My boys

**This is a blog transplant. I originally published it to my private blog Positive on March 17, 2014.**

Gently and lovingly, I push back the furry, red curls popping out around his ears, smoothing them down, admiring the light glistening off his sweet head of hair. Admiring every curvature of his face and those gorgeous, enrapturing, blue eyes, I breathe deeply, slowly, recording every aspect of his beautiful existence to memory. He’ll never be this way again, this wobbly-walking, squawking, jump-in-my-lap-shower-me-with-cuddles cutie ever again. Sweet, sweet C.

Admiring the way he studies every movable object, determined to understand its inner workings, my heart swells. Today it was the lower rack of the dishwasher that C hulked away from the door and onto the floor. M put it back, moving it, examining the rollers, iteratively figuring out its proper position. After ensuring it rolled smoothly in and out, he asserted that he’d fixed it; not sure who was prouder, he or I.

At bedtime he approach C as I nursed him; he snuggled him, gently and sweetly, whispering goodnight before climbing into his bed. Brothers.

Sustenance for my soul.

Never again will my boys be exactly who they are at this time. Each day I balance romance against turbulence, love against frustrations, all in the name of appreciating and celebrating each version of my boys as they progress toward adulthood, lest I look back with regret at being too overwhelmed with the work and commitment of motherhood. It’s not easy. Nothing is sweeter than the sweet, nothing is as complicated, infuriating nor exhausting as the challenge. Neither invalidates the other, but romanticizing their cuteness, innocence, and wonderment is the very best part.

Puppy love

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I said goodbye to my Old Girl. Paris entered my life when my first puppy was dying of congenital kidney failure. She’d been with me longer than my husband and children. My confidant, gardening buddy and all around adored friend is gone.

Her birthday is in May; she would have been fourteen this year. Thirteen-plus years is a long life for a purebred lab, and I’m grateful she spent most of it by my side.

Her health had been declining for a while. It became evident that her hips were giving her trouble about two years ago. She was diagnosed with mega esophagus last summer. I had been conceptually inching toward her death, preparing to let her go, grieving her one moment at a time along the way.

I’d long-planned to let Paris help train a new puppy, and finally brought Pepper into our home last December. Paris was old, slower and a bit curmudgeonly at times, but still had a lot of spunk and was a wonderful, well-behaved dog with much to offer to a new one. The vomiting started a few weeks later, which was subsequent to the lack of appetite that didn’t resonate with me at the time. In hindsight, it seems that introducing Pepper was the pivot point where Paris decided she could finally let go.

When I took her to the vet for vomiting, x-rays revealed a significantly enlarged liver, likely full of tumors, which the vet presumed was cancer. It became immediately irrelevant, because bloodlabs revealed acute liver and kidney failure.

I had known she was declining. I had known 13.5 is old for a lab. I had presumed she’d be lucky to make it through 2018. What I had not known was that she was actively dying.

Shock overtook understanding. Miss Type A I-can-figure-out-anything-and-fix-it-just-watch-me immediately devised plans for supporting her liver so that she could feel better for as long as possible. Over the next 24 hours, however, I was able to release my death-grip on the fear of losing her and ask myself, “What is the point? She is old. She is dying. She is suffering. It would be for me, not for her.”

Everyone knows that dogs are nonjudgmental and selfless. Paris was also stoic and probably held out for me. The least I could do was let her go. It was beyond her time. I felt so bad for her. My heart was broken, but her body was on the verge of shutting down and that had to have sucked for her. There was only one thing perpetuating her suffering: me.

The anti-nausea meds helped her feel great for a few days. She was playing and spry, eating like crazy and back to stealing food from the kids with fervor. It simultaneously warmed and killed my heart; she was happy and herself, which were noticeable because she hadn’t been.

She and I had a heart-to-heart one morning while my husband and kids took Pepper for a long walk. Paris, on the couch, and I, on the floor, stared into one another’s eyes for what felt like eternity. I bawled my eyes out and my heart broke even more. She told me she was ready and I told her I  loved her but would let her go.

Her (presumed) cancer overtook the benefit of the meds after 3-4 days. We put her down six days after her diagnosis. Her last day was a rough one (my poor, Old Girl), but was preceded by a fantastic day where she played in the snow and with Pepper, ate well, seemed so happy and well that the thought of putting her down seemed criminal, even though I knew it wouldn’t have been.

A vet came to our house. The kids were comical. “So, you’re gonna give her a shot to kill her,” my five-year-old asserted. “We’re really sad but kind of glad because now Paris won’t be around to teach Pepper how to eat strawberries from Mama’s garden,” added my seven-year-old. The beauty of children is that they are honest, pragmatic, uninhibited. For them, a confluence of realities coexist. Perhaps they have a better handle on life than we adults do.

My oldest and I held on to Paris and cried the whole time. The youngest brought blueberries to share with the vet. My husband took it rough; Paris was his first dog. Our youngest didn’t breakdown until the vet left and the reality set in. He went to where Paris lay and cried his poor little heart out. Saying goodbye tore our hearts apart, but grieving together helped.

It’s impossible for me to list everything I do/will miss about Paris, but one thing I keep remembering is a time when my husband was traveling and my heart was a mess about our relationship. I plopped the kids in front of the television and hid away in my closet (which was also my office. Let the record show that my closet is technically a room. I live in a weird, old farmhouse). I curled up on the floor next to my oldest love, my unconditional friend: Paris. I lay there petting her, stroking her silky ears, staring into her amber eyes. I felt overcome with guilt. I neglect her all the time. I don’t pet her enough. I don’t talk to her enough. I used to walk her daily, but… kids. Yet in my moment of desperate need, she was there. She let me love her and she loved me back, despite how much I hadn’t given her. She held no grudge. Her puppy love helped my heart that day, and more profoundly, opened my eyes to the choice one has in regards to love in relationships: One can choose to accept and receive, even when not on one’s terms, or constrain, expect, victimize and resent. She taught me to do the former.

What will I do without her?

The first week was really difficult. I felt her absence viscerally. But the distractions and demands of children and a puppy finally forced me over the hump. I mostly feel like a normal person who experiences sadness regularly rather than feeling withdrawn, broken and a mess all of the time. (I still hate that she’s gone.)

But, I have a new puppy to love. She’s not Paris. There will never be another Paris.

Sigh.

Tears.

Ugh!

Luckily, Pepper is the world’s best cuddler. Her cute puppy-ness is helping my heart so much. She’s beautiful and incredibly smart. Antics such as thieving socks and chasing leaves across the snow bring joy and laughter. But, best of all is that puppy love.

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