Sunday I cooked her some ground turkey. Because meat made her happy, even though it often made her sick. But I knew she wouldn't have time to get sick this time. My parents, who loved and care for her so long, and my baby in tow- we stepped into the veterinary clinic and asked them to let our dog go peacefully.

I held her in my arms, as she eased down to her side. And I kissed her head, and looked in her eyes and told her I loved her, and told her that she was a good dog, and for the first time in a long time I meant it, and as she looked back into my eyes I could tell that she knew I did. And then she closed those eyes.

I cried a lot as she slowly slipped away, and I cried a lot that night.
I cried because she was a good dog, and it wasn't her fault, and I cried because I want to forget this past terrible year with her and remember her as she used to be. And I know I will.
I cried because somewhere, as my dog lay dying in my arms, there was a child dying in her mother's arms because she didn't have money or access to health care, and yet at that very same moment in that brightly lit and clean vet clinic, someone was paying thousands of dollars to prolong a dog's life.

And it's hard to comprehend all of that.

But mostly I cried because 11.5 years went by so fast. And so much changed, and now those years are over and I'll never get them back. And the next 11.5 years will go even faster, and there will probably be more and harder goodbyes.

The next morning when I came down the stairs, she wasn't waiting at the door to go out, and there were no accidents to clean up, and the brown dog ticks that we have been battling since she went to the kennel a few months ago were gone, and last night's trash was still sitting neatly right there in the middle of the kitchen, not scattered all over the floor.

I stood for a long time and stared at that trash can, remembering.

I left a piece of my heart there on that clinic's floor. A piece of my childhood heart.

Because in the end, she couldn't grow and couldn't change. And like a beloved teddy bear that mourns on a shelf, she didn't want me to grow up either, but I had to.

I don't know if I'll ever see her again, I don't know how all of that works. But I think I will, somehow.
And I know that a part of her will live inside of me, because she is a part of who I became, during a time when I was just starting to become.

My first dog got hit by a car when she was just 4 years old, and I was 12. We had to put her to sleep. I wrote an essay after that about how she taught me what love is. I still have it in a folder in our linen closet that doesn't have any linens in it...just pages and pages of paper full of my ramblings.

And now my 2nd dog is gone, and right now it feels pretty certain that she was my last dog, and I am writing about a different kind of love. A love that has to try even when it feels impossibly hard, and a love that knows when it's time to let go of the trying. To admit that you can't do everything. That every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else, and so you have to be very purposeful with your yeses.

It's a grown up kind of a love.

I love you, girl. I still do. Thank you. For the good times, and for the hard times.

And even, maybe even especially, for the growing up times.

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