Friday, May 27, 2011

Happiness is Not A Point of Negotiation

Your insomnia is a gift from your darkness calling, Wake up! Wake up! Let yourself feel what  is churning inside of you. –Anne Liu Kellor, Facebook status update, 5/19/11

You know when you’re going along thinking you’re fine, and then all of a sudden you realize you’re not? I’ve been experiencing this recently. The last blog post I wrote was all about patting myself on the back for finding balance, patience, acceptance and perspective in the midst of never having enough time to do the things I most want to do—and I meant all those things that I wrote as I wrote them. But then the very next day I found myself unable to sleep until 3 a.m., and the night after that I didn’t sleep AT ALL. What is going on? I asked myself. I didn’t feel stressed about anything in particular, I’d been getting plenty of exercise, I went to bed at my usual hour, so why couldn’t I go to sleep?

The last time I’d had a bout of insomnia was back in November during the weeks leading up to my 4Culture reading, during which I needed to find a venue, advertise, tailor excerpts from my project to read (which ended up being more or less like writing three new short essays), and force myself to work on this in any spare moment I could find. It was exciting to have a deadline again, to organize and host what would be my first solo reading, and to cast myself back into the identity of a writer, but it was also stressful. The writing I do for this blog is not stressful, because there are no deadlines except for the (loosely) self-imposed, and because I don’t worry so much about it being “perfect.” I know people read it, but I don’t have to see their reactions first-hand. So suffice it to say that when the reading was over I was relieved to go back to my relatively stress-free life (besides the daily demands of mothering)-- and I started sleeping fine again too.

What I’ve realized from this most recent round of insomnia is: I desperately need more time to write. The few hours a week I manage to get most weeks is not cutting it. I long to actually sit at my desk regularly again, and not have it littered with Cedar’s clothes and unpaid bills. And just writing for this blog is ultimately not enough. I’ve got whole books I’ve abandoned—one finished in search of a publisher, and one that is still in relative infancy—and I don’t know how much longer I can go without working on them.

What I’ve realized is: I’m not happy right now. I’ve tried hard to be accepting of this “break” from my former writing life due to the demands of motherhood, and I’ve been pleased with my ability to adapt to working in short bursts of time, but that doesn’t mean that there has not been some part of me who has been longing, pining—and now, desperately yearning—for more time. Time that allows for sinking into a more meditative space. Time that allows for re-reading old drafts so that I can remember the voice and story that I was working with. Time to stew, time to edit, time to research and submit. Time to actually feel like a writer again. Time to reassure myself that it will not take years of Cedar’s childhood to pass before I re-enter what I’ve long considered to be my life’s passion, practice, and vocation.

It is hard. My husband and I live on one income-- his. After we moved to Seattle and before I got pregnant, I was starting to find venues to teach through here, along with a few new writing mentees to work with one-on-one, as well as some volunteering gigs with writing and youth. I was hardly making any money, but I was making connections and building on the same writing and teaching path that I’ve been carving out slowly now for years. At the same time, I was trying to finish my Heart Radical manuscript. I knew that if I ever hoped to get a teaching position in a college, that I would need to have a book published.

My husband and I had many conversations about the choices I was making. I wanted him to understand how my commitment to writing was both my passion (i.e. I need to keep writing or I will shrivel and die) and related to more practical teaching and publishing goals (see, I’m not just a dreamer, I’ve thought this through). He supported my dreams; after all, he was a creative, artistic person himself. And yet, now that we were married and sharing expenses all the way and talking about having kids and no longer living the hippy lifestyle we once did in the cabin on the acreage in Olympia, he no longer seemed quite as supportive as before.

And why not? We were doing okay financially on one income, due to the fact that I’d inherited a house in Seattle with no mortgage. But mostly I think he was, understandably, envious of my lifestyle. What it came down to was a sense of equity, and his idea of me sitting at home reading and writing and dreaming all day, whereas he had to get up and go to a real job. He liked his job and it was intellectually challenging to him and helping him grow in many ways, but still, it was not akin to his passions, like fly-fishing or making music.

Of course, I saw this all a little differently since he wasn’t exactly planning to build a career based on fly-fishing, and since I have never considered writing to be just a hobby. True, I hadn’t yet made it big with publishing. And despite a successful two-year run of private classes I led in Olympia, I wasn’t exactly a stellar entrepreneur in the teaching department. But I was stubborn, damnit, and determined to keep writing and teaching writing. I would buy all my clothes at Value Village (which I do anyway), drive an ’88 station wagon, never eat out, forego all luxuries. I was good at living simply in the service of “working” less so that I could write more. I’d spent years at this practice.

We had some tense conversations, but ultimately, I convinced him that it was important for me to stay focused within this “career path” and not just go “get any old job” which would neither help us that much financially nor help my resume. With all the traveling and contract jobs I’d held, I’d kind of pigeon-holed myself into a very narrow job market, jobs that pretty much only existed if I invented them myself. Help Wanted: freelance creative writing teacher.

Flash-forward to now. Now, we have a fifteen-month-old, two car loans, a big dog, a fat cat, and a tiny one-bedroom cabin that is badly in need of an addition. We are doing fine on Matthew’s income, but we certainly aren’t saving much money—whether for immediate needs, for Cedar’s future, for our house, or for a retirement (what’s that?). Since the kinds of jobs that I could get as a freelance teacher or, say, working with children are not going to bring in near the salary that my husband now makes, it makes sense that he fulfill the traditional role as bread-winner, and that I stay home with Cedar. The cost of childcare would not make it worth it for me to work-- that is, if you only consider working to be about making money.

Enter my dilemma. I love staying home with Cedar. I know plenty of moms who cannot make this choice and who surely envy all the time I get to hang out with my son. I know that he is growing fast, and that when he eventually goes to school, I will get back some of my own time. I am grateful for my husband’s support, and for his willingness to take on the “professional” role, even when this is still a relatively new role for him to play. I am willing to let go of so much of the time I used to have to write, to pursue teaching gigs, and to edit works of nonfiction. I have been willing to let that all go in service to my son and our family. A part of me has even been relieved at times to let all the “career-striving” stuff go and to just sink into this alternate reality of mother, caregiver, servant, Goddess. I know why the goals and awards are important, but they are not why I write. I will always have just pure writing to come back to. There is no hurry. I can pick up where I left off. Right?

Sort of. All of the above is only partially true, while another part of me has been starving. Frustrated. Angry. Sad. And finally, now, fifteen months after giving birth, I feel the need, undeniable, to claim more of what I need. Time to myself. Time to write. Three hours a week is not enough. (Right now, my mom watches Cedar about four hours a week, but so much of that time gets eaten up by errands and chores. Matthew then watches Cedar on the weekends, but a couple hours away is usually all I get. I could ask mother to watch Cedar a bit more, but she is not willing to commit to more than just an afternoon a week for now, and psychologically it is important to me to KNOW that I can count on a certain day and time each week. It is too tiring to negotiate week by week.)

So what to do? The simplest solution: we need to hire a babysitter. Once a week for a few hours. That’s all. We can afford it, if we decide we can. It’s that important. For no one in this family will be happy if I am not happy. I am the mother, the bill keeper, the house cleaner, the diaper buyer. I am the nurturer, the researcher, the plan maker, the story weaver. I declare my work to be important, even if it does not bring in money. I didn’t spend fifteen years of my life discovering the writing path as my path only to let it drizzle away quietly. I am willing to learn how to get by on WAY less time than before, and yet, this willingness has its limits.

My husband wants me to be happy. He understands, especially after talking to me, that I need more time. He understands (to the degree that he can) how Cedar clings to me, needs me, saps me, and how this all-enveloping experience of motherhood for me is different for me than what fatherhood has been for him. I live and breathe Cedar every day, every night. If I enter the room, he goes to me—like a moth to a flame, as Matthew says. The only way I can take a break in this household is to physically leave, or else Cedar will find me. I go to a cafĂ© most weekends and write for a couple hours, but then I reach a point where I am hungry and need to come home, and even if I could easily sit down, print out what I’ve written, edit, and keep writing for several more hours, my time unfortunately stops the minute I walk in the door. It is a rare hour where I am home alone, and even then, it is near impossible to not want to first run a load of dishes or eat or sweep the floor or do some other quick task that usually is done as part of a speedy juggling routine with Cedar clinging to my legs.

I’m not sure if an additional three hours a week will be enough to motivate me to pull out those old manuscript drafts, but at very least, it will allow me to keep up more with this blog, and to delve into some of the more complex and emotionally charged subjects that I often don’t have the energy for (especially not if I want to actually post what I write, for some of the more tangled and messy stuff I spew out in these quick writing sessions do not make it into cyberspace). But this is a start.

Like all good mothers do, I’ve sacrificed a lot this year for my son, for my family. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how gracefully I’ve adapted, how natural the transition has been. Motherhood has been hugely fulfilling for me.

But I am also learning: I have my limits. And I am remembering: I am a writer, and if I am not writing then I am not happy. And I need to be happy. This is not a point of negotiation. This is infinitely more important than any future-oriented goals. This is where I draw the line.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finding Balance Along the Way

Today, it rains. I sit at Cafe Javasti in Wedgwood, my favorite weekend writing spot, and drink Oolong tea (still not drinking coffee, sigh). I almost didn't get away this morning-- two poor nights of sleep in a row have compelled me to ask my husband to let me sleep in, thus cutting into my writing time. But, alas, here I am, if only for an hour or so. I need my weekly moment away from Cedar and the home to sip my tea, breathe, and decompress. Digest.

Today, like many mornings where I sit down to write for this blog, I ask myself what I have to say. More specifically, I ask myself what I have to say that won't take ten hours to unravel and then some-- if there's anything short and focused I can spew out in one sitting that is nevertheless still remotely interesting to anyone besides myself. It's important to me to not wait too long between posts, because when this happens it makes me feel depressed. As I've said here before, this blog is my lifeline to my writing life. Without it, right now, I do not feel much like a writer. Short abbreviated notes scribbled in my journal don't do much to satisfy the writer in me. If this blog is my lifeline, then those disconnected journaling sessions are like little floats that keep me bobbing along the way. Whatever. Enough with metaphors. Onward.

Being a parent to a one-year-old, and not having much money to hire babysitters, there is a lot in my life these days that doesn't get done or satisfied. Of course, we are not alone in this situation. It is part of the reality of being a parent to a young child. It is a part of the sacrifice we willingly make in exchange for the joy of creating a family together. Shone in the right light, it is a rollicking, thrilling adventure-- this thing called our life. Each day, we wake up tired and go to bed exhausted, and somehow tasty dinners still manage to get cooked, family walks have become our main form of entertainment, bills get paid, groceries purchased, dishes washed, and glasses of wine drunk at the end of the night with a sigh of sweet relief. (Have you seen the new picture book, Go the Fok To Sleep? It is hilarious, and if you are a parent, you should go to the bookstore soon if only to read it once.)

Somehow, the essential tasks manage to get done. And what gets left out? Sadly, a lot of friends don't get called or seen, or if they do, it is far too seldom. Late-night collage or dance sessions with my sisters don't happen anymore, and music doesn't get to be played loud at night. Date nights happen only rarely in our household, and even then, I still can't eat most of what is served in restaurants, so we've only gone out to eat a handful of times in the last year. Concerts and shows at clubs are a distant reality too. I envy the parents of good sleepers who are able to easily go out for a night, or-- still unimaginable to me-- even go away for an overnight stay. Someday, yes, this will happen. But we are on the slow train when it comes to weaning Cedar from his dependency on his mama (and I'm not even talking about weaning literally; that isn't going to happen for another year or more). 

Case in point: it was only a month or so ago that we started involving Matthew more actively in the going to bed routine. Before, he'd help with baths, pajamas, and stories, sure, but the crucial nursing and singing of lullabies and falling asleep portion was solely my responsibility. Now, I am gratefully happy to report that my husband and I share this job. If Cedar does not seem to be falling asleep at the breast (which is more often now than not ), then I'll say goodnight and call Papa in to the room, then leave. Cedar will cry in protest for a minute-- or ten, or thirty, depending on his mood-- but eventually (usually after crawling around the bed, patting Papa on his body, and otherwise playing around) he will quiet down and grow tired enough that he will just lie there and fall asleep. Then, an hour or so later, when Cedar usually wakes up again, Matthew is the one who goes in and lies next to him again until he falls back asleep. 

I can't tell you what a huge relief this has been. To not be the one who has to listen closely for Cedar's stirring cries while we attempt to watch an episode of Mad Men, to listen and determine whether he is truly waking or not, then hurry in before he wakes even more and put him back to sleep--and to do this, again and again and again, all night long. I still do it in the middle of the night when we're all in bed, but if Matthew and I haven't gone to bed yet, it's now Matthew's responsibility. We are hoping that if Cedar knows he's not going to always get Mama when he wakes (and especially not Mama's boob), then he might learn to let himself go back to sleep easier when he stirs. So far, this doesn't seem to be happening, but the good news is that he is now way more accepting of the comforting of Papa's presence, and in turn, I feel much more free to go out for the night without worrying that I am going to come home to a screaming baby who has been up for an hour, demanding my return. 

So this has been a big change, allowing me to feel a much overdue sense of expansion when it comes to things I can do in my life. I am much freer to go out and meet a friend at a bar, or even go out to a show if I should so desire. But the truth is, I usually still opt to stay home, because I am tired and I want to go to bed by 10:30 so that I can wake up and feel refreshed by 7:00. And when you only have two hours to chill out at the end of the day (after the baby is asleep and the kitchen cleaned-- for if we don't clean it at night then guess who has to do it anyway in the morning), it often sounds more restorative to me to just sit and talk to my husband on the couch with a glass of wine, and some music playing quietly. To surf Facebook (yes, it's true, sad as this sometimes seems), to read, to take a hot shower (with the heat turned on or else Cedar will hear the water and wake up-- did I mention that he is a light sleeper?), and then to drape my body over the exercise ball and stretch those tight back and neck muscles that get strained each day from carrying around my twenty-five pound baby.

Someday, things will change. Someday, Cedar will sleep better and my husband and I will get hungry enough for more time together that we will make the effort and fork over the money for a babysitter. But for now, I am resigned to this period and I know it will go quickly. In the meantime, I have adapted to these new parameters of what kind of "fun" a weekend can hold, and to how long it takes to get things done.

For example, this weekend. Yesterday, the three of us plus my mom went to see a Chinese drumming and dance performance at the Seattle Center which I'd gotten free tickets to. We timed it perfectly between Cedar's naps, fed him avocado and rice puffs along the way, and he enjoyed the show from my lap, bouncing and clapping and mesmerized by the lights. We were home by three, with time left in the day for a nap, a long walk with Fergie, a new batch of beer brewed by Matthew, and a dinner of fried rice with chicken, peas, and carrots for all. 

And today, Matthew's brother and sister-in-law are visiting from Olympia. We're borrowing my sister's truck so that we can haul a bunch of branches to the dump from the cedar tree that fell in our yard several months ago, I'm going to take Cedar and Fergie for a walk, and later on, we'll all barbeque. I won't mention all the things that aren't getting done, all the things on our list that have been there forever (like budgeting, doing research and contacting people for our future remodel, mopping the floors, various childproofing tasks, overdue phone calls, and of course, any and all of my more involved writing projects which are pretty much just on hold for now-- though I don't know how much longer I can placidly accept this as the status quo). 

Okay, so I will and did just mention some of the things. But my point is that I have been learning to accept our current limitations-- which almost all have to do with a lack of time. And in turn, I appreciate all the more the small successes that occur when we manage to achieve a relatively health balance between working for money, indoor chores, outdoor chores, family time with Cedar (and now Fergie too), time with friends, down time, solitary time, and finally-- so importantly, and sadly what often gets squeezed out the first-- time for Matthew and I to reconnect as a couple, to try and remember a glimpse of our pre-child reality, the energy that brought us together in the first place.

Balance. Priorities. Acceptance. Patience. Perspective. All of these qualities are necessary and called upon when learning how to become parents, how to create a new family, and how to merge into a new fluid, working organism. And, of course, we can't forget to throw in a lot of silliness, a few tears, and an occasional roar of wildness rearing it's head in a rebellious demand for change along the way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tell Me Again, Why Did We Want a Dog?

I confess, I have had a few moments this week where I’ve questioned our decision to get a dog. I haven’t wanted to vent about this online because I am aware that my friend, Fergie’s old owner, will likely read what I write, and I don’t want her to think I am actually having second thoughts. Questioning does not mean regret. I just think we’re all going through a necessary adjustment period where things are a bit more tiring and stressful than they will be down the road. We are getting to know each other and figuring out a new routine.

Routine. Anyone who is involved with the full-time raising of a baby will tell you that we are constantly yearning for and clinging to some fragile sense of routine. At least I am. And why? Because babies are constantly changing on us, and we are constantly trying to figure them out—what works, what is the ideal sleep schedule, how and when to cram in chores, phone calls, emails, feedings, etc. The often-spoken truth is that once you light upon a routine that feels fluid and works for you, your baby inevitably is ready to switch it up on you.

Cedar is thirteen months old. For the past many months his napping schedule has not really changed (although it is showing signs of the need to change soon). But for now, the rhythm of his naps and my corresponding planning of our days unfold with a consistency that I am reluctant to give up.

Mornings are the most mellow time of day. We wake around seven, nurse in bed for a while, then rise to change diapers, make tea and toast, check email, and entertain Cedar with books and toys. By 8:30, Cedar’s ready for his second morning meal-- oatmeal and fruit, blueberries the current favorite. Then, we change diapers again, get ourselves dressed, and putter around the house doing dishes, folding laundry, listening to music, and looking at books and toys. By 10:00 he’s sleepy again, so I heat up my tea, get my books and journals ready, and proceed to bounce him to sleep, then hold him while I sit in the big recliner and read, write, make lists, and enjoy my 80 minutes of rest.

Yes, I still hold Cedar while he naps because this is the only way that I can count on getting a solid block of time to myself—not to mention restorative time for Cedar. Otherwise he’ll only nap for 35 minutes at most, and that is not enough time to do much of anything but pop around like a crazy woman trying to get random things done. It’s much better to be rooted in one place by his weight, and “forced” to do “non-productive” things, like reading and writing.

Anyway, I digress. So now, it is not just Cedar and I doing our thing together all day long, but me, Cedar, and Fergie—our big, sweet, five-year-old Doberman. Now, picture the same aforementioned routine, but with Fergie nudging her long nose onto my lap as I hold Cedar for his naps, or Fergie’s long limbs stepping gingerly around Cedar as he crawls around her toes. Imagine me with a diaper bag slung around my shoulder, with Cedar in one arm, Fergie’s leash in the other, trying to get the big-ass stroller out of the car and unfolded into place. And imagine both Cedar and Fergie pulling and leaning against my body, seeking my attention, when all I want to do is sip my tea, eat my toast with almond butter, and take a few minutes to myself first thing in the morning before I devote the rest of the day to their needs.

Okay, I know, not a huge deal, but I’m just saying that I’ve had my moments where I’ve asked myself whether I really have the energy to be the mama all day to not one, but two. Granted, dogs are much easier to care for than babies; I can go on a walk with Fergie, and have a freeing sense of solitude that is very different than when I am walking with Cedar. But now having to walk the two of them together, it is definitely more tiring.

Exercise. That’s the key component to caring for a dog, especially a big dog. Going into this whole endeavor, I knew this-- I knew that adopting Fergie would force me to go on more walks, and I knew that there would be times where this would feel like a major drag, while other times where I would be grateful for it.

Matthew and I have committed to taking Fergie out about three times a day—he walks her around the block in the morning, I take her on a longer walk during the day, and then one of us, usually Matthew, but on occasion the whole family will go out for a short walk in the evening. By some people’s standards, Fergie is getting gold star treatment. But I’ve also read books (like by Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”) which suggest that what we’re giving her is more like the minimum for what an energetic dog needs. Fergie does have a lot of energy, but she is also pretty mellow, so I think we will find the right balance.

Cesar also writes about how you should adopt a dog that has a similar energy level or lower to your family. Well, if this is the case, I think we got a dog whose energy is probably a little higher than what Matthew and I have been used to. But I also don’t think we’re in over our heads. We both want (and need) to exercise more, and this is already happening. Also, we’ve already gone on several family walks during times which I’m pretty sure in the past we would have begged exhaustion. As the four of us set out with our energetic new companion, I like this feeling of the new pack we’ve created. I’m remembering the feeling of walking with a dog. A dog is energy, a dog is enthusiasm, a dog is a vital spark of life.

And yes, a dog is also work. A dog is needy. A dog is another being getting in my way, needing to be fed, wanting my attention at the same time that my baby is demanding my care—and, let’s face it, between the two of them, the dog will always be number two. That’s just the way it is. I have love to give Fergie, I have time, and I have energy—but these have very real limits. These are the limitations that have caused me to question, in moments, whether adopting Fergie right now was the wisest thing to do, and these moments have occurred when I’ve felt tired and stretched and when I’ve realized that as the mother of a baby, I can never offer Fergie the same kind of devotion that, say, a childless person might be able to. I try to imagine what it would have been like to adopt Fergie before we had Cedar, or to adopt her when I was single, and I am sure that my devotion to her would be ten-fold of what I can give her now.

Pre-Fergie, Cedar and I would go on a long (hour or more) walk every other day or so. But there were also days where we were busy or it was miserable out, and we didn’t. Now, the walk must happen no matter what. Now, we must structure our day around the walk, instead of letting the walk fall into free empty pockets. Maybe I’ll grow more flexible about this in time, but right now, it feels important to me to commit to giving Fergie enough exercise.  And so, my routine-seeking and -planning mind plots away. Maybe I can give up some of a.m. routine time and go on a walk in the morning. Or else the walk will just be the main thing we do during our 12-3 chunk of time (between naps), unless I am willing to hurry hurry hurry us along, feed us on the go and feel very tired by the time I make it back for Cedar’s second nap. (You might think three hours is plenty of time to walk and go somewhere else, but everything takes twice as long when you have a baby). Otherwise, I’ll feel slightly guilty all day if I make Fergie wait until 5 o’clock for her main walk, even if I let her outside throughout the day.

I am not a hurrying kind of person. I love the leisurely pace of my days with Cedar. Not having to hurry also helps to balance out some of the tiredness of having to constantly, ceaselessly be “on” with him. I like being able to set him in his high chair at lunch time and let him eat his peas and rice puffs--one by one by one-- while I eat, sweep, do dishes, and bustle around tidying at his side. I like having plans or social outings with other adults and babies most days, but I also like having plenty of down time. I am not the type of person who can easily go from one play date to another—one is plenty for me. And although I’ll go crazy if we spend too many days alone, I will also go crazy if we go too many days without a day to just be mellow and alone. And by alone, I mean Cedar and I, bopping around, going to the library, the grocery store, the pond, listening to music, doing our thing. (Lest this sound too idyllic, trust me, it’s also very tiring.)

Now, enter Fergie. There have been days already where I’d really rather not arrange my day around her walk—when we already have plenty going on to keep us busy. Yet there have also been days when I’ve been grateful for her canine company. That extra bit of energy jingling by my side as we pack our bags full of snacks and treats and journey off to the park. An adventure. That extra bit of entertainment and love filling our home. That giant breathing ribcage to lean my head against at the end of the day and say goodnight.

Fergie is a really sweet dog, and her presence is seeping into my skin day by day. But it wasn’t love at first sight; as a breed, I’d never been drawn to Dobermans—they don’t inspire that furry, goofy, cuddly response that say, Labs or Retrievers do. Yet I’d also heard that Dobies can be great family dogs—gentle, smart, loyal, mellow (if they get their exercise), and not huge shedders. Of course, this same loyalty can translate into over-protectiveness, and I don’t need to tell you about some of the more negative stereotypes that Dobermans carry. I see people tense as we pass them, and although I am confident that Fergie would never bark or lunge at a person unprovoked, I try to resist the impulse to draw in her leash or move away from the people we pass so as not to make them nervous. Dobermans seem to be one of those breeds that people either love or hate. Many dog lovers know enough to know that Dobies can be sweeties, but most everyone else kind of shudders or reacts with surprise when they hear what kind of dog we’ve adopted.

When I walk with Fergie and Cedar, they kind of balance each other out: big, “vicious” dog + cute, innocent baby= neutral response to the smallish, Asianish woman wielding the leash and stroller, smiling her hellos. I admit, I kind of like the attention Fergie attracts, or at least I’m curious about it, curious about what kind of looks people give us as we pass. And although I abhor the idea of someone getting a dog to compliment or enhance their image, I admit, I do feel just a tad more bad-ass with Fergie (in her metal pinch collar) by my side. Maybe it’s a refreshing anti-thesis to having my identity so tied to carrying a baby for this last year. Maybe I have just been craving some kind of change. Now, my steps are carried forward with a newly jubilant and purposeful stride with a dog—a bad-ass dog (but really a sweetie) by my side.

Fergie is incredibly gentle, having grown up around a small child and other animals. She is not at all aggressive towards humans, cats or even bunnies. But I still like to keep a close eye on Cedar and Fergie, as she towers over him and he crawls underfoot—all in a small carpeted space crowded with toys where they both hang out most of the time. (And did I mention we live in a 810 square foot house?). Actually, I’m more concerned about Cedar hurting Fergie than vice versa, as he is fond of grabbing her fur or at her face (not a good habit). Fergie’s already demonstrated a non-plussed tolerance of all this, but I don’t want her to get hurt or to take any chances that she might someday get annoyed enough to react differently. I don’t really feel this will happen, but I know it is a good thing to be cautious for now when she is still so new to our family.

“Tell me again, why did we want a dog?” I asked Matthew one night last week after a particularly exhausting day. I was only half joking. “It was your idea,” he said with a glint in his eye. When I shot him a look he added, “Because we want to be a big happy family?” Better, but in that moment, I wanted something more, something to assure me that we hadn’t just irresponsibly followed some whim. There was a small sinking part of me that feared that the naysayers may have been right. In particular, one Facebook post from a friend: “Everyone I know who has a baby and gotten a dog regrets it. Harsh but true.” Ouch. Would I too become one of those people, drawn by the allure of “a big happy family,” a T.V. image of a couple, child, and dog bounding for the woods together (that doesn’t show the difficulty packing, the long drive, the wet dog smelling up the tent)? It occurred to me that none of the people who’d encouraged us to “Go for it!” and “Get the dog!” had a baby. Was this really not the ideal time?

But then I had a little epiphany the other day while I was walking Fergie. It hit me that the things we most value in our lives, the things that are the most rich and give us the most pleasure, are the things that take the most effort, energy and devotion. This might not be an original or profound thought, but it came to me with a steadying clarity and assurance.

Ultimately I feel so fortunate to have adopted a dog whom has been raised by a friend, a dog whose history I know, and who has been nothing but a source of love and great companionship for her past owners. I can’t really imagine a better situation. If this opportunity hadn’t come about, I don’t know when I had the energy to raise a puppy, and I don’t know if we would’ve felt comfortable adopting an adult dog with an unknown past until Cedar was much older.

Of course
it is more tiring and stressful right now. But something tells me that it won’t take long before I can’t imagine Fergie not being here. Something tells me that she was meant to be with us, and I know she will reveal who she is to us more and more so every day.   


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