When Rob and I told the children on Christmas day that we would welcome a new dog, King, into the family, our 6-year old daughter jumped up and down for 5 minutes straight. Our stoic 8-year old son literally teared-up with joy. We videoed the entire thing. A 4-year old brindle greyhound, hand picked for his gentle spirit and easy way, he was perfect for our family. Mainly, he is a rug trapped in a very large dog’s body.
I swore I would never get a dog. However, ‘never’ is a word spoken only by fools. Secretly King was hand picked for ME. I had not expected to love him so much. Silly dog people with their dog pictures and dog stories, I never understood them. Seriously. They shed. They drool. They poop. King did all those things. But when I was alone, he would quietly find me and place his long snout on my shoulder. Then I knew I had an ally against life itself. He was my ‘souldog.’
Joe’s new years resolution was to take care of King. Maeve talked to him with a baby voice. Rob walked him, as they fought over who got to hold the leash. We bought him toys and treats and a big red coat. I took selfies with my dog.
Two weeks ago, our daughter was gently rubbing King on the head, when the doorbell rang. In an effort to pull his over-raced, arthritic, 70-pound body to standing, he pawed her. He actually scraped one eyebrow right off her face and injured the rest of it badly. In disbelief, for 48 hours we thought King had bitten her. Horrified. Betrayed. Devastated. Confused. King went back to his foster home, as we waited to see if our daughter had suffered extreme and permanent damage to her eye and face.
With earnest and innocent intent, Maeve bounced back both emotionally and physically. “Mom, my scar is so cool, it's a perfect circle.”
Joe quickly declared he was ‘over it,’ and refused to discuss the matter any further. We know he’s not over it, but we also know he understands and is fairing very well.
Their parents are still recovering. I’m still mad. Not at King, but at the whole thing. The range of emotions was broad. Even knowing our daughter was ultimately fine, the trauma left us vulnerable, dependent, angry, grateful, exhausted, and disoriented. So, we relied on the words and care of close friends and community as signs of God’s true grace. Without them, we would have been left on empty. The truest just reach out without expectation or even permission.
Now on the other side of it, Maeve proclaims everyday from the back seat of our car that she wishes King would be waiting for us when we get home from school. Each time I reply, “I know baby, me too. We miss him.”
And every day Joe says, “I’m over it.”
Last Tuesday was different.
“Mommy, don’t you wish King would be home when we got there?”
“Yes baby I do, but he is happy in his foster home, and we would feel nervous if he came back to live with us.”
Joe reminds her, “He gets to sleep on a couch where he is Maeve.”
Sweet and soft she inquires, “Mommy, (long pause for dramatic effect…)
When can we get a new little fluffy puppy?”
Nice move little one.
She knows her opponent well (long pause for maternal strategic planning…).
I think to myself several things like this: ‘When hell freezes over.’ ‘When you are 30.’
But she is 6 and I am well…older, and smarter and more manipulative. Plus, I know better than to say ‘never’ because I really don’t want a tiny, yappy, rat running around my house.
Honestly, I just want King. King who pawed my daughter’s face off and brought her parents to their knees. “I don’t know honey,” I say, “I think we need to be still for a little while. Do you feel sad in your heart?”
“Yes,” she says as Joe peers out the window.
“Well, so do I… When your heart feels like it has a hole in it, because you have lost someone you love, it’s called grief. Do you know that word?”
Looking at Joe through the rearview mirror I press, “Have you heard of grief Joe?”
“No, but I’m fine.”
Deep sigh. “Yes I know you are fine but my heart still has a hole. Even though King is happy where he is, and we are healing, I am still a sad. We need more time for our holes to heal. Then we will be ready to keep King in our hearts, and also love another dog.”
Maeve is doing the math. “How long Mom? Like one week or when I’m 7?”
Joe finally admits, “Two years Maeve, I want two years.”
I think to myself, ‘Me too Buddy.’