There is a ball pit of empty water jugs in my daughter’s bedroom.
You see, she went to college and took her service dog with her. So I’m filling her room at home with her dog’s favorite toys. Lots of them. The floor is covered.
Maybe it’s my coping mechanism.
Four years ago, my oldest daughter's college president had welcomed anxious parents with anxious freshmen with these words: “Your children will miss the family dog – their pets – more than they will miss you.” I have honestly forgotten anything else that man said. I think I immediately tuned out exactly at that point. Because I just looked at my daughter on her move-out / move-in day and I wondered how many minutes the cats would take to adjust to her absence. I really didn’t think it would be a mutual missing and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that right then.
Her president, as it turns out, was mostly right: my daughter missed the cats (marginally) more than she missed me. But that’s because we talked as often as she wanted / needed to. The cats, on the other hand, mostly walked across the keyboard and butt-faced her as she spoke fluent Meow with them and they haughtily pretended not to listen. I’m not sure that they helped as much as I tried to in all of her moments of indecision or crises but, yes, they were around. And, yes, she missed them.
The thing that this college president didn’t mention – and that I had no way to foresee – is the situation in pseudo reverse. Imagine him saying: “Parents, you will miss your child’s service dog more than you will miss your child.”
And holy crap, he would have been right on that count. I still have 3 cats for company and upkeep. But I no longer have a zoomie doggo that flops over for cuddles when she is unvested.
Granted: The cats are not likely to swipe my glasses and play rugby with them on a tennis court.
And these cats are bored by mice, especially dead ones that have likely eaten rat poison left by the landlord (whilst in between tenants) and if they ate one, they would not projectile vomit in quantities un-feline-like all over the back of the front seat of my car, the front of the back seat of my car –– basically the entirety of my car.
And yes, these cats usually don’t consume human food that is not fitting for them and so avocados and chocolate are safe on the edge of countertops once again.
Still, the cats, while comforting and phenomenal bed-warmers, do not look at me with a goofy face and a tail that may wag off their butt. They remain calm, amusing, comforting, and often worthy of their own YouTube channel but they are just not . . . well . . . just not the same as the doggo. Who knew I'd come to love that pupper when she first arrived 2 years ago for her training and lifelong job?
So I can talk to my youngest daughter. And we do. And she catches me up on all things college and all things disability and all the ways she advocates for herself (and, unintentionally for others).
The thing is when I try to talk to the pupper in the background, the dog occasionally looks toward the camera with great boredom and I feel a sense of depression that screams: “At least BARK at me! What about a slo-mo tail wag? Let me know that you miss me a quarter as much as I miss you!!”
Is it possible she has forgotten me? (More likely it is because dogs have a limited ability to clearly see video and she is probably confused by where my voice is coming from, not to mention why it is distorted. My best guess is that she has politely decided that it is best to ignore me versus looking embarrassingly dog-confused.)
Meanwhile, I am distraught. And I look downright miserable as I talk to her in my high-pitched, just-for-doggo voice. Ridiculous. I know.
Without an ability to keep in better touch, the best I can do to feel close to her is to keep hydrating and saving her favorite toy: an empty water jug.
In a rental home where the water potability is dubious, we buy the jugs. And we recycle every single one of them – AFTER the dog has had her chance to play tug of war, chase her prize catch after tossing it around and pouncing on it and nudging it across floors. Finally ending with a display of her extraordinary skills at compacting.
Each jug has my love in it: from fully "inflated" to the flat-chewed-plastic-toy-thing.
My daughter’s room – well, their room – as I noted, is full of gifts now and that "love a la jugs" has overflowed into the bathtub. So, they'd better come visit soon.
Oh joyous dog. I miss you. And when you get home, I’ve got the world’s best treats for you.
Plus . . . lots of cuddles.
Oh! And . . . a hug for my daughter. I miss her, too.
If you haven’t read it already (and you haven’t just eaten), you might skim the last blog about the vermin-vomiting dog. It’ll get you in the right dog mind. Or left one. (Is there actually room for two?)
Unexpectedly, I’m riffing on the service dog. Turns out that animals (and kids) actually do provide a fodder for stories that I never thought I’d tell. Those poop stories I listened to when I was not a parent – the very stories I swore I would never, NEVER, be reduced to even whispering aloud when I became a parent – were the only stories I had in my sleep-deprived-parenting-save-me-from-myself-and-my-pooping-infant brain almost immediately after I gave birth. And yes, I told those very stories with great angst and relief.
And now it’s my turn. Again.
Fast forward 4 weeks from the vomit-car-simonizing event.
Think much larger and now much smarter dog. (Then ratchet back those thoughts a notch. It’s only been four weeks – she’s a lab dog, not a lab experiment!)
I am, tonight, the Great Mom. I send my kid out for a night by herself to a place that isn’t ready to deal with service dogs-still-in-training. My teen deserves a break. I can watch a service dog for a few hours. Really, I can.
Well, maybe you can. But the dog awful truth is ...
I’m bored. The dog is bored. The dog is mournfully missing her bonded-to-person. The dog is vying for Moodiest Dog in the Whole Dog World award. I’d give her the damn award AND a treat the size of an Emmy but I’m too damn moody to be a fair judge of winner vs runner up. (Besides, I might switch envelopes at the last moment and then I’d have to deal with a whole new fiasco.)
How can I suck at this so thoroughly?
I am a parent, after all. And parents play with their kids.
Except the reality is that I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was not a good parent-player-with-kids. (You can ask my girls whether that’s just my memory. If they say otherwise, they are polite liars.)
Or just ask the dog. She knows my secret!
I read to my girls. A lot. We were library fanatics as soon as they so much as toddled and waddled. We’d book it to the library in our “purple chariot” (read: purple jog stroller for two with plenty of room for books underneath. And snacks. And diapers. And water. And bandaids …)
So, we read. A lot.
And we talked. A lot.
We told stories. A lot.
And now I’m trying all this out on the dog. She appears mildly interested but is clearly not into my babbling and isn’t anticipating page turns with even the slightest show of polite curiosity. She’s bored.
Good grief. I’m boring the dog!
But, I remember! I also played board games with my girls! Educational ones which were engaging for us both. (And no, for the record it did NOT matter who won. I’m not entirely evil.)
The dog, as it turns out, actually loves board games. Loves eating them, that is. She eats the boards, and then moves on the to the game pieces, and paws at the spinner like that’s the entire game. She chews on the money like it has no value and listens to the timer with mild disinterest. Then she’s done, and it’s back to yawning and whining. Dogs do this. Just like kids. They yawn and whine when they don’t love the game but then they just want to chew on dice. And it occurs to me that the dog just isn’t into strategizing.
Or so I thought.
I decide the dog and I need a walk. Car (cleaned weeks ago of the vomit) is the first fun zone we find. There’s plenty of kisses from the back seat before she settles to eating anything left on the floor back there. She quickly recognizes that no one is dreaded “dog car monitor” (akin to the dreaded “hall monitor” of our elementary school days … oh wait! I was one of them. Forgive me?) and that her driver (me) may indeed have eyes behind her head but they can’t see through the seats. So she’s cool to drool.
Soon the dog is sticking her snout and ears out her window – an achievement that I now understand can only be truly appreciated by other dog owners as I stare in wonder at my driver side mirror and proudly (and quite oddly) consider all of the camera angles that take into account the sun and the glare and the ugly pickup behind us but clearly don’t account for how many hands I’d need for a camera AND the steering wheel…
<< I pause here to recognize that I have fully entered the conversational land known only to pet owners and parents. I am now talking the language of those who converse in poop and wind-flapping dog ears. >>
We hit the park. And park.
We begin to walk.
This translates to: I walk. She sniffs. She stops suddenly while I am still in a forward motion. I lurch backwards. I wait. I sniff the air, too, and try to appreciate the ways of a slower evening while contemplating the aroma of mulch vs poop and how to decipher the difference at this time of year.
Then I walk. She sniffs. She stops … This is just the first lap, folks. She’s not in working / service dog mode so I allow her the quick stops and she allows me the immediate, unintentional tug on her halter as I brace myself against whiplash. Whatever she is smelling – I don’t want to know about. But it better be amazing with a cap/bold A. Walk on.
And then I see it.
It’s almost dusk, and no one is around. The parking lot is empty. The sign doesn’t actually list “No dogs allowed” in its rules; just something about “for tennis players only”. But, I don’t know what that means, this “tennis” thing. So we enter. I latch the door. We unleash.
And puppy goes wild.
As in happy.
As in psychotic.
She runs wildly in all four; no, twenty-four; no, a gazillion directions. She hits full speed. She stops short. She spins 229º and goes at it again. She hits the net. She actually bounces off. My lifespan knocks off a few months and hers gains a few. She spins out at 147º and – holy cow/dog! – runs straight into the chain link fence thing (a design recently submitted to the Border Crossing Artistic Committee). It turns out that she is made of rubber. Several fewer months for me. Plus 10 for her.
She is a dog on speed. She’s into new math and watching my lifespan decrease in increments and excrements. She is one happy psychotic dog.
She avails herself of a water break and then we leash up. We walk, sniff, lurch another loop. But she spots the high-fenced, running field thing with its white painted lines and the net to race around (or into). I check again.
No cars in the lot.
Same mysterious sign.
We re-enter. I unleash her and …
I drop my glasses.
And the well-trained service puppy picks them up.
And decides that this is THE WORLD’S BEST. STICK. EVER. She can tell just by my reaction. My sudden need to get my glasses back from her must mean that we are about to play something better than any board game with chewable pieces. This is better than any book because she can hear me laughing-screaming-crying-peeing as she races around joyously participating in Drop It! (No), Give! (No), and Leave It!! (No). No. No. No.
She’s got THE stick. Duh! This is THE BEST STICK EVER. E-V-E-R.
She has me playing TAG-I’M-IT! (And for the record, there was an ear touch that she outright ignored. Cheater.) and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (I clearly couldn’t). Oh amazing dog day! She is gloriously giddy.
She mocks me. She tosses the glasses up and catches them. She sprints and stops and spins and drops and pushes thoses glasses (glass side down, of course) along the rough pavement before she carefully picks them up again just to show me that she hasn’t forgotten them and isn’t about to step on them. Apparently, I am supposed to praise her for that.
As it turns out, I have been a perfect role model for her in these games of CHASE ME, I’VE GOT THE STICK when I’VE had the stick. It turns out that she was a good study because it’s clear that she has mastered those rules and now has run away with the fun.
She is actually strategizing at her game.
Damn dog. This thought is followed by increasingly clearer visions of a nice clerk showing me expensive frames and the expensiver << new word >> lenses that are now clouding that vision. DamndamndamndamnDAMN.
And then, out of nowhere, there’s a worldwide monetary alert that, for once, has nothing directly to do with American politics. And I stop seeing the dollar signs of replacement glasses.
Suddenly, I can only see the $20K vermin-vomiting dog chowing down on the “glass” part of “glasses”. That’s when my parenting superpower returns in that my-child-is-running-into-a-parking-lot way… I am superfast. I am superhuman strong. I am superparent gentle. (Never scream at the child. You can teach a lesson in fear but never in anger.)
Game over, Superexpensive Superdog. I win. (As if it mattered to her who had the glasses in the end.)
This was a double tag wagging moment for us both. She is super happy and super exhausted – something every parent hopes to achieve by dusk; I am super happy and also super exhausted, the latter of which I had kind of hoped NOT to achieve because I still had a lot to do. But I had just saved her life without, I must point out, willfully killing her for costing me a minor fortune in eyeglass replacement.
The only other good news? She has already pooped. And the park – thank you, dear park – has doggy poop bags. I’ll save you the description. (There are limits. I know that now. Send me a direct message if you really want the details. No photos. She doesn’t do selfies; even a dog likes her privacy.)
So, this is how this story ends:
The dog falls asleep on the back seat on the way home. She’s lost interest in chewing on anything attached to the car. She has no energy for window snout.
Her owner (remember her?) had a good night out with her peeps at the film festival which her service dog will attend next year, fully trained.
I have been a successful parent on all fronts:
- The daughter had a lovely breather and a chance to be untethered by her still-puppy service dog.
- The very clever, momentarily untethered dog will live a very long life.
I spend the next day attended to by a nice clerk showing me those expensive frames and expensiver (presumably dog-proof, but I buy the extra warranty) lenses.
The better to see her with.
*YAGBTS: You Ain't Gonna Believe This S&^%
My youngest-about-to-graduate-high-school daughter taught me an amazing lesson recently.
The thing is, I didn’t start out parenting in lesson-ready mode.
20 years ago, my parent-to-be assumptions were clear cut: this parenting thing would be a strictly one-way, mom-is-teacher & daughters-are-students in this family/classroom combo thing.
And yet despite the clarity of my pregnant brain at the time(s), my girls have not stopped teaching me from the moment of their births.
Like all children, my kids didn’t come with the soon-to-be-much-needed directions. And while I had influence and the final say-so (usually), the lessons only truly became clear after learning from them what would work best – for all of us. They were teaching me – right from the start. (Dammit. So much for assumptions of who was at the front of this class.)
My biggest lessons centered around planning. As in, be prepared to un-plan, re-plan, revert-to-the-back-up-plan style of planning.
(This, of course, often meant quickly improvising said back-up plan to look like it always existed. HA! Tell no one. We parents are nothing if not creative with a quick new-and-improved, pulled-out-of-the-hat-make-it-look-like-the-plan-all-along plan. We are geniuses on that front.)
For instance, there’s the kids-get-sick derailments, often followed immediately by (or in conjunction with) the adults-get-sick debacle. And those are topped off with the kids-get-sick-again weeks from hell. Whatever the original plan was, the new plan is tending to a house full of sick people, rescheduling all events and appointments, and basically canceling life as we had known and planned it. Instead, we are now entertaining the infirm with song and dance; music, musicals and movies; and food – preferably of a variety that will stay down or, at least, will not stain if it reappears. (Eewww.)
Then there’s the kids-get-new-schedules surprises. They make the team. They make another team that conflicts with the first team. They get a part in the school show. And a bigger (or smaller) role in the non-school show. They get the job you begged them to apply for but they are too young for a driver’s license and need you to drive them to and from. Day and night. Weekdays and weekends. (Uh, what were you thinking??) They decide to join the club that they swore they would never, ever be seen at and they have to meet after school, alternate Monday nights, and occasional weekends. (And oh, yes, you are driving. Again. And aren't you proud that they are joining in?)
More new plans.
Of course, with kids, plans naturally redefine themselves every time school lets out and then school has the audacity to let itself back in just when you had mastered the let-out plan.
New summer? New plan. New school year? New plan.
And too, have you noticed that kids get older? They actually age faster than we do. And suddenly and subtly, they require new boundaries, new rules, new consequences. Less of this; more of that.
All new plans.
You get my point. Flexible planning has been one of my biggest parenting / life lessons.
A few weeks ago, I learned the ultimate (well, the most recent ‘ultimate’) lesson when my daughter’s college dream / plan was derailed by her medical needs. Just like that. The very weekend that the college deposit was due. It's a magical date.
This turn of events came after months of her writing essays, of filling out applications by the deadlines that she kept careful spreadsheets to track. It came after a painstaking and often nauseating process of completing the financial aid forms that went with each of those college applications and then sending individual letters explaining extenuating circumstances with deeply personal information that we were now entrusting to strangers. And these letters were often accompanied by more forms and more details and more tears and more frustration and more follow-up calls – all of which she tracked.
She kept the biggest and smallest of details on a spreadsheet she painstakingly maintained much to my surprise delight. Everything was turned in on time. I know because she verified each single line item for every single school. (For this one character trait – and possibly a few others – I am proud she takes after her mother.)
We were survivors (barely) – my daughter and I – of the college application and financial aid application processes.
We weren’t quite sure where the money was going to come from for next year; but we were determined to get her there without robbing the bank. In the final moments, she was given extensions at two schools as they promised to look again at her/our situation. We were still in the game right up through that deposit deadline weekend.
And then, the plan shifted. In the blink of her tired, narcoleptic eyes.
My daughter needs a service dog for two medical conditions. Conditions which, at home, we had managed without a dog because I unwittingly have been at her service. For better and for worse, I have been available to her 24/7. Like any parent, I have been her dog. Woof.
We had just settled into these roles not looking far into the future. Not realizing. Not thinking. And, okay, not knowing there were alternatives available.
When the doctor said "service dog", we realized how that would change everything for her – and for me. The dog would allow her to gain an independence that she had come to understand she was missing; I would gain an independence that I hadn’t realized that I was missing.
And so, she started looking.
Here’s what she discovered in quick order:
- One must apply for a service dog like one applies for college. There are numerous organizations, each with their own application processes (from forms to essays to home videos to documentation) and their own admission guidelines and committees who make final decisions based on internal policies that we cannot be privy to. As I said: like college.
- One must have or raise $15-$20K (yes, THOUSAND) to pay for the dog, the hours of training a puppy to behave and then training the dog to serve, plus feeding, vet services, etc. This amount does not include travel and long term lodging – because like college, your only acceptance and/or cheapest option may be hours or days away and, at the very least, those final weeks of training must focus on bonding and on the dog being able to perform specialized tasks for the specific needs of the specific person. You go to your dog. It is not unreasonable but ...
- No portion of the cost is covered by insurance and there is no financial aid available (though a very few organizations have small grants through generous and understanding benefactors).
Not knowing about the need for the service dog as she began her college search and application, she never considered local schools where she could have been a commuter student. And on the weekend that the deposit was due, she interviewed with two service dog organizations who both confirmed the reality of something we had assumed was exaggerated:
- This process of acceptance, finding, training, and certifying a dog will take a minimum of two years. Read that again: two years – minimum.
Within 24 hours, my daughter was teaching me 'dream flexibility' – my dream and her dream of college had just been put on hold though it felt more like the dream had crashed. This was only college – now in delay mode. But, it felt like the world was crumbling despite my years of saying that college is wasted on the young and how much better it is to go with more maturity and more depth perception.
I said that. I meant that. But my kid was ready. Had been ready. She was a dreamer. And a pursuer. And a doer. She was prepped with her film production classes. She knew what she wanted. She had a plan.
And now she is doing something else. First.
We don’t know exactly how this will all play out. Her preferred school kindly allowed an unprecedented 2-year deferment. (Though we will have no idea until then whether financial aid will make it affordable as we will have to refile all the financial aid papers …)
Perhaps this is for the best so that she can work on her health and continue to focus on her search for and training of her dog while finding part time work and public transport to assert her independence.
Typical of my daughter, she was perfectly fine with the new plan that fell upon us so quickly. I was turned into a sad, confused mothering mess, worried about the change for her and (selfishly?) worried about the change for me.
That lasted one day. Then my daughter remembered that she was human and she cried and went into a funk.
We talked. And we shared our fears and our tears. Our old dreams. Our still-forming new dreams that we will soon call “plans”. Hers. Mine.
She is raising money through GoFundMe and once again teaching me something: humility and gratitude beyond what I thought possible.
Flexibility has been the most valuable parenting lesson that I’ve learned.
Believing in the generosity of strangers is another.
And the lessons my kids teach me keep coming at me.
I am just lucky to have such great teachers.