Dinner’s on the stove, bubbling and spurting, a dire warning that if I don’t add a little more broth, the beans will burn to the bottom of the pot. I’m attempting to help my 13-year-old understand a math problem that looks like it’s written in Sanskrit while calling out the approximate coordinates of my 10-year-old’s basketball shoes and peeling off the plastic strips of a bandage for my 6-year-old’s scraped knee. Lately, controlled chaos and barely manageable mayhem define our days, as we carousel endlessly around jobs, school and household chores.
But when our three-month-old puppy Trixie whines, when her big brown nose twitches, when her white crescent-shaped tail waves like a flag of surrender, we pause, set aside our to-do lists, forget about the tasks that once seemed so urgent, and gather around to assess her needs. Does she need to go potty? More food? A belly rub? Or perhaps she simply craves the wedge of our elbows to rub her sweet face in.
We kept waiting for the right time to get a dog, for our youngest to reach an age where she could carefully hold and carry a puppy without harming her, for grad school to end, for work to slow down. We kept waiting, I suppose, for our lives to resemble a television sitcom where pandemonium entails nothing more than a wink, a nod and a predictable laugh track.
We waited, because we had the luxury of waiting. There were no ticking biological clocks to consider, no worries about months (or years) of sleepless nights, no future college tuitions to stress over.
But after a few years of mounting pressure from our children, my husband and I began to accept the fact that perhaps there was never a “good time” to get a pet, that, like with a newborn, our lives, our hearts, our schedules, would expand to accommodate another needy being in our home. So we set aside the perceived obstacles (no fence), lame excuses (but we just bought a new couch), irritating though important details (don’t we need a baby gate for the stairs?) and a few days after Christmas, we picked up our puppy.
We learned, very quickly, that a puppy is work. At times, she’s a lot of work.
We couldn’t sneak out of the house until she was sleepy enough to let us put her in her crate. Teeth marks dot the legs of our coffee table and tiny little holes pierce our shirtsleeves and pants, despite our significant attempts to coax her naughty nibbles with bite toys of every size, shape and texture imaginable. She has accidents in the most amazing places – back behind the sofa, in the dusty corner of a closet, on top of a completed homework assignment.
We had expected our lives to change and they have. The smell of puppy food mixes with the scents oregano and basil in our pasta, her wispy hair sticks to our socked feet. Heartworm meds, treats, puppy pads and paper towels stock our pantry. We stay up a little later and get up a little earlier to keep her accident-free at night.
But we could have never imagined the biggest change.
Our active, silly, unpredictable puppy has reminded us that sometimes priorities need to be abandoned for spontaneity, that functionality should sometimes be traded for frivolity, that at the end of the day, for our most precious relationships, both quality and quantity time matter. It took an outside force, a young puppy, to derail our lives just enough to get us back on a saner path. Somehow, by focusing on her, we have become more conscious, more conscientious of each other. So we count days in dog years, remain vigilant about potty breaks, and tuck our shoes, our wallets and extension cords safely out of reach.
And in the evenings, instead of scattering throughout the house to stare at screens, we now gather on the living room floor to snuggle with Trixie as she gnaws at her bone and tugs on our shirttails. At the end of the day, our sweet, precious puppy has helped us to remember exactly where we belong.
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