For the first three years after my daughter was born, we lived in Woodland hills, a suburb of Los Angeles. Every day, in those years, my little one and I would spend a few good hours in the park close to our apartment. Moments in that park were special. Not because of the scenic hills and palm trees that surrounded us, but because of the many friends we made there. The park was a melting pot of cultures. Moms from Bangladesh, Tanzania, Russia, Iran and Mexico joined us.
As the kids romped about in the sand and the play structures, the moms discussed the ups and downs of raising them. It turns out motherhood is a universally difficult language, no matter where we come from. The thrill of being a new mother enamored me those days and I could rarely think beyond my child and her needs.
Some days we were also joined by a little old lady with twinkly eyes and a charming smile. She always wore a hat and brought her puppy, dapperly dressed to the park. The little beagle sported a bandana on sunny days and when the temperatures dipped, he wore a blue and white striped sweater. The kids loved to play with the dog while the little lady loved being part of our conversations.
While the mothers discussed the picky eating, potty training and favorite TV shows of their toddlers, she pitched in with references not to her grandchildren but to the puppy. It turns out he loved to watch reruns of ‘The Andy Griffith show’ and was a quick learner. Potty training was a breeze she quipped, and he was extremely fussy about his treats. It amused me to see her talk about her pet with the same fondness with which we spoke of our kids. I felt a little slighted too. Weren’t our children more important than her pet?
Fast forward sixteen years. We now lived in Charlotte, North Carolina with our two teenage kids. It was the summer before my daughter left for college. For years, the kids had wanted to bring home a puppy but until that summer my husband had not yielded to their pleas.
One fine day in July though, he changed his mind. Whether he worried that I would struggle emotionally after my daughter left or if he knew that a dog would be her biggest reason to call or visit home, I cannot say but he gingerly announced we needed a puppy and in a couple of days our little fluffball Leo, all of eleven weeks, was home.
Leo completely took over our lives with the obedience, toilet and crate training. And very soon I began to see subtle and beautiful changes in my family. The kids spent most of their days downstairs to help with the training. I saw them more in that one month than I had in the past two years. This adorable creature was the reason my floors were sparkly clean. An otherwise lazy lot, my family made sure the floor was spotless so that the puppy would not eat anything off the floor. His goofiness ensured an air of lightness, playfulness and laughter in the house. Those big, puppy eyes could melt a heart made of rock. ‘Floofball’ as my kids lovingly referred to him brought out the best in us. Earlier it had annoyed the kids when I accidentally called out to one of them by the other’s name. Now I began to call Leo by the names of my children and the kids ‘pup-pup.
And then it happened….
One day my young friend, who had her second child a couple of months ago, called to talk about the baby’s quirky and loveable antics. The baby loved his rattles and was a night owl. He was fascinated by the movements and sounds he saw on TV and was trying hard to roll over. The excitement in her voice was palpable and I, without the slightest hesitation, had the audacity to continue the banter with tales of Leo. I went on about how Leo squeaked his new toy to get attention, about how smart he was because he knew ‘Bye’ meant someone was leaving. That he rang the bell with his button sized nose to let us know he wanted to go out, that he now slept through the night in his crate…
And just like that, I turned into the little old lady with the hat and the beagle.
Stories of dogs and how therapeutic they can be to a family are legendary. I am so grateful that my family can now experience it. Beware mommies of young children, this soon to be empty nester might just hijack your conversations about your kids with tales of her favorite furry creature.
Author’s Note: This post is dedicated to Sheila Tzerman, my beautiful friend and guide who passed away last week. She loved that I wrote about everyday stuff and encouraged me to keep writing, no matter what. Sheila was an animal and nature lover and wanted me to write about Leo, my puppy. Today would have been her 65th birthday and the best way I can honor her is with this post on Leo. I will always miss you, my dear friend…