I am a few days into the Summer of Dread. With one kid at camp and one out working, I feared I would find myself aimless and depressed, and I will battle those demons in these months, to be sure. What I did not know is how a dog would change everything.
Back when my kids were little, we spent our Summer days on long walks, reading stacks of books, with few destinations. Now with my teens pretty much gone, I find my dog taking their place. Confession: I am now a crazy dog lady, modeling language to my dog as I used to do with my babies. “See the tree! Is that a green tree? Good girl!,” as though I am teaching her English, which I guess in a way, I am. Bailey introduces me to people on walks just as my babies used to do. She’s my cute ‘key’ that gets me in the door into adult conversation. Want to hear something even more pathetic? Yesterday, I brought my son to the doctor’s office, and after taking his blood, they gave him a tiny Elmo-themed juice box, and watching him drink it gave me so much delight, it’s ridiculous.
When my teenager is not home drinking juice boxes, Bailey is the one connecting me to her and to others, and it occurs to me that connectivity is the key to living a peaceful and productive life. We are designed to rely on and serve each other, and when we do, we build structures that make us all better. We’re like legos in that way, I guess. My dog relies on me to take care of her and in doing so, I satisfy this need I have to nurture, so we both win.
It seems to me that transitions are the worst parts of life. None of us like change, though we might love whatever it is that’s coming next. I wish I could ask my mother how she navigated the space between full-time mothering and the fading-into-the-background feeling that I have now. Certainly, my parents were pretty far down the list of my priorities when I was a teen, and I should expect the same experience for my children. On the whole, they are way kinder and more thoughtful than I was at those ages. They get how crazy I can be, how invested in their futures I’ve become, and they have a lot of empathy, thankfully. What will my life look like in the very short time when neither of my kids lives at home? I don’t know. The sweet ladies at the library and grocery store used to say, “enjoy every minute”, and they were right, and I did, so much as you can. I wrung every good thing out of those early years, and later when it wasn’t as much fun, I slapped myself into paying attention. But now I’m on the other end, and I’m a forty-three year old sweet library lady reminding people that the time will go fast. (Note to younger Mom friends…it really will! We will have a conversation about this in what seems like five minutes so I’ll see you then.)
My mother found what she considered her life’s work (apart from raising us, of course!), well after we all left the nest. She created and ran her parish food pantry, was an inspiration and help to countless people, and she was energized by this important work right until the end. Maybe I have untapped parts of my life yet to bloom…maybe I’ll write more, or teach more, or sing more, or find something totally different. But it’s this in-between space in which I need someone to care for, this dreaded transition that’s here, today, at my door. And it’s why I have this crazy idea that my mother, who hated and feared all dogs, sent me Bailey because she knew I would need her to need me. I am covered in dog hair all of the time, and I don’t mind it at all. Now, how crazy is that?